Have a Happy Boo Year.
This straight to video Christmas special starring Casper the Friendly Ghost and his usual companions offers excellent computer animation, a decently written script that even gives the parents a few laughs in a story made for the kids. Universal has released a DVD that is a welcome addition in the home for families with small kids, with great picture and sound along with an extra or two.
Facts of the Case
Casper gets in trouble with Kibosh, the King of the Ghosts, when he doesn't meet his yearly quota of scaring at least one person a year. Apparently all the unintentional scares don't count, and his uncles Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso (the Ghostly Trio) will be sent along with him to The Dark (a dark void that's well…dark and stuff) unless Casper scares someone by Christmas Day. To make matters more difficult, all are banished to the town of Kriss, Massachusetts (that's Kriss, Mass…get it?) where the whole town is made up of the most joyous, Christmas-y folks you can come across. Casper befriends Holly Jollimore, a young girl who prefers Halloween to Christmas, and is as out of place in Kriss as Casper is among ghosts. But the Ghostly Trio still want to make trouble, and have recruited Spooky, Casper's cousin, to impersonate him and pull off a scare.
This is a completely computer animated feature along the lines of Toy Story and A Bug's Life. Though I wouldn't say the results are up to the high standards set by Pixar, it looks very good and a huge cut above most computer graphics I've seen on the screen. The ghosts are translucent but three dimensional, and the rest of the graphics are well rendered without trying to look photo-realistic.
Making a decent family feature is difficult, because it must strike a balance between being something kids will like but intelligent enough for adults to also enjoy. All the best animated features manage to do this well, and Casper's Haunted Christmas succeeds fairly well. Scenes that copy or parody a host of Christmas specials including It's a Wonderful Life, The Grinch that Stole Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman along with some "borrowing" from The Three Stooges and Duck Soup at least give adults something to point at and understand. The dialogue also has enough for adults with lines that might pass over the heads of small kids. On the other hand, expect as many puns such as "his picture's in the Fearbook" as could possibly be included, which might elicit a groan rather than a laugh after the 30th time.
Universal offers a choice between anamorphic widescreen set to perfectly fill a 16 x 9 display (1.78:1 aspect ratio) or full frame versions. Both transfers are without artifact and offer sharp clarity and bright color, along with fine shadow detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is quite good as well, with nice directionality as ghosts fly by and other effects. Dialogue and the musical score are very clear with high fidelity, and the songs by country and western singer Randy Travis sound like…Randy Travis if you like that sort of thing.
Extras are a bit on the light side but nice enough. Outtakes are advertised and appear during the credit sequence. They are funny enough, as are the interview segments in the 14 minute "making of" featurette. Here we get the voice actors talking in and out of character, or even voicing over each other's characters which are all good for a laugh. The featurette also covers the intense work it took to bring the characters to life from wireframe and skeletal sub-systems to finished graphics. Other than these two features, only a short cast information section and a DVD-ROM game are offered. Not a lot there, but what is there is fine.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't have a lot to complain about here. Speaking personally, I find Christmas specials in general too sweet and saccharine for my taste, and there is plenty of that gooey sentimentality. The fact that I didn't totally hate this one says something and caused me to give it a good review.
Often I must put myself into the shoes of people who might be in the market for things I don't personally like, and try to keep that in mind. If you hated every other Christmas special to come down the pike, you probably won't like this one any better. But if you want some above average fare for the family at Yuletide, then this one will suffice. The feature and the disc are both worth a rental, and aficionados of Casper, Christmas specials, and Randy Travis might want to make a purchase.
Universal and the makers of Casper's Haunted Christmas are acquitted thanks to making a feature length special with fine graphics and a better than average intelligence story. Now it's time for another viewing of Evil Dead so I can really be scared instead of the Casper variety of spookiness. So court is adjourned.
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