Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spooky Sunday: A Friendly Ghost

Film versions of television shows and cartoons are hit and miss.  For ever The Fugitive there is a Starsky and Hutch and so on and so forth.  These adaptations are not easy to praise or slam either, for one person's trash is another person's treasure (I for one adore Bewitched though I realize it is much maligned...probably because people were paying attention to Will Farrell and not actually watching the movie).  However, there are some adaptations that manage to be largely well-liked in the overreaching community if not considered classics, and one of those is a spooky yarn that takes place during Halloween.  It also features one of the cartoon and comic book world's most beloved characters (with one of the most hummable theme songs) and some terrific genre vets doing what they do best.  Now lets head over to Whipstaff Manor and have a Halloween party with Casper.

Carrigan Crittenden, a neurotic and spoiled heiress, has just inherited an old mansion from her dead father.  The house appears to be condemned and worthless, but when Carrigan attempts to burn the deed her lawyer Paul "Dibs" Plutzker snatches a page from the fire that mentions buried treasure.  Interest in the house renewed, Carrigan and Dibs head to Friendship, Maine where they discover that the house is haunted by a lonely ghost named Casper, who only wants to be friends, and his three loud and obnoxious ghost uncles: Stretch, Stinkie, and Fatso.  The uncles chase Carrigan and Dibs out of the house, which infuriates Carrigan and sets her on a quest to find a way to rid the house of the spooky squatters.  Unknowingly aided by Casper, Carrigan finds Dr. James Harvey who claims to be a psychiatrist for the dead.  Together, James and his daughter Kat are invited to come and stay at Whipstaff until he has gotten the ghosts out of the house.  Casper then begins to form a friendship with Kat and the two of them begin to uncover the mysteries of Whipstaff.  Meanwhile, Carrigan plots to destroy the house until she finds the treasure within.

Casper was one of those great 90s movies for kids that had great visuals, fine effects, and a fair amount of wit.  The story is a little been-there-done-that, but it fits the character of Casper well.  Christina Ricci is touching and sincere as Kat and you can see how the two of them would quickly become friends...both characters are lonely and misunderstood and are isolated by the interests of their adult counterparts.  Bill Pullman is a delight as well as Dr. Harvey, Kat's father and wounded soul trying to find a reason for living now that his wife has passed away.  The ghost effects are realistic and lifelike, making them look real while also playing at a cartoony aesthetic so as to mesh well with the image of Casper as it is so well known from comic books and cartoons. Some elements of the story are a little underdeveloped, such as the bully and boy Kat meets at her new school and the backstory on Casper's father, but the core of the film (Kat and Casper, and the Uncles and Dr. Harvey) is very strong.  If anything, Carrigan is the most disposable character in the film (played by the fabulous Cathy Moriarty).  She is clearly the villain of the film, though she is really only needed to have a reason for Harvey and Kat to come to Whipstaff.  The film might have done better to have the Uncles as the main villains and to have had the Harveys simply inherit the house themselves.  These are small gripes however and should not prevent anyone from trying this one on for size, especially for a Halloween viewing.  You'll laugh, and you may even shed a tear.

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