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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 26, 1995


Brad Siberling
Christina Ricci;
Bill Pullman;
Cathy Moriarty;
Eric Idle
bad language

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In his transmigration from Harvey Comic to computer-generated movie 'toon, "Casper" has become the user-friendly ghost. Otherwise, he remains the same lost soul: a lonely little entity stuck in a purgatory without any playmates. While Casper's very premise is a macabre one, in the past, fans weren't encouraged to think of him as the noncorporeal remains of a dead child.

But at the beginning of "Casper," a lame but larkish look at the afterlife, the wee phantasm is in denial. He knows he's a ghost and that all the other kids are scared of him, but he isn't really dealing with the issue. This is a new age ghost story, though, and before too long, the fetus-shaped apparition learns to accept his demise. He's helped by his new friend, Kat (Christina Ricci), and Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman), her ghost therapist dad.

Dr. Harvey has been hired to exorcise Casper and his wacky uncles—Stinkie, Fatso and Stretch—from Whipstaff Manor, a gothic monstrosity recently inherited by the story's villainess (Cathy Moriarty). Both Kat and the doctor, who got into the business after his wife died, are still not coping well with their own loss when they meet the spirited residents of Whipstaff.

The uncles, whose digitalized antics provide the film's few chuckles, don't like "fleshies" living in the house, but in time, dysfunctionalism is routed and they all live—or don't, as the case may be—happily ever after. Casper, who turns out to have been 12 when he died of pneumonia, even gets to return briefly to his body so he can escort Kat to a school Halloween party held at the fancifully decorated manor house.

A cross between the TV cartoon "Beetlejuice" and the best-selling book "How We Die," the picture was produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. As expected, it features extra-spectral effects, slews of celebrity guest shots and splendidly decorated sets. For all of that, though, the film is duller than a dead man's eyes.

Brad Silberling, a TV director ("Brooklyn Bridge," "NYPD Blue") making his feature debut, obviously is out of his element in this grandiose extravaganza of sets and effects. Still, that doesn't explain the inert performances of Moriarty and her henchman, Eric Idle, and sundry other supporting characters. Much of the blame belongs to Sherri Stoner, Deanna Oliver and the many ghost writers who created this ghoulish hash of teen romance, father-and-child reunion and monster mash.

Casper is rated PG for bad language.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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