There is a difficult balancing act to strike when you are trying to launch a new franchise and introduce a character to a new generation while also trying to keep happy the faithful fans who grew up with the original. Casper never really manages to strike this balance, often mixing the more kid-friendly with some moments which are much too mature for the fan base it seems to be aimed at.
You can tell how much this character means to people as it draws an impressive cast. Bill Pullman plays the father desperately seeking his deceased wife, while dragging around his daughter, a fairly straight-laced character for the usually much more eccentric Christina Ricci. Add to this the likes of Eric Idle as a villain and you have a cast more than able to hold down the fairly simple plot.
Of course, the main character is a ghost and one who was already widely known before he had to be realised on-screen. Luckily, even though the film is 25 years old, the effects hold up very well. The design of Casper is a faithful one and the addition of the three anti-social uncles Stinky, Stretch and Fatso, manage to flesh out what was also a fairly simple character anyway.
This is where a lot of the kid-focused humour lies. The three uncles manage to bring a slapstick, visual and gross-out humour to the movie, playing against Pullman’s straight-man. It works in a lot of cases but is never hilarious. The film aims more for charming and succeeds in that effect. This goes for the other relationship too, Casper and Ricci’s Kat. This is more sweet and sickly but does bring some heart to the character and the more mature theme of the movie which deals with loss and grief.
This is where the issues with tone lie. For a film featuring burping ghosts who cross-dress, there is a darker under-tone which showcases the hardship of moving on, the difficulty in letting go and the extremes people will go to when they think they can save a loved one. It is here the tone varies wildly and weirdly and at times doesn’t fit or suit the rest of the film.
There is obviously a clear love for the character in the movie and what the film does present is a very good realisation of a classic cartoon character on-screen. It is a shame that it never really went anywhere from here as there could have been some potential for a light-hearted, charming franchise.
Overall, Casper is a good up-to-date presentation of a classic cartoon. It has some good effects, bringing the character to life alongside some credible actors. It is just a shame that the tone varies from extremely silly to somewhat too dark for the kids and doesn’t know quite where to land.
Rating – 3
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