Twitter Plot Summary: A shunned scientist and his moody daughter move into a haunted house where villainess Carrigan hopes to find treasure.
Five Point Summary:
1. Who you gonna call? Not the Ghostbusters, apparently.
2. Welcome, Bill Pullman and your floppy hairstyle.
3. Party time!
4. An axe will most definitely hurt…
CGI was a good thing for children’s movies, the 1990s being filled with inventive use of the technology to provide a number of films that would have otherwise been difficult to produce on a cheap budget. Whilst the 80s gave us a pinnacle in fantasy movies, the 90s gave us a step towards uniting cartoons with live action adaptations. Casper proves to be one of the better family films to use CGI in that decade, although that may have something to do with the cartoon-like appearance of the ghostly spirits – it might have been a different story had they attempted photo-realistic ghosts. Which clearly wouldn’t have worked because ghosts don’t exist… (or do they?!).
Three groups of characters combine to form the story. On the one hand we have evil villain Carrigan and her faithful henchman Dibbs, who inherit the old house following her father’s untimely and not at all suspicious demise, and who seek the riches that are hidden somewhere in the building; there’s Bill Pullman, his floppy 90s hairstyle and Christina Ricci as father, floppy 90s hairstyle and daughter. Once an eminent scientist, he switched to being a ghost therapist/paranormal expert after the death of his wife, whilst Kat ended up becoming a typical displaced teenager of no fixed abode; and finally there are the four ghosts who live in the mansion – Casper, Stinkie, Stretch and Fatso, the latter three being the mischievous uncles of Casper who just wants to make friends.
As a kids film it covers all of the essentials: slapstick humour, decent special effects for the era, and jokes that work for both kids and adults – a number of very brief cameos in particular are a highlight. It also has a suitable moral by its close. Whilst Casper is the title character, the true focus is on the father/daughter relationship between Dr Harvey and Kat, providing them both with emotional resolution to the death of Harvey’s wife. The humour stems mainly from Dr Harvey and his interactions with the three ghosts, and then in Matroska doll style there are less laughs when Carrigan and Dibbs are involved, and then even less for Kat and Casper. There’s a very minor subplot of a jealous girl at school wanting to teach Kat a lesson, but compared to many other films this angle is not overplayed and is simply used as an excuse to have a party at the mansion.
Other than the impressive CGI, this looks just like every other family film of the era. It’s hard to describe it exactly, but the sets have a specific design to them that says “cheap but not that cheap.” Compared to many other family films of the time, Casper works because it has a consistent story with no loose threads, decent effects and genuinely amusing jokes. Whilst it’s not in a position to win any awards in most categories, it does at least tick the box for entertaining the family for 90 minutes. And that moral I mentioned? Death isn’t treated as something to be afraid of. Concentrate on living now because you can’t say for certain what will happen next. A wise notion to live by.