Casper: A Spirited Beginning Reviews
I enjoyed this film, but regardless of what they say its in continuity with, its a film on its own. I mean where will you ever see Paulay Shore and James Earl Jones participate in a film together, even if it is just voice work.
3 out of 5 stars
A kid is lonely because his dad is a jerk (world's worst father alert - it is just ridiculous - and he is never satisfactorily redeemed), and befriends Casper the friendly ghost, who in this prequel to what was not a great first film, has only just become a ghost. Considering Casper didn't find out his past until the first film, expect no depth here - no, here, being dead is cool, not a tragedy. However, Casper isn't very important to the plot, in fact he seems to have been shoved in at a later date. All the ghost stuff could easily be cut without affecting the film, since it is so rarely focused on. It is mostly about a man wanting to knock down an old building (why are cheap kids' films always about building development?) and his neglected son (the ugliest child in the world). The 'plot' developments have no set up and are startlingly fast, and yet the film drags on seeminglly forever.
This film is so bad, even the extras can't act. I can't bear it. Don't harm yourself. Please, please, I beg you. It's a g-g-g-god awful film.
"Casper - A Spirited Beginning" is a good movie in most ways. Casper and the same 3 ghosts that were in the first Casper movie are back in this one along with a bunch of new ghosts including one that looks like a huge version of Slimer from The Ghostbusters. "Casper - A Spirited Beginning" has an interesting plot, parts of it are funny, and it has good animated effects such as an old graveyard and a train with a skull on the front of it. If you like Casper movies, I recommend getting "Casper - A Spirited Beginning." It's a new beginning to a new kind of Casper movies, and it's good. NOTE: That was my Amazon review from the year 2000.
As a prequel, it stinks. As a movie, it sucks. And as something labelled "90 minutes long", it should be brought up on charges of false advertising.
Set before the original (and flawed, but hey, quite enjoyable) Casper movie, this story finds Casper (Jeremy Foley) on a train to a Ghost Academy. He's only just died, apparently, and is thrown off the train to a place called Deedstown. Three ghosts inhabit a spooky house there, Applegate Mansion, and a local architect (Steven Guttenberg) wants to knock it down. Luckily the community has something to say about that, particularly a spunky schoolteacher (Lori Loughlin) who, groan, has the hots for him. Anyway, the architect's son Chris (Brendan Ryan Barrett) befriends Casper, who is receiving ghost lessons first from the Ghostly Trio, and later from Chris. Meanwhile the head of the Ghost Training Academy, Kibosh (James Earl Jones), is furious that Casper's been skipping class, and sends Snivel (Pauly Shore) to keep an eye on him.
Got all that? This disparate pile of plots leaves me wondering if they originally had a film with about a troubled schoolkid whose architect Dad spent all his time at work, and just added the Casper stuff to make it sell.
Everything we learn about Casper is painfully at odds with what we learned in the first movie, where we found out how he died about a hundred years ago, and lived in Whipstaff Manor, not this Applegate place. Also, being a kids' movie of the particularly lazy variety, A Spirited Beginning skips the whole issue that Casper has just died and can't go back, even though he's desperate to do so in the first movie and tortured by his ghostly existence. Here, there is no philosophising on the whole notion of life and death, and while you might argue that kids' movies don't do such things, give them a little credit. Sometimes they do. (The Lion King, anyone?) Here, being a ghost is just super-cool. Chris seems to actually envy Casper, because being dead means you can change shape and go invisible. Yeah, great message.
(Chris also has some kind of ancient handbook explaining things about ghosts, and it's never explained where he got it or who previously owned it. But since most of the plot doesn't make sense, we'll just ignore that.)
The special effects were a major part of the first film's success, so you'd probably expect them to at least be on a par in the second film. Not so. Shockingly inept is a better description. These poorly-rendered ghosts look like they escaped from an unfinished video game. (Indeed, sections of the movie that almost entirely feature animated images cropped up in a PC game version of A Spirited Beginning, which leads me to wonder if the game developers did the elbow work.) The film simply can't maintain the illusion that they're part of the world we're looking at, as they've been strangely superimposed over the footage, rather than integrated into it. (Sometimes they move with the camera, which is - forgive the pun - a dead giveaway.) There's a lot of dire ghostly slapstick, most of which involves farts, snot and belches, and it's just obnoxiously unfunny. It's better, however, than the dialogue. The script is (literally) groaning with bad ghost puns, mostly delivered by the shameless Pauly Shore. James Earl Jones has almost nothing to do or say, which judging from the script is probably a blessing. He cuts through the film pointlessly, nothing more than a limp subplot.
As for the non-ghost stuff, it's predictable and boring, which probably explains where the seemingly infinite runtime came from. The weird-looking Brendan Ryan Barrett is an odd choice for the main character; considering this is a prequel, shouldn't it be, you know, Casper? Barrett overacts, along with everybody else, including the extras. The only person dialling it down is Rodney Dangerfield, who simmers at a level of bad joke delivery that's pretty quiet for him. Michael McKean is briefly amusing as a crazed demolitions expert, but then he's given a desperately bad Mission: Impossible gag, at which I simply stared in disbelief. His character stops making sense by the end.
Ultimately what really gets me is the way this doesn't tie in with the first movie. No effort goes into making these events appear older, although there is a line - "Did you see The Wrath Of Kahn?" - which might date it, if it weren't for all the X-Files references. Such embarrassingly lax attention to detail simply makes you uneasy. Why bother sitting through this, if they didn't put in the time and effort to do what they set out to do?
If you should sit through A Spirited Beginning - the title of which is an example of the kind of "humour" involved - you'll be bored rigid by the story, horrified by the special effects, amused and weirded out by the acting and irritated by the continuity. Nothing about it works. I can't even think of a graceful or measured final thought to have about it, as it's left me feeling cranky. It just sucks.