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Casper

(Brad Silberling, USA, 1995)


 


It is always fun trying to work out what ghosts in movies can and cannot do. The ghosts in Casper can skip out of their haunted haven on holidays, get knocked around by humans, carry water and hold solid objects in their hands but – since this is a Spielberg production for kids – they "can't hurt anyone".

Nonetheless, there are always two sides – a nice and a nasty side – to Spielberg's vision. So, alongside the usual saccharine sentimentality, there are odd, fleeting jokes about child abuse, defecation, tabloid television, and a mighty intriguing business involving Casper almost sharing a bed with the pubescent object of his affections, Cat (Christina Ricci).

Casper is one of those effortlessly entertaining confections which is hardly subversive or perverse, but neither is it exactly straight. And this is where the fun and the thrill of the film comes from. Straying into Beetlejuice (1988) territory, it spins a tale of crossovers between the living and the dead. While Casper whispers plaintively into his beloved's ear "can I keep you?", Cat's father James (Bill Pullman) becomes a therapist for ghosts in the hope of one day reaching his deceased wife.

Poor Cathy Moriarty. After debuting in Raging Bull (1980), this fine actor has been condemned to play an endless string of apparently deviant women – predators, transsexuals, strident harridans. Some enlightened adults taking their toddlers along to Casper may well wonder about the misogynistic venom with which the film brands Moriarty's character (in both her human and supernatural incarnations) as a monstrous "bitch".

Debut feature director Brad Silberling adds a fine sense of comic timing to proceedings – a gag where Casper interferes with the shoelaces of every kid in Cat's class is worthy of Blake Edwards. And the production design by Leslie Dilley – full of labyrinthine passageways, plunging architectural aspects and hidden surprises – is a movie unto itself.

© Adrian Martin July 1995


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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