Plot: Casper might be a ghost, but he is a new ghost and he hasn’t grasped his situation well enough to understand that. As a train transports him to the afterlife, Casper runs into some mean ghosts and is soon kicked off the train, where he lands just outside the city of Deedstown. Even as he wanders around this new town, he doesn’t get that he is a ghost, though the local residents are terrified by the paranormal tourist. As the truth starts to sink in, Casper looks for a place to lay low and collect himself, so heads into Applegate Mansion. At the mansion he meets three mean, but not always mean ghosts known as the Ghostly Trio, who agree to help him to learn to transition into his ghost life and how to haunt properly. But with such a kind personality, can Casper really be a scary ghost, even if the fate of Applegate Mansion hangs in the balance?
Entertainment Value: The original Casper movie was a big budget, theatrical picture, but this sequel is scaled down across the board and was released direct to video, with much less to work with. So A Spirited Beginning lacks the polish and gloss of the first movie, but it does have an odd vibe and plenty of made for television movie type cheese, which I appreciated. This almost feels like a sitcom pilot to be honest, it has the goofy sense of humor and sometimes laughable production values that might entail, as well as a wholesome texture. The story is fine and tracks Casper’s first experiences as a ghost, which means an awkward start, as the movie just kind of drops this dead kid into the mix and explains little about his situation. There are some laughs here, especially if you appreciate lame, dad joke style humor, as that is what most of the material is, with some slapstick, over the top elements at times. I can see people thinking this is lame and painfully unfunny, but I can also see people who agree with that, but have fun with it because of those reasons. Casper also went from being one of the first fully CGI lead characters to a visual effect that would make dated Saturday morning cartoons look believable, which was fun. So if you appreciate silly, often lame humor in a sitcom/family movie vein, this is a worth a chance.
However you feel about the movie itself, you have to admit, this one has a colorful, eclectic ensemble of talent involved. Steve Guttenberg turns in a cheesy performance as the cornball dad, while Lori Loughlin is the generic mom, but it is the smaller roles and even cameos that tend to stand out here. Although, it is humorous to see Guttenberg with a goatee, so that is a nice bonus. Rodney Dangerfield had a super quick cameo in the original Casper movie, but here he returns in a slightly larger, but still small role to do his usual routine. I don’t mean that as a critique either, as I love Dangerfield’s humor and I think he adds a lot to his scenes. In fact, I sought this movie out because of his presence and I enjoyed his brief performance. Michael McKean also provides some laughs and Pauly Shore is always fun, bringing his persona to some voice over work. The roster also includes Richard Moll, Edie McClurg, Brian Doyle-Murray, James Earl Jones, and Ben Stein, so it is an interesting assortment of performers.
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