A Friendly Movie for a Friendly Ghost
Having inherited a condemned mansion in her father's will, Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty) is ready to tear the place down only to discover that there could be some secret treasure hidden in there. The only trouble is the mansion is haunted and to try and get the ghosts to leave Crittenden calls on the help of Ghost therapist Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman - While You Were Sleeping) and his daughter Kat (Christina Ricci - Addams Family Values). But whilst James tries to get to grips with 3 meddlesome ghosts Stretch, Stinkie and Fatso, Kat befriends Casper the friendly ghost who in turn has a crush on her.
Looking for any depth in "Casper" would be pretty futile seeing that its target audience is young children who can get whisked away on all the comedy but there are some distinct traditional elements to "Casper". You have the scheming, slightly inept bad guys, you have the "if you can't beat them join them" aspect and of course an unlikely friendship, all 3 of which are familiar elements which appear in similar sorts of movies such as "Mousehunt". But despite being familiar they work, they make things simple and allow everything in "Casper" to be about the comedy.
Talking of which the comedy is exactly what I hoped for with a lot of traditional cartoon slapstick which wouldn't look out of place in any Tom & Jerry movie. Which means we get scenes where Casper gets squashed to a pancake by a suitcase, his 3 ghostly uncles comically battling James in an adhoc fencing match on the sweeping staircase and being a movie featuring ghosts some comical frights. But there is also some ingenuity to it all with the variety of contraptions around the condemned mansion which capture the minds of young audiences as they automatically make breakfast. It's the comedy where it all comes together and whilst some may say that it is too traditional rehashing jokes which are unoriginal and at home in the likes of "Tom & Jerry" it just works to provide innocent laughs.
Of course there is also the CGI side of "Casper" and the team of animators have done a wonderful job of making Casper and his uncles blend semi-seamlessly with the real life settings. There are no rough edges and everything works together making it feel less like "Casper" was all about the CGI rather than using it as an embellishment to the laughs.
As for the acting well the first thing to mention is that Malachi Pearson who provides the voice for Casper is brilliant, delivering cute and funny from that slightly high pitched yet charming voice and matching the emotion of the comedy perfectly. But the real stars are Bill Pullman as Ghost therapist Dr. James Harvey and Christina Ricci as his daughter Kat. Pullman does a decent enough job of having fun with his 2 dimensional character never trying to make it any more than a stooge for the various jokes played upon him by Casper's uncles Stretch, Stinkie and Fatso. But it works and in the scene where the tables are turned and Kat screams at seeing her first ghost the fact that James also freaks makes it a fun, totally silly character.
What is nice is that having made her name as Wednesday Addams in "The Addams Family" movies Christina Ricci gets chance to shed the morbid outfits and play a semi normal teenager, well someone who befriends ghosts can't be completely normal. Ricci does well with the main character making her come across as your typical teenager yet never adds too many dimensions to make her feel out of place in what is in effect a 2 dimensional cartoon. She manages to deliver the sweet, the nice and even the cute without over doing it and her interactions with Casper work brilliantly such as the scene where being dragged through the halls by Casper she goes slamming into a wall as he flies through it.
Whilst all this is good and "Casper" is for 99% a totally entertaining movie that children will love there is something worth mentioning. And that is when they do go for those comical frights there is a slight horror aspect to it. Not in a nasty way but when Stretch, Stinkie and Fatso occasionally show their naughty side the animation may give really young children a fright. It's not a criticism of the movie; in fact as an adult I though these moments were cleverly done, but it's worth remembering when plonking young children down to watch it.
What this all boils down to is that "Casper" is a thoroughly entertaining movie. It manages to combine the use of CGI with some more traditional elements such as simple cartoon slapstick and blending them brilliantly to make an amusing movie. It has some cuteness, it has comedy and it also has a couple of ghostly frights making it a wonderful way to waste 100 minutes as you watch Ricci and Pullman interact with Casper and his mischievous uncles.