1995, PG, 100 min. Directed by Brad Silberling. Starring Bill Pullman, Christina Ricci, Cathy Moriarty, Eric Idle.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., June 2, 1995
At its best, which is when it's exploiting both its eye-popping special effects and delicious production design (the interior of the haunted mansion is truly awe-inspiring), Casper proves itself to be passable, if mindless, kiddie fare. At its worst, Casper continually resorts to desperate star cameos to get a rise out of the audience, lame and phony heart-tugging to get them emotionally involved (and there is more of this nonsense than you might expect), and ridiculous, coincidental plotting to make sure this thing runs at least 90 minutes. For the record, the story follows young Kathy Harvey (Ricci, better known as the scene-stealing Wednesday from the two Addams Family movies) and her father (Pullman), who makes a living as a psychiatrist for, as he puts it, “the living impaired.” He is hired to clear unwanted spirits out of an old abandoned mansion by two sleazy, money-grubbing opportunists (Moriarty and Idle, both of whom seem to be having a good time) who are eager to get their hands on the “treasure” buried within its basement. There are four ghosts in the house: Casper, of course, is the friendly one, and immediately falls head over heels for Kathy; the mischievous Stinky, Stretch, and Fatso are the hell raisers, bent on making (mostly harmless) trouble and scaring the daylights out of whomever they can. Throw in a Halloween party gone awry, a machine that can magically bring ghosts back from the dead, and an unwelcome dose of coming-of-age melodrama, and you have a movie that's constantly busy… but never really going anywhere. The cast is still appealing, however; the talented Bill Pullman comes off the best and provides some wonderful physical slapstick, particularly in a fun scene where he takes on the three troublemaking ghosts with a toilet plunger. But let's cut to the chase, shall we? The only real reason anyone is going to see Casper is for its special effects sequences, which, thankfully, are both spectacular and frequent, though lacking the same jaw-dropping sense of wonder that audiences felt when they saw such milestones as Jurassic Park's dinosaurs or the water tentacle from The Abyss. In the end, if you're looking for mindless entertainment that might keep the kids busy for a couple of hours, the effects-filled Casper will probably fit the bill, but if you want a real story, real characters, or -- let's just say it -- a really good family movie, don't get lost in the Spielberg hype machine (Spielberg and his company Amblin produced Casper) and forget about a movie called A Little Princess.