Shout! Factory // 1945 // 486 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 16th, 2011
All 81 original Casper cartoons!
"Casper's Spree Under the Sea," one of the earliest Casper the Friendly Ghost animated shorts, offers a touching little story. Casper is a sad, lonely little ghost with no interest in scaring people. This fact is bewildering to his spectral peers, as most ghosts love nothing more than scaring the heebie-jeebies out of unsuspecting victims. Casper wants nothing more than to make friends with somebody, but everyone he approaches screams, "EEE! A ghost!" and runs away (after a while, this utterance would transform into the less succinct, "EEE! A g-g-g-g-g-ghost!"). Fortunately, Casper is capable of surviving under water, and soon finds himself making friends with a cheerful little fish. They spend a few minutes enjoying some sights & sounds, get themselves into (and out of, thankfully) a nasty scrape and conclude things on a happy note. It's a simple, sweet, supernaturally-themed short.
I imagine the short worked like gangbusters as a prelude to a theatrical presentation, but it's a bit less effective in the context of Casper the Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection 1945-1963. That's because the story told in "Casper's Spree Under the Sea" is essentially the same story that the vast majority of the shorts included provide: Casper is sad, Casper makes an unexpected friend (usually an animal or a child, who are too innocent to be frightened of ghosts), Casper is happy. It's perfectly pleasant in small doses, but doing a marathon of this collection just grew wearisome after a while.
To be sure, plenty of animated icons repeat themselves in many of their cartoons. Tom and Jerry primarily stick to the same "cat vs. mouse" formula, while Elmer Fudd & Bugs Bunny mostly rely on the old "incompetent hunter can't catch that wascally wabbit" premise. However, those characters are frequently able to add something fresh into the mix each time around. The Tom and Jerry cartoons find new forms of frantic slapstick to throw into the mix, while Bugs and Elmer often bring entertaining new one-liners to the table. The Casper shorts generally don't have much wit in the dialogue department, and the physical comedy is middling at best. They rely on the gentle, heartfelt stories at their core, but that particular asset doesn't hold up nearly as well when recycled over and over again. As such, the only shorts which really stand out are the ones which shake up the formula (for instance, Casper's visit with Ed Sullivan in "Ghost of the Town"), and there just aren't enough of them peppered throughout this collection.
Still, while these shorts might be a little too one-note for the average viewer (a problem also built into other Harvey Comics characters like Richie Rich), this set will appeal to its two target markets: young children and animation buffs. Kids are likely to enjoy the Casper cartoons regardless of the repetition; a liability which doesn't tend to be an issue for most youngsters (as any parent who's been subjected to that one annoying DVD hundreds of times will attest). Meanwhile, animation junkies who simply want a fairly comprehensive collection of Casper shorts will be pleased with what's on offer here.
The first three Casper the Friendly Ghost shorts are included as bonus features for some reason (a legal issue of some kind?), but they are indeed part of this set. You also get the many theatrical Casper shorts made between 1950 and 1959 spread out across two discs, plus another disc chock-full of shorts made for The New Casper Cartoon Show in the early '60s. There are some inconsistencies here and there (sometimes a Paramount logo appears at the beginning and sometimes you get a Harvey Toons logo) and the transfers aren't anywhere close to the Looney Tunes Golden Collection standard (plenty of scratches and flecks are present throughout most of the shorts, and a few of them look flat-out ugly), but by all accounts this is the best and best-looking assembly of Casper shorts to date. At least the price is right (the three-disc set retails for only $30, and can be had for considerably less). Extras include some informative commentaries hosted by Mark Arnold and featuring appearances by Edmee Reit, Bradley Bolke and Alison Arngrim (good tracks marred by poor audio quality), some interviews with the same three guests and a gallery of Casper comic book covers.
Ghostly, but not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 486 Minutes
Release Year: 1945
MPAA Rating: Not Rated