It’s the spring of 1995. I am almost 10 years old, and I love my cat, stories about cats, Anne of Green Gables, and Casper. These things have held up over the years—I still love my cat (may he rest in peace), I still love stories about cats (see the “Cat Who” mysteries), and Anne of Green Gables is inarguably one of the better things to come out of Canada. But what about Casper? Does what I loved about it back then still make it enjoyable now?
What I loved then: As a pre-teen, I identified with Kat (Christina Ricci), the misfit teenager dragged across the country by her weird dad (Bill Pullman). It helped that we had similar names, but outside of that I had the same dream she did of being noticed as a kind of weird brown-haired girl with large eyes. The movie also had a romantic plot—a girl falls for a ghost, and gets one ghostly dance with him as a real boy before his time is up and he must go back to being a ghost. I recall this touching me deeply, and remember this movie being a staple of sleepover viewing for quite a while, especially around Halloween.
So…is it still good Halloween viewing?: I settled in to watch Casper last weekend, sick as a dog, sore from working on the teensy townhouse I just bought for my family, unsure whether this was a good idea. This time around, I noticed things thrown in for adult amusement: cameos from Rodney Dangerfield, Mel Gibson, and Clint Eastwood. Eric Idle as the hapless lawyer Dibbs, in love with his greedy client Carrigan Crittenden (played by Cathy Moriarti). And the story of a father, grieving for the loss of his wife, and doing his best to care for his child. I used to identify with Kat, but now I identify with Dr. Harvey, who has moved his daughter yet again for work (to counsel departed souls haunting a mansion), and who pretends not to be afraid but who is in fact more afraid than his daughter is of ghosts and of her own looming adulthood.
Let’s back up here: In spite of these adult themes, and in spite of the fact that Dr. Harvey’s conversation with his dead wife (who is an angel, rather than a ghost) brought me to tears, this is still a kid’s movie, and it succeeds in the best way, I think. The setting is a spooky mansion that looks like it was designed by Antoni Guadi, complete with elaborate windows in organic shapes, and appropriately placed on a cliff. Carrigan and Dibbs are cartoonishly greedy characters, trying to find treasure mentioned in a cryptic note, while Casper’s three ghost uncles provide some needed potty humor that I’m confident my kid would love. The actors are clearly having fun with their roles, and the combination of this cartoonish overacting, vomit jokes, and real sentiment makes for a Halloween movie that the whole family can enjoy.
Caveat: I’m going to pull the “as a parent” card and say that I was a little concerned by the casual treatment of death in Casper. Yes, the main character is a ghost. I get that. But Carrigan falls off a cliff and dies, and nobody cares? Everyone carries on with their Halloween party, instead? She wasn’t a great person—I don’t dispute that—but isn’t it strange that there’s no authorities called, no funeral… presumably, her corpse lies at the bottom of the cliffs still, because nobody gave a shit. I don’t remember even noticing that as a kid, but as an adult it’s rather disturbing, and I also wouldn’t want my daughter thinking that because she was unkind and greedy, her death doesn’t matter.
Given that, however: This is still a fun movie. It took me back to the 90s (which were good times) and my youth, but nostalgia wasn’t the only enjoyment I got out of it. There are elements that date the movie (the CGI, the cameos), but since the style is campy and cartoonish, these only serve to support its silliness, such that children and adults can watch together.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures