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Casper's Haunted Christmas

Universal // Unrated // October 31, 2000
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 4, 2000 | E-mail the Author
In "Casper's Haunted Christmas", the friendliest ghost you know has been so friendly for so long that he runs the risk of being banished to eternity imprisoned in The Dark. Yup, it's not only his uncles, the Ghostly Trio, that are disgusted by how nice Casper is. Kibosh, head honcho of the spectral world, gives Casper an ultimatum -- scare one person by Christmas Day, or he and his uncles are off to perpetual isolation in The Dark. To make this task more difficult, Kibosh sends the four ghosts to a location primarily chosen to annoy the Trio -- Kriss, Massachusetts (if you don't get the joke, take another look). As an incentive for the uncles to help Casper along, he revokes their haunting licenses, and Snivel, an agent of Kibosh's, is sent to tag along and keep an eye on things. While there, Casper befriends a young girl who's less-than-pleased with her family's Christmas obsession, but the Trio doesn't like this turn and begin to hatch a plan of their own...

Most Christmas specials are pretty interchangable, but "Casper's Haunted Christmas" isn't cut from the same cloth as the rest. The inspiration of past Christmas films are evident, including "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas", "A Christmas Carol", "Frosty the Snowman", and "It's A Wonderful Life". The sorts of children's films I've always enjoyed most are those that have another layer that adults can appreciate but goes unnoticed by children. Generally that means sexual innuendo of some sort, and that's not the case here...but the homages to "Scream", "Psycho", and "Say Anything" (!) should keep parents as entertained as their children as they watch this disc. Actually...I don't want to make it sound as if "Casper's Haunted Christmas" is just a good kids' movie. I don't have any kids, and I got a huge kick out the film. This is good stuff, and I'm glad it's part of my collection.

Video: Some other studios have decided that kids' titles don't warrant the widescreen treatment, and some (gasp!) offer only pan-and-scan versions of certain films (take "Pokémon: The First Movie", for instance). Universal, however, has provided both 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and cropped versions of "Casper's Haunted Christmas" on this disc, along with a selection menu (similar to that of many Anchor Bay releases) demonstrating that, yup, wider is better. "Casper's Haunted Christmas" was transferred directly from the computer, so the image is as close to the original as possible. The quality of the CG-animation is pretty good -- though the beginning scene at the drive-in pales in comparison to the rest -- but it's not an $80 million Pixar production, so don't go in expecting "Toy Story III". It's definitely better than Saturday morning quality animation, in any event. The razor-sharp and extremely colorful image does look as good as it possibly could considering the source, so it gets the ever-coveted 5-star rating.

Audio: Also...a 5.1 track on a kids' title! The audio is about as impressive as the video, particularly with respect to the music throughout. Randy Travis' two musical contributions in particular sound amazing, one of them being a honkey-tonk version of the Casper theme. The clarity of the instruments in Travis' songs are clear, distinct, and enveloping, as if I were standing in the middle of the studio with them. I'm not a country fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I can appreciate high-quality audio when I hear it, and I'm gettin' it from "Casper's Haunted Christmas". The score, performed by a symphony rather than the goofy keyboard schlock so prevalent in animation, also sounds exceptional. Directional effects aren't too prevalent; I noticed several early on, but they're few and far between once Casper turns up in Kriss. I was (yes, the list keeps on going) very pleased with the range of the bass as well, in the music, voices (mostly Kibosh and Fatso), and effects. If you want to show off your home theater to your kids, this'd be the way to do it.

Supplements: The most notable extra is a 15 minute featurette focusing on every aspect of production, ranging from the genesis of the project to the writing to the voice acting to the music to the animation. Plenty of interviews, and lots of information...I've seen over a hundred featurettes, and I think "The Making of Casper's Haunted Christmas" might be the best I've watched yet. Also, on the DVD-ROM portion of the disc is "Casper's Activity Center", featuring 5 games with 3 difficult levels, and when all of the games at all of the levels have been completed, a secret game becomes accessible. Rounding out the supplements are cast bios and recommended films, including trailers for "Babe", "Beethoven's 2nd", "The Land Before Time", and "Little Rascals". I also learned there was a "Beethoven's 3rd". Why didn't anyone tell me?

Conclusion: When I picked up "Casper's Haunted Christmas", I was expecting a goofy, dumb kids' special because I...well...enjoy goofy, dumb kids' specials. I was surprised when the film turned out to be pretty intelligent with a plot far more complex than the usual simplistic "learning the true meaning of Christmas" spiel. I'm sure I'm setting myself up for relentless mocking from some of my readers and fellow reviewers, but I actually liked "Casper's Haunted Christmas" quite a bit. The movie is entertaining and had me laughing out loud several times, the audio is extremely well-done, and the visuals -- though they'll unfairly be compared to Pixar's work -- are effective and occassionally very impressive. For those of you who either have no interest in animation or balk at the thought of owning a movie called "Casper's Haunted Christmas", skip it. Otherwise, "Casper's Haunted Christmas" is highly recommended as a purchase, as it really is one of the best Christmas-themed movies that I've ever seen.
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Highly Recommended

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