Originally released when I was 12, going on 13, 'Casper' actually ended up being a sort of landmark film for yours truly. At the time of its release, I wasn't exactly popular, so there was a big part of me that related to Casper's loneliness. I also developed my first celeb crush on Christina Ricci with this, at the time, so it fit pretty well 12-year-old me. Watching it nowadays though, interestingly enough, I actually found it to be a bit deeper than I remember.
'Casper' is, of course, based on those old Harvey Entertainment cartoons (funnily enough the name of the father and daughter in this), and it more or less plays out the same way. Casper (Malachi Pearson) is just a lonely ghost looking for a friend. The problem is that his uncles, Stretch (Joe Nipote), Fatso (Brad Garrett) and Stinky (Joe Alaskey) constantly scare and drive off any potential candidates. That is until one day, while watching TV, Casper stumbles on a news report that tells of a paranormal psychologist, Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) and his daughter, Kat (Ricci).
Harvey reveals that all he wants to do is help ghosts in need; seeing their unfinished business through so they can cross over. Combining that with a little instant crush of his own on Kat, Casper works his magic to bring it to the attention of the latest inheritor of Whipstaff Manor (the house the ghosts haunt), Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty), who, along with her assistant, Dibbs (Eric Idle), has recently discovered that the manor is haunted, and she want the ghosts out of the house in order to find a mysterious treasure that was revealed in her late Father's will - the same will that left her the property.
Casper's plan works, and eventually he gets to meet and befriend Kat while Dr. Harvey makes the effort to counsel the three uncles - though pretty much none of that is ever seen, as these ghosts take great enjoyment in messing around with him. Will the ghosts leave, an give Carrigan access to this treasure? Or will Dr. Harvey and Kat discover that they have enough in common with these ghosts to let the stick around?
Before I get into it all, let me get some of the negative out of the way. Opinions on this one are very 50/50, and it's not exactly regarded as a good movie. I managed to pick out a lot of what people might see bad about it, like some of the humor (a lot of it can get pretty crude), or often the writing not making a whole lot of sense (Why does Carrigan inherit the manor from her father when it's clearly revealed that Casper's father lived there? Why do Casper and Kat run upstairs to keep the Lazarus potion from falling into the wrong hands only to answer a door and just go right back down to where they were?) But the truth is, even as an adult, this one isn't lost on me. And not even in that "guilty pleasure" context, like 'Space Jam'.
A lot of the good in this comes from learning a little something about Casper, and developing his character much more than he was ever developed in the cartoons. The film takes a few moments to have some good conversation between Casper and Kat, and we learn things like how Casper originally died, but without having to do a whole flashback scene. I also still really enjoy the whole scene between the two involving the lighthouse, and later in Kat's room. The whole idea that Casper can't remember his life is interesting, and it's subtle, but when he remembers he doesn't have a reflection you can kinda see this realization on his face that he hasn't seen his own face in who knows how long.
Then of course there's the famous line "can I keep you?" which I always used to think was a bit corny. Now, I'm seeing this as not so much a romantic notion, but illustrating the fact that all of these people have come into his... afterlife?... only to be scared off by very his presence. It's kinda his way of saying "can you stay with me, and not run away?" Admittedly, that tugs on my heartstrings, as I DO know what it's like to be looked at with the "ew, get away from me" gaze. It has even been vocalized, which is nasty, but that's more 12-year-old me than now... exactly the same age as Casper and Kat, and the age I was when I first saw the film.
I do have this one on my Halloween 2017 list of Family Friendly Halloween Classics, and the perspective I had on it a few years ago was pretty much the same as now. It might be kinda silly, sloppy and even kinda stupid in parts, but there's really nothing incredibly wrong with it - save for maybe a few prime time curses like "for Christ's sake" and using the word "bitch" a coupe of times. The overall reality is that one can still gather the family around to watch it, and it actually holds up fairly well. You may even get a bit more from it, like I did this time around. While it's not exactly a gem to a lot of people out there, it's perfectly passable for what it is, and I feel like despite its flaws, it gets a bad rap. Don't take it too seriously - its target audience is preteens, after all.
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