Twelve Things about Casper
12. It has been a while since I've blogged about "child-friendly" Horror movies (or well, any Horror movies at all), so I'm glad that I remembered this old one. Genre purists may quibble with me--and I welcome them--but I think I can make a good case for Casper as an appropriately scary story with a moral based on what we all seem to agree about when it comes to ghosts. Even if its ghosts happen to be friendly. =P
11. The second reason why I decided to watch this again was that it touches one of my pet ideas that pop culture is just our way of telling the same stories over and over again, using the same vocabulary of symbols we've always had. Contrary to that annoying new meme "Only 90s kids understand . . ." someone born 500 years ago would, with some dubbing, totally get Casper, too.
This occurred to me during a conversation with one of the 90s kids among my cousins. She asked, "Enbrethiliel, did you know that the actor who was with Christina Ricci in Casper also acted with her in Now and Then?" . . . Child, please . . . "That was Devon Sawa, sweetie, and he was the Zac Efron of the 90s." (The "forms" of actors are part of our symbolic vocabulary, too.)
10. So let's test your fluency now . . . or better yet, reveal the flaws in my own . . . by studying this screen grab from Casper . . .
Yes, please answer. I know what story I thought of, but I'm relatively young and don't have as many cultural reference points as I'd like. So I'd really like to know whom you think of when you see a very serious dark-haired girl who can ride in the front passenger seat of the family car because there's no mother in the picture (for whatever reason)?
I'll let you think about it some more while I discuss something else . . .
9. Media within media are always fun, and in this case we get the small screen within the big screen, as Casper is shown watching TV and getting some mixed messages.
(But you can watch it here)
This happens to be an excellent demonstration of pop culture as language. The clips within this clip are a great summary of the story! We get the theme of friendship, the conflict of ghosts and people getting along, and good exposition on two characters we haven't seen yet but who will be crucial to the plot. And speaking of that plot, the clips also enable it to move forward! Yes, they date the movie more than anything else in it, but they're much more creative than the usual cliche of news clippings . . . which the movie also has its share of.
And now I really hope you have your own story in mind,
because my big insight won't wait any longer . . .
because my big insight won't wait any longer . . .
8. Here it goes . . . you don't know how much I wish I lived in a world where Christina Ricci could have played Bella Swan. (What?)
As soon as I saw it, I couldn't stop unseeing it: the similarities between the leads of Casper and of Twilight are UNCANNY. There's the basic pairing of a living girl and a dead guy . . . and the dead guy has special powers and feels really cold when you touch him, which, yeah, could just be because he's dead . . . but then the living girl is new in town, didn't leave many friends behind in her old one, and takes care of her loving but slightly distracted father in the absence of her mother . . . so stop thinking
I could play "Match the Scenes" all day
If you wonder how Kat Harvey and Bella Swan can be such a specific type, then you need to brush up on your faerie tales. Both Casper and Twilight happen to be modern, paranormal twists on Snow White. (Which means that whoever did the Twilight cover design was a genius.) But as of now, these two are the only other Snow Whites whom I can name with confidence . . . though I have a powerful hunch that Jane Eyre is one of them, too.
7. Since I watched this last Father's Day, I also paid special attention to Kat's father, Dr. Harvey. Unlike Charlie Swan, he probably won't make a list of "Favourite Movie Fathers" any time soon . . . or ever. After his wife died, he gave up his job as a regular therapist in order to be a therapist to ghosts--and his daughter has been paying the price for it.
There's a sense in which Dr. Harvey himself is a ghost--unable to move on after a death, even if it is not his own. And the effect his lifestyle has of uprooting his daughter nine times in two years kind of turns her into a ghost, too. How can she move on properly when she keeps moving away from every new starting point? Moving around and moving on aren't the same thing.
6. If what makes one a ghost is an inability to move on, then Stretch, Stinkie and Fatso make a great cautionary trio. They are clearly grown men arrested in adolescence (or if you prefer, dwarfs)--and it doesn't say much about Dr. Harvey that he willingly spends so much time with them . . . especially when he has a daughter to raise.
Nor am I happy that the uncles take up so much screen time, cutting into the time we have with Casper and Kat. Granted, the "Ghostly Trio" are part of the Casper "canon" while the Harveys are not--but my point is that you could rewrite the plot as a non-Casper movie, significantly reduce their roles, and have a better story. (Am I right, Stephenie Meyer?)
5. I'd actually take out most of the comical bits--not because I'm a curmudgeon, but because they too obviously go for the easy laughs. The only original joke I'd fight to keep is the villain's livid one-liner when the demolition crew she hired to wreck her house run away in panic: "You're sweaty male construction types, for Christ's sake!" Not only did it make me ROFLMAO, but it also tells us a lot about the character who said it.
4. And that character would be Carrigan Crittenden, who channels every wicked stepmother in folklore although she isn't actually a stepmother herself.
Thanks to one of my English lecturers at uni, I'm in the habit of playing "Spot the Missing Member" when watching families in the media. The Harvey family is lacking its wife and mother . . . and the only character who could possibly fill that role is Carrigan. There's even a scene in which Dr. Harvey tells Kat that he can't give her something perfectly reasonable because Carrigan hasn't allowed him to yet! Cathy Moriarty plays our villainess superbly and rivals the extraordinary Ricci as the best actor in the film.
3. Note also that Kat and Carrigan's conflict goes deeper than mutual dislike and disagreement. They are opposed the same way two poles of a magnet are opposed, and they probably attracted each other, from two different corners of a continent, for the same reason. Both are daughters who have strained relationships with their fathers--and they are brought together, by those fathers, to the same house. But while the house represents everything Kat wants, it's just something else Carrigan would tear down if she could. This movie may bear the Casper brand, but it is these two ladies who carry it.
2. Speaking of the house, Whipstaff Manor is a huge disappointment. We take settings seriously here, you know, and I'm not pleased at the "carnival fun house" atmosphere of the interiors, trick mirror and all.
I'll admit that the "Up And At 'Em" machine was fun enough to be one of the most memorable parts of the movie. Sadly, it owes its existence less to Snow White than to Home Alone. (All the 90s kids reading this are so at home right now . . .) I get that the filmmakers wanted to play to their audience, but they aimed too narrowly at only the children of one decade.
1. So what do you do when you're retelling Snow White but need the dead character to remain dead because of branding or whatever? You borrow from another faerie tale, of course! And if you're not aiming for subtlety, you explicitly identify it, too. =P
Seriously, there are a lot of archetypal stories that come together in Casper and are left loose at the end. With a sequel of similar quality, this franchise could have been a thing. And while it still kind of was, thanks to an animated series oddly reminiscent of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain (Settle down, 90s kids!), that spin-off wasn't an attempt to continue this story. Fortunately, as I pointed out at the beginning, pop culture moves in cycles, and stories left unfinished in one decade are picked up in another. And it really did take ten years after the premiere of this movie for us to read that novel you're already sick of me bringing into everything. =)
Image Sources: a) Casper poster, b) Casper screen cap, c) Kat and Casper, d) Bella and Edward, e) Stretch, Stinkie and Fatso, f) Carrigan Crittenden, g) Amelia and Casper