Directed by Brad Silberling
Written by Sherri Stoner & Deanna Oliver
Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about how great Casper is? Yes, the 90’s Casper, starring Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci. I don’t know about you, but as a kid I fucking loved this movie. But I feel like if I were to bring it up to people as a legitimately good film, they’d laugh at me. Well, laugh away if you want, because I revisited last night to make sure it holds up, and it turns out it absolutely does.
For one, this movie does a lot of unique things with texture. Do you remember the Pepsi commercial with Casper in it that aired around the time the movie came out? In it, Casper is trying to get a Pepsi out of a fridge by reaching though the side of it like ghosts can, but it just keeps bashing up against the inside of the fridge and he can’t get it out, and he’s all bummed out by this. You can watch it here.
We took this ad as just a cheap gag at the time, but looking back on it, it’s a very clever visual, and it has a lot to say about what the anguish of being ghost might be like. And the whole movie has things like this through it—all sorts of quirky little scenes that illustrate the rules of being a ghost.
The use of food in this movie is genius. For example, when the ghost uncles eat, food turns into mush and then falls out of them in piles on the floor. As living people, we love eating more than damn near anything else. And what would be halfway between being alive and being dead? Being able to eat, but only sort of. Brilliant.
There’s also a part where Casper tries to come back to life, but it doesn’t really work, and he instead turns into a fried egg with a face. When I was a kid, I just accepted this sort of craziness. I was like, ‘oh yeah, that makes sense’. But that shit doesn’t make any sense at all! However, on an emotional level, it does—like poetry. I think movies now are goddamn terrified of not making sense, and it’s a shame, because it gets in the way of them becoming poetic.
This movie came out when I was five, and I watched it about a thousand times between being five and ten years old. Before I rewatched it last night, I could have sworn that during the scene early on where Casper makes breakfast for Kat, Casper mixes eggs and orange juice in a blender. That always stuck in my mind as a weird memory of the movie. I always was kinda like, ‘what the heck’ (I was a child, that was how we talked). I mean, I knew that body builders eat egg yolks, and I know OJ resembles egg yolks in color, but mixing them? And yet, I accepted it, like all the other weird stuff in the movie.
As an adult, having not seen the film in ages, I rationalized the egg and orange juice thing as that we may not understand the idea of mixing yolks and OJ, but a ghost, who can only see, and maybe can’t feel texture or taste, might just assume that because they’re similar in color, they might go well together as food. It just makes sense to his child ghost brain.
Watching it again last night, it turns out I misunderstood what was going on in the scene. What actually happens is, Casper makes a sunny side up egg for Kat, and she winces while looking endearing at the same time and says, “Sunny side up kinda makes me yack”. To which he says “No problem” and turns his hand into a fork and scrambles the egg. He then uses his hand as a strainer to strain orange juice from a pitcher into a glass. Then he throws the pulp, splattering it against the wall, where it looks a lot like egg yolk.
It’s a great scene, and not only does it contain some of the most elegant CGI meets practical effects that I’ve ever come across (despite its datedness) but it also boasts some very good direction. The timing of Casper’s facial expressions as he tries to impress this girl he likes keep your eyes glued, and not only that, but Kat’s facial expressions are just as cartoonishly timed and exaggerated as his are. Here you’ve got two people whose loneliness mirrors each other so well that it doesn’t really matter which one is the ghost, or who is animated and who isn’t. You just don’t see that much in live action / CGI hybrids.
So, don’t take Casper for granted just because you may have seen it as a child. If you liked it then, you didn’t just like it because you were a child—you liked it because it’s actually a good movie. They don’t make them like this anymore.