Just in time for Halloween, the 1995 classic Casper, featuring the beloved character from our childhood, Casper the Friendly Ghost, has been haunting the Netflix US top ten films chart for three weeks now. It was there in the global top ten chart as well for about a week.
Truth be told, Casper has been captivating audiences for decades with his charming, ghostly adventures in print, animation, and more forms than one. But the 1995 American live-action/computer-animated film, Casper, directed by Brad Silberling, does something curious that no other previous renditions of the friendly ghost did before. It delves into the tragic backstory of this iconic character, explaining how the friendly ghost came to be.
The movie combines live-action and computer-generated imagery to bring Casper and his spectral friends to life, marking a milestone as the first feature film with a fully CGI character in a leading role.
However, what truly sets Casper apart is its dark take on the tragic origins of the titular character.
How did Casper die?
The 1990s witnessed a wave of adaptations from classic television series to the big screen. And the spooky tale of Casper joined this trend, bringing the endearing cartoon character to life while also tackling the challenge of explaining how a child could become a ghost. Screenwriters Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver, along with director Brad Silberling, introduced a compelling backstory that connected the dots between Casper’s life and his ghostly existence.
Casper, originally known as Casper McFadden, was once a 12-year-old boy who succumbed to pneumonia after playing in the snow for too long, as far as one theory goes. In the film, Casper tells Kat (another iconic 90s goth girl played by Christina Ricci) how he died, “I begged and begged my dad to get me this sledge, and he acted like I couldn’t even have it, ’cause I didn’t know how to ride it. And then, one morning, I… I came down for breakfast, and there it was, just for me. For no reason at all. I took it out, went sledging all day, and my dad said, ‘That’s enough,’ but I couldn’t stop. I was having so much fun!”
Casper continued with his sombre story of his own death, “Then…it got late. It got dark. It got cold. And I got sick. My dad got sad…I remember I didn’t go where I was supposed to go [when I died]. I just stayed behind…so my dad wouldn’t be lonely.”
The exploration of mortality, particularly through the lens of a child’s death, was somewhat of a bold gamble for a family film targeted mainly at a younger audience. But, it serves as a testament to the filmmakers’ ability to take a beloved character and expand upon his origins while retaining the essence of the source material. It isn’t just Casper’s character who deals with death.
Ricci’s Katherine also navigates the challenges of adolescence while coping with the loss of her mother. While Casper might be read as a meditation on death and what lies beyond, it isn’t all grief and gloom. The film’s unique blend of humour and heartwarming moments makes it a timeless classic that continues to resonate with audiences of all ages.
With a reported new Casper series in development on Peacock, it will be interesting to see whether the 1995 film’s origin story remains or if a new explanation for Casper’s ghostly existence will be introduced. Nonetheless, the enduring spirit of the friendly ghost will continue to spellbind.