They Made It a Toon: The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper
“The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper” was an animated series based on the 1995 film adaptation of Harvey Comic’s “Casper,” executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Brad Silberling (“City of Angels”). Produced by Amblin Television and Universal Cartoon Studios, it aired on Fox Kids from February 24, 1996 to October 17, 1998.
With a final total of 52 episodes, the series serves as a sequel of sorts and sees the return of Malachi Pearson as the titular “Friendly Ghost,” Casper, and Joe Alaskey, Joe Nipote and Brad Garrett as his despicable uncles, Stinkie, Stretch and Fatso, “The Ghostly Trio.” (Though, Rob Paulsen and Jess Harnell take over for Nipote and Garrett in later episodes.) Dan Castellaneta (“The Simpsons”) and Kath Soucie (“Space Jam”) step in for Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci as Dr. James Harvey and his daughter, Kat, the human residents at Casper’s haunted mansion, Whipstaff Manor.
Also joining the fun are classic Harvey haunters, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost (Paulsen) and his girlfriend “Poil” (aka Pearl, voiced by Miriam Flynn), along with a rotating slew of new characters, such as Casper’s teacher, Ms. Banshee (Tress MacNeille), a hybrid ghoul named Albert Frankenstein (Jim Cummings), and “The Jennifers,” trio of mean girls at Kat’s school voiced by Debbi Derryberry (“Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”). Kat’s rival, Amber Whitmore, and her crush, Vic, from the film also make appearances.
Each episode consists of two breezy, self-contained main segments that last about 8 to 10 minutes and feature stories that routinely center around Casper and Kat’s lives at school, The Ghostly Trio and their usual ghostly shenanigans and self-inflicted crises, and the occasional mentoring from deceased celebrities such as Babe Ruth and James Dean.
Noteworthy plots include: Casper competing in a “spooking bee” at school; Dr. Harvey and The Ghostly Trio fending off “bigfoot” (which turns out to be Baby Huey); Casper “ghost writing” gossip for Kat’s school newspaper; an alien invasion from beings with personalities clearly modeled after Barney; and Casper encountering the legendary, but surprisingly neurotic pirate, Whitebeard.
In addition, most episodes include a tiny, 1 to 2 minute short squished snugly between the two segments. (On rare occasions, there are two shorts or even no shorts at all.) These range from song and dance routines by The Ghostly Trio, such as “13 Ways to Scare a Fleshie” and their silly “Alphabet Song,” to gothic poems which visually breathe the deliciously musty and irresistible air of the macabre with Poe-like flavor as we learn about the eccentric behaviors and routines of the various residents of Whipstaff Manor.
When the end credits roll on each episode, the audience is trick-or-treated to a series of graveyard puns, underscored by none other than Little Richard’s cover of “Casper the Friendly Ghost” from the film’s soundtrack. These gags range from funny names, such as Rick A. Mortis, to silly inscriptions along the lines of “He was a simple man… Who died of complications.” Shots typically pan from tombstone to tombstone for comedic effect and couples tombstones, like “His and Hearse” and “Dead and Deader,” are often at play. To tell you the truth, most of these funny names rarely get any better than “U.R. Dead,” but the inscription jokes can be surprisingly clever, such as “Dan Druff. He flaked out.” and “Here Lies Rose Gardner. She’s pushing up daisies.”
Although cut from the same cloth as Silberling’s film, there are many noticeable differences, including the characterizations of the “fleshy” characters (Kat is far more jaded and cynical while her “paranormal therapist” father, Dr. Harvey has lost what little touch with reality he had left and has descended into some kind of bizzaro madness that far surpasses mere kookiness) and the inclusion of a supernatural underworld that includes scare schools, an Eternal Revenue Service, and a terrifying ghost flu.
But the biggest difference is its lampoon-ish tone and increased focus on pop culture references, parodies, and meta-jokes. (The movie has its fair share of these, of course, but it also balances in a little heart and soul for good measure.)
Due to its overtly silly and comical nature, the show could have easily been called “The Spooftacular New Adventures of Casper.” The series never takes itself seriously and as a result, each episode spends the majority of its 22-minute runtime poking fun of something, anything, usually popular movies and TV shows like “Apollo 13,” “Columbo,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Brady Bunch,” and even “Heathers,” but the show is so spoof-happy that it even spoofs itself. It isn’t uncommon for Casper to break the fourth wall in the middle of a segment and criticize the writing, such as when he apologizes for the “lack of logic” during “The Legend of Whitebeard” segment and groans, “I wish I knew what the people in charge of this show were thinking,” before the show smash-cuts to a parade of mindless zombies.
Of course, once you look into who “the people in charge of this show” actually are, the zany and energetic tone will no longer be surprising. The series shares many of the same talent as other Amblin-produced shows, such as “Animaniacs” and “Tiny Toon Adventures,” including producers Sherri Stoner and Alfred Gimeno, writer Deanna Oliver, and voice actors Jess Harnell, Kath Soucie, Jeff Bennett, and Jim Cummings.
While “The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper” did somewhat feed the appetite for a sequel to “Casper” that never quite materialized (the 1997 film, “Casper: A Spirited Beginning,” is supposedly a prequel, but neither it nor its sequel “Casper Meets Wendy” bear any true resemblance to the 1995 film other than the designs of the four ghostly leads), it falls short of capturing the spirit that not only makes the film such a warm, ideal haunting, but gives it a flourishing afterlife well past it days. Silberling’s film was fun and juvenile, but it also had a soul. There were tender and beautiful moments that jumpstarted our fleshy hearts and sent those teary streams rushing from our eyes. That such touching, tender, softhearted expressions were kept from the animated series is not entirely unexpected, but still regrettable nonetheless. It’s a shame we never saw Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman on the welcomingly haunted grounds of Whipstaff Manor, surrounded by those friendly and mischievous spirits once more, but such is life, I suppose.
Still though, I’d hate to end things on such an sour note. The series itself is entertaining in its own right and to some degree, does keep the spirit of the film alive for those, like me, who desire to live in that world a little longer. Furthermore, the animation here is sublime (the creaky, cobweb-infested halls of Whipstaff Manor, in particular, translate beautifully to the animated realm) and plus, I’m always a sucker for theatrical talent reprising their roles for a series. It just help the transition from big screen to small feel a little more smooth and makes things seem a bit more connected.
Unfortunately, for those looking to deep dive into this silly, but somewhat obscure series, only 10 episodes of “The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper” have made their way to DVD (found here and here). However, a treat bag full of old dusty VHS recordings ripped straight from spooky 90s-era broadcasts can be found on YouTube, if only until Universal’s lawyers get to it (perhaps such effort could go into actually making the entire series available to purchase legally and maybe actually make some money off it, but you know, maybe that’s just me..).
They Made It a Toon is a new column in which I discuss animated series based on popular (and maybe not so popular) movies. Look out for more in the near future!