Halloween movies for kids aren’t rare, but great family friendly flicks are. There’s of course “Hocus Pocus,” “Beetlejuice,” and “Ghostbusters,” but many ghoulish movies are tailored to an older audience. The 90’s in particular offered a bevy of adorable age appropriate films, including 1995’s “Casper.” Adapted from a series of comic books, the endearing movie depicts the titular Casper, a unique take on ghouls, and a heartwarming Halloween story.
Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty) inherits Whipstaff Manor from her recently deceased father. The conniving Carrigan hears a rumor of Whipstaff Manor’s hidden treasure, and drags her lawyer Paul “Dibs” Plutzker (Eric Idle) along. Upon arriving at the mansion, they’re greeted by Casper (Malachi Pearson), a rather amiable ghost, and his three uncles Stinkie (Joe Alaskey), Stretch (Joe Niptoe), and Fatso (Brad Garrett). The threesome isn’t nearly as cordial as their nephew. Carrigan attempts to rid the manor of the phantasms using several methods including a priest (Don Novello), and even Ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd).
Ultimately, Carrigan invites a paranormal therapist, Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman), into aiding in her eviction efforts. Casper believes Harvey can help him complete his migration to the afterlife. Harvey moves into Whipstaff Manor with his daughter Kat (Christina Ricci) who immediately befriends Casper. Together she and Casper uncover the ghost’s forgotten past, and learn about his late father J.T. McFadden.
“Casper” is a neat adaptation of the previous cartoon and comic book character, presenting a reboot that’s marvelously well done. The protagonist, Casper, is given a detailed background that he and Kat unravel as the film progresses, and his personality really shines. Similarly, his uncles Stinkie, Fatso, and Stretch are provided unique temperaments. Christina Ricci plays an admirable sidekick for Casper, and her wide-eyed wonder is reflected in the ghost’s own charm.
Where “Casper” truly takes flight is the animation. The ghosts are gorgeously rendered, and even today don’t seem terribly outdated. They shine with a murky radiance, and the faces are quite intricate for semi-transparent entities. While the spirits aren’t the most realistic, they don’t clash with the ornate Whipstaff Manor interior, or the live actors. The Lazarus Machine developed by Casper’s father is quite inventive, and the design feels plucked from an old Frankenstein flick. There’s even a fake copy of Frankenstein in the lab, a cool throwback.
While the ghosts of course create a seasonal theme, the finale is actually set on Halloween. Kat’s class visits the Manor for a party, and naturally the ghastly uncles wreak havoc. Like “Hocus Pocus,” there’s an actual Halloween connection, making “Casper” quite festive. It’s got a good mix of comedy and sentimentality. A particularly enjoyable scene finds Harvey possessed, and he keeps appearing as different celebrities in the mirror, including Clint Eastwood and Rodney Dangerfield. Plus, any ghost movie should rightly have a “Ghostbusters” cameo, and “Casper” doesn’t disappoint. Lovable and visually striking, “Casper” is a family-friendly ghost story that’s sure to spice up your October.