Christmas as it’s celebrated today is largely for the children, and so it’s only right that there be some Christmas movies just for the kids. Some of these films are well done and entertaining even for adults; others are strictly kid fare, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And then there are those films that aren’t even good on that basis.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of having a Casper Christmas movie. After all, Charles Dickens had beneficent ghosts in his famous story. The idea of giving Casper the Friendly Ghost a Christmas adventure makes at least as much sense as doing it for Shrek or the characters from Ice Age. Unfortunately, that is the closest this 2000 direct-to-video release gets to making sense.
It begins a few days before Christmas, when Casper and his uncles Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso — who all must have had terrible times when alive and in school — are accosted by Kibosh, the lord of all ghosts. Casper’s scaring quota is down, and he has to make it up. It is apparently a ghost law that every ghost must deliberately scare at least one person per year, without apologizing, or they will be banished to “the dark” forever. One wonders how Casper has skated by all these years. At any rate, Casper is about to run out of time, and so he is given the ultimatum to scare somebody by Christmas — and he must do it in the town of Kriss, Massachusetts, where Christmas cheer will make it even more difficult. What’s more, as he is their responsibility (how does post-mortem custody work, anyway?) his uncles will be joining him in both Kriss and the dark. They also get their haunting licenses revoked for the duration… meaning that as incentive to get Casper to scare somebody, the three skilled scarers aren’t allowed to scare.
If they fail he will torture them as he tortures logic.
It is, arguably, a little unfair to poke holes in the logic of a film aimed at six-year-olds. However, most six-year-olds could poke holes in this film’s logic. The moment a kid learns that ghosts can move through solid objects they’re going to wonder how Ghost Police Officer Snivel can get trapped inside a moving Santa display, or how a fan can disrupt the Ghostly Trio, or how they can be involuntarily affected by booby traps. They’re also likely to wonder how it is that Casper can’t make a snow angel when he can pick up snow to throw snowballs.
Visually, the movie isn’t that great either. Curiously, the ghosts — which ought to be the most difficult to make convincing in computer-rendered graphics — are the most believable. Everything else is a little hard to look at. Colors are flat and almost always devoid of texture, people move stiffly, and cars look like something out of a first-generation Playstation game. In fairness to the film, it was released in 2000, so it would be unjust to compare it to today’s computer-rendered animation. But there are two factors that prevent this from being a complete defense. First, it was five years after Toy Story, yet the people in it look more plasticky than the toys in Pixar’s film. Second, and more importantly, the animation was done by Mainframe Entertainment, the studio behind the TV series ReBoot and Transformers: Beast Wars. It is hard to escape the conclusion that they could have done better when they had done better in prior works. There really isn’t any excuse for a car shattering into triangles when it’s destroyed, as happens here.
This sweater is one of the very few objects to have more than one color.
What keeps the film from being a total failure is that there is just barely enough plot to hold a kid’s interest, if that kid is easily satisfied. An active child will likely wander off, and an adult is likely to doze off. And there are occasional successes with the attempts at humor; only occasional, though, and they aren’t very big successes. The physical humor works all right; the rest is primarily puns (such as the aforementioned Kriss, Mass.) or inept references to older movies. These will fly right over the heads of children — what small child has seen Scream or Ghost? — and adults won’t find them inventive or funny enough to laugh at. The only one I recall working even slightly is the It’s a Wonderful Life gag, and one has to set the bar pretty low to laugh at it.
But then, one has to set the bar pretty low to give Casper’s Haunted Christmas any praise at all.