Monday, October 16, 2006
The Evolution of Casper the Friendly Ghost on Screen
Casper's the friendly ghost, the friendliest ghost you'll know...so says the jingle that helped introduce a generation of animation/movie fans to a character that has found a rebirth (if you will) in the world of live action films and now computer animation 61 years after he first hit the big screen. Casper was created in the early-1940s by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo. The character was originally intended for a children's storybook, but there was little interest. Then, while Reit was away fighting WW II, Oriolo sold the rights to the character to Paramount Pictures' Famous Studios animation division. The Friendly Ghost (released by Paramount in 1945 as a Noveltoon), was the first animated short to feature Casper. He began, umm, life, as a cute, pudgy ghost-child, who prefers making friends with people instead of scaring them. This would become the theme of EVERY Casper film to follow. Casper appeared in two more Noveltoons before Paramount started a Casper the Friendly Ghost series in 1950. When the rights to Casper were sold to Harvey Entertainment, Casper was given a slight make-over, and slimed down a bit. It was at Harvey that he would experience his greatest success -- in cartoons, comics and beyond. In 1995, the live action film Casper (executive produced by Steven Spielberg) became a big screen success, introducing the character to a whole new generation of children. A bunch of direct-to-video sequels quickly followed, including Casper: A Spirited Beginning; Casper Meets Wendy (with a young Hillary Duff as Wendy the Good Little Witch!); and Casper's Haunted Christmas. This in turn renewed interest in the classic cartoons and made way for new computer animated versions as well. It's always interesting to me when a classic big screen character like Casper, or Popeye, or Felix the Cat (seemingly) rise from the dead to entertainment an entirely new generation of children.