It happens all the time — you go back and watch one of your favorite childhood movies years or even decades later, and along with that burst of nostalgia comes some lingering questions that you can’t stop thinking about, even if they make you feel like a crazy person. This recently happened to me with Casper, when I decided to show the 26-year-old friendly ghost movie to my kids as we started our family Halloween movie night marathon. And, while the experience was a resounding success for all parties, there are a few things about the movie I can’t stop thinking about.
Now, it should be noted that the points I am about to make about the movie, starring a post-Addams Family Christina Ricci and a pre-Independence Day Bill Pullman, aren't meant to sound like snobbish film criticism but instead come from a place of love; a love I still have for this movie like I did when I first watched it at my friend’s grandparents’ house when I was in the first grade…
It Seems Like James Harvey, A ‘Paranormal Therapist,’ Doesn’t Actually Believe In Ghosts
The basic premise of Casper is that a greedy heiress named Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty) has a massive, abandoned, and haunted Whipstaff mansion bequeathed to her following the death of her father. Though she has no interest in the property initially, Crittenden changes her mind when she learns of a treasure hidden somewhere in the house. To take care of the ghost problem, Crittenden contacts James Harvey (Bill Pullman) a “paranormal therapist” who specializes working with wayward spirits looking to pass on to the afterlife after resolving unfinished business. You would think Harvey would believe in ghosts then, right? RIGHT?
Well, after James Harvey and his daughter, Kat (Christina Ricci), move into the haunted mansion, they meet Casper and his three uncles, known as the Ghostly Trio. Kat, not believing in ghosts, acts accordingly and passes out in shock. Her father, the supposed ghost specialist, flips out and acts like he’s seeing a ghost for the first time. I’m not saying it’s bad writing, though because it leads to the most ridiculous scene of the entire movie, when Harvey’s reflection turns into Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield, Mel Gibson, and the Crypt Keeper from Tales from the Crypt.
Carrigan Crittenden Immediately Remembers Her Plan Upon Turning Into A Ghost When No One Else Did
One of the major ghost rules brought up time and time again throughout Casper is that the wayward spirits can’t take care of their unfinished business because they don’t have any memories from their life before death. At one point Casper even tells Kat Harvey that he spent years wandering around the Whipstaff mansion before he remembered who he was and why he was stuck on the property. Something similar happens to James Harvey when he dies after falling into a manhole and only begins to remember Kat after she keeps reminding him that he has a daughter, before convincing him to step into the Lazarus machine (Casper’s dad built this years earlier in an attempt to resurrect his dead son).
The same can’t be said about Carrigan Crittenden when she becomes a ghost so that she can break into Casper’s father’s vault and steal what she believes to be priceless treasure. Pretty much as soon as Crittenden transforms into a ghost, she completely remembers everything about her life, her motivations, and her greed. The over-the-top villain gets what she deserves, though, when she discovers that the treasure is Casper’s baseball and baseball glove, and not bags of gold.
Why Did Amelia Harvey Become An Angel When Literally Everyone Else Who Dies Becomes A Ghost?
By now, it has been established that the ghosts in Casper follow the rules that have been set for them loosely, at best, but one of the biggest head-scratchers of the entire movie comes in the final act when Kat’s mom and James’ wife, Amelia Harvey (Amy Brenneman of Judging Amy fame), comes back to talk to everyone as an angel. No weird bulbous head, no translucent complexion, no morphing abilities like everyone else, just a straight up angel.
And, yeah it’s true that Amelia points out to James that she has no unfinished business because he and Kat loved her so much when she was alive, but it still doesn’t explain how she was able to come back as an angel or why she doesn’t look like the other spirits with those round heads, lack of human features, and ability to turn into pillows, or turn humans into Rodney Dangerfield. I wouldn’t say Casper has “no respect” for the audience, but I still can’t seem to get to the bottom of this.
And Why Does The Spirit World Have To Play By Cinderella Rules?
When Amelia Harvey comes to Whipstaff and rewards Casper for being a good ghost, she gives him the “Cinderella Deal,” in that he gets to become a real boy (played by Devon Sawa) and share a dance with Kat. But, instead of giving him the customary midnight deadline, Amelia gives Casper until the stroke of 10 o’clock (I guess even ghost kids have early bedtimes) before he is turned back into a spirit.
But, the question still remains, why do Amelia and Casper have to play by rules first established by Cinderella in the first place? If Amelia, an angel who practically showed up out of nowhere with a pretty sweet red outfit, and Casper, who can literally turn into inanimate objects and walk through walls, can do what they do, why do they have to follow an arbitrary set of rules? Are they a kid-friendly ghost version of Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski?
So Casper And Kat Harvey Aren’t Going To Act Like They Just Kissed At The End?
There is a lot going on between Casper and Kat Harvey all throughout the movie leading up to their big kiss at the big dance (after the friendly ghost turns to Devon Sawa). I mean, Casper put the events of the movie in motion when he catches a brief glimpse of Kat on Hard Copy and then does everything he can to be around her multiple times. All that being said, it only seemed natural that the two would share a kiss at some point before the credits rolled, and when it does happen, it’s a great magical moment that every pre-teen watching the movie dreams about experiencing at one point or another (the kiss; not the kissing a ghost part of it).
But, Casper turns back to a ghost in the middle of the kiss, which freaks out all of Kat’s classmates who are attending the dance, and rightfully so. As soon as Devon Sawa in all white turns back into a ghostly spirit, it’s like the moment never happened; that the kiss and all the feelings behind it was just an apparition. I'd like to know, where do they go from here besides just acting like they didn't kiss as they dance to Little Richard’s “Casper, the Friendly Ghost”?
There are a lot of things about Casper that don’t make a whole lot of sense, but this shouldn’t take much away from the 1995 friendly ghost movie, that is surprisingly a lot of fun to watch, even as an adult.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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