CASPER: A SPIRITED BEGINNING
starring Steve Guttenberg, Lori Loughlin, Rodney Dangerfield, Michael McKean
screenplay by Jymn Magon, Thomas Hart
directed by Sean McNamara
CASPER MEETS WENDY
starring Cathy Moriarty, Shelley Duvall, Teri Garr, George Hamilton
creenplay by Jymn Magon
directed by Sean McNamara
by Walter Chaw Taking place in a scary netherworld where up is down, black is white, and Steve Guttenberg, Rodney Dangerfield, Lori Loughlin, Pauly Shore, and Richard Moll still have careers, Casper: A Spirited Beginning is one long spiritless harangue designed for the kid with the helmet and the drool cup. Shockingly awful computer animation coupled with simply appalling acting wrapped around a plot that rips off Beetlejuice at every turn (newly-deceased goes through the process of denial before finding a handbook and a sympathetic morbid kid to help him/them adapt to the afterlife), Casper: A Spirited Beginning at the least honours the quality of those Harvey comics you used to read in the barber shop while trying to sneak a peak at the PLAYBOYs under the mirror.
Brendan Ryan Barrett is the morbid kid in question, "Creepy Chris," who would probably be more popular if he didn't scream everything he said in that Christmas-pageant way that indicates most child performances unfettered by talent or a director. Chris's dad is Tim (Guttenberg), an evil developer trying to tear down historic Applegate Mansion--a terminal eyesore inhabited by the "ghostly trio" familiar to Casper fans--while comely Loughlin plays Sheila Fistergraff (a name straight out of German pornography), the well-meaning activist who of course would never in a million years end up in the arms of a certain reformed architect. Meanwhile, lonely Chris befriends idiot ghost Casper, new in town courtesy what appears to be Commodore64. Debi Mazar, James Earl Jones (fresh from "Fences"), Ben Stein, Sherman Hemsley, Casper Van Dien, Michael McKean, and Edie McClurg make cameos of varying degrees of humiliating.
Sad and morbid in a way that's entirely glossed over by the flat stupidity of the entire exercise, the picture's essential concept revolves around the idea that a giant-headed, terminally moronic child has died to produce Casper and that said well-meaning simpleton entity becomes the only hale companion to a lonely, disturbed, overacting child. That Guttenberg produces the best performance in this death march is ultimately the most damning criticism one can offer for this direct-to-video atrocity. Avoid at all costs.
A touch better mainly for the absence of Guttenberg and Barrett, Casper Meets Wendy, another instalment in the inexplicable direct-to-video Casper franchise, answers the never-asked question of "whatever happened to: Shelley Duvall, poor, unrecognizable Teri Garr, Cathy Moriarty, George Hamilton, Vincent Schiavelli, Alan Thicke, Ben Stein, Pauly Shore, and Casper Van Dien (again)?" It is another feckless series of awkwardly-scored (and occasionally inappropriate) slapstick, horrifically incompetent computer animation, and broad child acting that makes Jake Lloyd look like Olivier. If you don't turn off the thing when Shore as a mirror genie does a little rap about Casper meeting Wendy, you're either five or in a coma.
With another anti-bullying/anti-bigotry message from the saccharine duo of Casper the friendly ghost and Wendy the good witch (Hilary Duff, who spends the whole film grinning insanely), Casper Meets Wendy is full of a general lightheartedness that still doesn't forgive the oppressive weight of stupidity that squeezes any possible enjoyment of the exercise from the sentient. Its nadir coming when the gone-to-seed Garr pretends to grotesquely mishear something as "fried chicken," the picture is generally harmless but parents, be warned: your kids will probably enjoy anything, so why not get them something that doesn't make you want to put forks in your eyes?
Both Casper: A Spirited Beginning and Casper Meets Wendy arrive on DVD in sharp 1.33:1 video transfers courtesy Fox Video. Coupled with nice if generally shallow Dolby 2.0 surround audio tracks, the Casper series on home video looks and sounds as good as it probably can and, more to the point, has any right to expect. While A Spirited Beginning is blissfully free of special features, Casper Meets Wendy has a brief featurette that showcases grotesquely self-congratulatory interviews with director Sean McNamara, Duff, Hamilton, Duvall, Garr, et al; a trailer that should be fair warning to anyone; and trailers for other "Foxflix" stillbirths: Casper: A Spirited Beginning; Anastasia; Ferngully: The Last Rainforest; and Ferngully 2: The Magical Rescue. Originally published: September 30, 2002.