20 Facts About Casper You Might Struggle To Grasp
It seems like only yesterday that Casper arrived in cinemas – but, if you can believe it, it was 1995 when the movie-going public was introduced to the friendly phantom.
Now that Casper would be in his mid-twenties, crushed by the weight of student debt and with a university education ill-suited to the 21st century job market, we thought it’d be best to return to Casper’s youthful naivety, to check out some facts that are so interesting you’ll be haunting this article for all eternity.
20. Casper was originally intended for a children’s novel
Casper might have hit the big-time near the turn of the millennium, but the character is in fact far older, dating back to at least the 1930s.
Created by writer Seymour Reit and cartoonist Joe Oriolo, Casper was originally pitched as the protagonist of a children’s book, but publishers weren’t interested in the character’s macabre themes, friendly or otherwise.
At the outbreak of the war, Reit signed up for military service. In his absence, Oriolo ended up selling the rights to the character to Paramount Pictures’ Famous Studios, who produced the first Casper cartoon, The Friendly Ghost, in 1945.
It wasn’t until the early 50s that Casper would find his more permanent home, as one of the flagship properties of Harvey Comics, whose Casper comics began their run in 1952.
In tribute to the comics, a character in the film shares a name with the legendary publisher: Dr James Harvey, played in the movie by Bill Pullman.
A rebooted Casper comic was released in 2009-10, though unfortunately we haven’t heard anything from the portly poltergeist since.
19. It was the first film to have a computer-generated character in a lead role
Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is everywhere nowadays – for better and for worse – and while we’re all familiar with the leaps in technology that came with films like Tron and Toy Story, you might not have realised that Casper also belongs in those hallowed halls.
Casper, released in 1995, became the first film to feature an entirely computer-generated character in a lead role. Of course, that’s a claim to fame that does come with some caveats.
For one thing, it isn’t the first film to have featured a computer-generated character. That honour belongs to Aladdin – which hit cinemas three years earlier – and its dog-like magic carpet. Disney had also already famously employed CGI in the ballroom scene for 1991’s Beauty and the Beast.
Toy Story would be released in 1995, becoming the first feature film animated entirely with CGI and one that – as much as we love our friendly ghost and his chubby cheeks – firmly outclassed Casper on all counts.
But Toy Story released in November; Casper, despite its spook-tacular Halloween theming, actually came out in May, securing its place in the history books.
18. The cast were required to act opposite tennis balls in place of the ghosts
Being a groundbreaking feat of cinematic technology certainly has its upsides: good publicity, visual marvels and something to distract from a sagging screenplay. On the other hand, you end up spending a lot of your budget on tennis balls.
At least, that was the case for Casper, in which the actors frequently share scenes with ghosts. Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci in particular were often forced to act opposite tennis balls on sticks in place of the phantoms.
Fixed at the correct height, these tennis balls would serve as a useful eyeline for the actors, but little more.
The CGI-fests of today only succeed because they stand on the shoulders of giants – or, in this case, ghost giants. Since Casper, CGI has improved considerably, leading to technical marvels like 2009’s Avatar.
Incidentally, the score for Avatar was composed by legendary film musician James Horner. Another project he worked on? Casper.
17. A big musical number was cut for financial reasons
What’s a family film without a musical number? Well… Casper. The movie was set to feature a song, as performed by the Ghostly Trio, but it was cut for financial reasons.
Sung to Dr Harvey, it’s likely that the musical number would have taken place during one of the ‘therapy sessions’ that Harvey uses to figure out the Trio’s reasons for haunting Whipstaff Manor.
Of course, looking back, it’s easy to see why Casper performed as well as it did, grossing $287.9 million from a budget of approximately $55 million. In fact, it was the eighth-highest grossing film of the year.
With its mix of family-friendly rambunctiousness and plethora of references, there’s something for everyone in this film. But back in 1995, $55 million for a family film was on the dearer side.
For comparison, Toy Story had a budget of only $30 million; Pocahontas, the latest in a long line of critically and commercially rewarding Disney animations, was also budgeted $55 million. As a CGI-led film based on a comic from the 50s, it’s no surprise that Casper ended up having to pinch its pennies.
16. The director of The Crow and Dark City was supposed to direct Casper
Before Brad Silberling climbed aboard the ghost train (and probably fell through the seats), Casper was in fact set to be directed by Alex Proyas, probably best known for I, Robot and Gods of Egypt. But Proyas left the project amid creative differences.
Immediately prior to Casper, Proyas had his filmmaking breakthrough – but in morbid circumstances. He had just finished shooting The Crow, a dark superhero film whose production saw the lead actor, Brandon Lee, shot and killed after a firearms malfunction on set.
“I was pretty distraught, and I guess this opportunity came up to do something that was different,” Proyas told CBR in 2008, “in a far away different direction than ‘The Crow’ … it really appealed to me. In retrospect, it was a big mistake.” Working on a project in Hollywood was like being “thrown off the deep end,” he added.
It’s thought that Proyas aimed to give Casper a much darker tone – “a really great kid’s film with some real solid emotional resonance” – but left the project after he and producers failed to resolve their creative differences.
Proyas instead made Dark City, which released in 1998. It sees an amnesiac become suspected of ritualistically murdering a woman, and having to evade trenchcoat-wearing ‘Strangers’.
15. Dr. Harvey was supposed to morph into Steven Spielberg
Casper is full of cameos, and no scene is so utterly brimming with references as the one in which Dr Harvey transforms into several famous figures. But someone is missing: Steven Spielberg.
In one of the ghosts’ attempts to drive Harvey and Kat away from Whipstaff Manor, the doctor suddenly finds himself looking like Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield and Mel Gibson. That last one is especially spooky.
There’s also a fourth transformation, which sees Harvey become the Crypt Keeper from horror anthology series Tales from the Crypt.
Instead, this was originally intended to be Spielberg, who’d brought Gibson and Eastwood on board the film with the promise that he too would appear, and the scene was even filmed. Ultimately, it was cut.
According to director Brad Silberling (via Entertainment Weekly), “I had to tell Steven, ‘You’re not the strongest of the group … [he] was sort of relieved. He felt compelled to do the cameo since he asked for favors, but he’s not an actor. Doing the cameo, he was as nervous as anything.”
14. The Backstreet Boys filmed Everybody on the same set
If you feel like the layout of the house in Casper is familiar, and you’re a fan of 90s boy bands, allow us to solve your confusion: the house was used both for Casper and for The Backstreet Boys’ classic single Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).
In the video for the song, the Boys’ bus breaks down, and they’re forced to spend a night in a haunted mansion. Inside, they transform into classic movie monsters (and also the Phantom of the Opera).
Thankfully, by morning, they realise it was all a dream – that is, until they discover their now-repaired bus is being driven by a ghoul. (Honestly, we couldn’t sleep for weeks after seeing this for the first time.)
The mansion really is located in Friendship, Maine, though many of the exterior shots for Casper were filmed in nearby Camden.
Maine has something of a pop culture reputation for horror; not only was this mansion used for Everybody and Casper, but Maine is also the home state of legendary horror writer Stephen King, who has his own Gothic abode.
13. A sequel was planned, but later scrapped
After the astonishing success of Casper at the box office, several TV movies were put into production. A full theatrical sequel was planned for 2000, but it was ultimately scrapped.
The film was set to be directed by Simon Wells, whose supernatural credentials include being the great-grandson of writer HG Wells. On the other hand, he would later go on to write and direct critically derided projects such as The Time Machine and Mars Needs Moms.
The TV movies were intended as prequels, but were eviscerated by critics, in part because they ignored the storyline of the successful 1995 film.
The intensely negative reception to these prequels meant that when Bill Pullman and Christina Ricci were approached to star in a sequel, they demurred.
Ricci would likely have been filming Sleepy Hollow at the time the sequel was being shopped around, meaning she would have been less tempted by Casper 2: That Clingy Ghost Won’t Leave Me Alone Even Though I’m No Longer A Child.
12. JJ Abrams helped write the script
JJ Abrams is renowned as the master of reboots, having breathed life into both Star Trek (in 2009) and Star Wars, beginning with The Force Awakens in 2015. But it’s a little-known fact that Abrams resurrected another iconic sci-fi franchise back in the 90s: Casper.
Abrams, a recent college grad, caught the attention of Spielberg with his first produced film, Taking Care of Business. After being invited to pitch for a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Abrams was invited to work on a certain other Amblin project.
“He was very witty and he adores plot structure and storytelling,” Spielberg said around the release of Abrams’ Super 8, reminiscing about his early 90s work.
“There are a lot of writers who write brilliant dialogue and who can do wonderful confrontational drama and comedy,” Spielberg continues.” But not everybody knows story.”
Casper isn’t exactly War and Peace, but for having so many characters and wacky situations, the fact that it moves along without becoming confusing or turgid is an Abrams triumph.
11. Christina Ricci was pulled around with fishing wire to simulate Casper’s presence
We’ve already mentioned that Casper was the technical marvel of its day, but even in a film where the title character is entirely CGI, you need some inventive practical solutions to bring your film together.
Step forward the humble fishing wire (or, maybe, slither forward). Almost constantly attached to Christina Ricci’s wrist, this wire was the secret ingredient to Casper’s success.
We mean it. One of Casper’s achievements is to make its friendly ghost seem real and – when it’s convenient – tangible, though the logic of this is disputed.
Since the character was completely added in post-production, crew members would yank on a wire on Ricci’s wrist to simulate being tugged along by a cherubic spectre.
In another instance, Ricci takes a glass of orange juice from Casper, who in reality is a big stick. They call it movie magic for a reason!
10. Whipstaff Manor is based on the work of renowned architect Antoni Gaudí
As much as we love Casper, a critical darling it is not. The film attracted mildly positive reviews: praised for its effects, but criticised for its overly sentimental plot. It’s surprising, then, that the film is so interested in conveying a sense of Catalan Modernism.
Don’t worry – we’ll explain everything. When pre-production work on Casper began, the obvious temptation was to have Whipstaff Manor resemble a classically Victorian haunted house, but production designer Leslie Dilley argued otherwise.
Dilley, who won two Academy Awards for Art Direction (for Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark), instead decided to design a manor inspired by the work of Antoni Gaudí, the renowned Catalan architect most famous for the Sagrada Família in Barcelona.
In fact, the influence of Gaudí’s Casa Batlló quickly becomes obvious: the ‘whale jaw balconies’, the stained glass that resembles the Batlló’s Noble Floor, and more besides.
Gaudí was focused on replicating natural shapes in his architecture, meaning Whipstaff Manor, by extension, feels just as gnarled and ossified as the name suggests.
9. Harvey Comics sued Columbia Pictures over the Ghostbusters logo
It seems like Hollywood spends half its time making movies, and the other half suing itself for making movies. Casper might be free from the mortal coil, but it certainly isn’t free from lawyers.
In this case, it was Harvey Comics taking action, against the 1984 supernatural comedy Ghostbusters. The iconic Ghostbusters logo, the litigants claimed, too closely resembled Fatso from their Casper universe, as such infringing on their copyright.
Harvey Comics, then under financial duress, sued Columbia Pictures for $50 million, as well as the destruction of any and all Ghostbusters film prints.
In the end, the lawsuit was dismissed because Harvey Comics had neglected to renew their copyright on the character. But even if they had done so, the court indicated that it was impossible to have such a monopoly on the design of a cartoon ghost.
By the time of the 1995 film, it seems all was forgiven. Casper features a cameo from Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd, who flees from Whipstaff Manor, saying “Who you gonna call? Someone else!”
8. It was adapted into a Broadway musical
Six years after the release of Casper, the world still needed its friendly ghost fix. At least, that’s what we have to assume some executives thought somewhere, since we were delivered a stage musical adaptation featuring the doughy wraith himself.
The musical sees an evil media tycoon lusting after the deed to Whipstaff Manor. In order to obtain it, she creates a reality TV show in which various children are sent into the house to steal it and win a million dollars.
Quite how she’s able to set up an entire TV show in a house to which she doesn’t own the deed is another thing entirely, but that’s showbusiness!
This might come as a shock, but the musical was critically panned, with a particular scathing review in Variety mentioning “rows of empty seats” and “uncomfortable” dialogue.
“Staging looks cramped in places,” the review continues, “and one especially weird costume choice makes actors look like members of the Ku Klux Klan.”
7. A Poltergeist cameo was cut
Since it was the 90s, Casper is so flooded with cameos that the audience is at risk of drowning – there’s even space for TV grandpa Mister Rogers. But besides Steven Spielberg’s nervy mirror scene, one other cameo ended up on the cutting room floor.
A scene was filmed with Zelda Rubinstein, reprising her role from 1982’s Poltergeist and shooting out of a chimney, screaming “Go towards the light!”
Poltergeist had been one of Spielberg’s ideas for what would become ET the Extra-Terrestrial. Focusing on a family-friendly tone in the latter, Spielberg then also produced the former, including terrifying scenes that initially earned the film an R-rating.
It made sense, therefore, for Spielberg to include a homage to one of his most successful films about ghosts in the ghost film he was helping to create. But this may be exactly the reason why it was cut.
It’s possible that the scene was removed simply because of time constraints, though it seems more likely the filmmakers didn’t want to have parents end up confusing Casper with the more brutal Poltergeist, and vice versa.
6. Devon Sawa’s body – but not his voice – stars
The 90s belonged to Christina Ricci. Having stolen the show as Wednesday in 1991’s The Addams Family, the teen actor was quickly becoming a fixture of the silver screen, as were other actors of her generation whose fame was more fleeting.
Devon Sawa starred alongside Ricci in Now and Then, a coming-of-age film that also released in 1995, and saw the two actors romantically linked.
In a turn of events that’s either coincidental or down to a bundle deal by casting agents, Sawa and Ricci also appear together in Casper, with Sawa playing the corporeal form of the friendly ghost.
But there’s a catch – Sawa might star in person, but his voice was dubbed to match Casper’s voice actor, Malachi Pearson.
Sawa still has a prolific, albeit hardly star-studded, career in film and television. As for Pearson, he starred as a narcotics-addled teen in 2001’s Training Day.
5. The film was hugely influenced by Topper Returns
It’s no secret that early 20th century Hollywood was obsessed with the supernatural, from monsters like mummies and Frankensteins to the inexplicable paranormal. Perhaps thanks to JJ Abrams, Casper draws heavily on this tradition, and Topper Returns in particular.
We mention Topper Returns in particular as one of the first films to introduce a phantom who is actually helpful, rather than malignant. The third film in the Topper series, 1941’s Returns tells the story of a stuffy banker who can see ghosts.
After two women spend the night at the Carrington mansion (a name not unlike Carrigan, from Casper), one of them is murdered. Her ghost then seeks out Topper to help solve the crime.
The mansion itself is labyrinthine and full of secret passages, and even has railway tracks below, a marked similarity to the friendly ghost film you’re probably more familiar with.
Full of car chases and death, this comedy film is somewhat messy, but nonetheless holds a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can see why it’d inspire something like Casper!
4. An early draft featured Wendy the Good Little Witch
If you hadn’t guessed from Casper alone, Harvey Comics characters are all about subverting expectations. Casper is a ghost, but he’s friendly. Another character, Wendy, is a witch who uses her powers for good.
In fact, Wendy came close to featuring in the film, but had to be dropped for a particularly disappointing reason.
As producers felt the $55 million bill for the film was already a little pricey, they weren’t keen on spending more money acquiring the rights to another Harvey Comics character. (First they cut the musical number, and then they cut Wendy. It’s a disgrace.)
However, as an olive branch to all the Harvey Comics fans out there, Kat (Ricci) can be seen wearing a red hood as an homage to Wendy’s classic look.
Casper and Wendy would eventually meet in the second of Casper’s straight-to-VHS sequels, aptly titled Casper Meets Wendy. The film is terrible, but it’s worth a mention as the first feature film for then-11-year-old Hilary Duff.
3. Casper’s dark origin story is very different in the comics
Casper might be all fun and games in your memory, but give it a rewatch without the rose-tinted glasses and you’ll see a much darker filter than you remember, not least in the eponymous ghost’s origin story.
Presumably as a relic from Alex Proyas’ time in the director’s chair, Casper the film goes out on a very different limb to Casper the comic book character. In the film, Casper was a real child who died from pneumonia, willing himself to become a ghost to keep his grief-stricken father company.
In the comics, Casper is a ghost baby who was born to ghost parents. How these beings came into existence to begin with isn’t addressed; we’re just thankful there’s no mention of pneumonia.
What makes Casper’s revelation in the film so much worse is that it occurs when he recognises a wooden sled he used to play with. Yep, Casper goes full Citizen Kane.
This isn’t even mentioning the fact that Kat’s father falls down a manhole to his death, comedy legend Eric Idle falls from a window to his death, and Cathy Moriarty’s Carrigan falls off a cliff and becomes a ghost. Someone install some railings in this film, please.
2. Casper landed the director a gig on City of Angels
Evidently impressed by Silberling’s ability to give emotional depth to transcendental creatures, Spielberg recommended the director for City of Angels.
A fantasy romance starring Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, City of Angels follows Cage’s angel as he falls in love with a mortal woman, wishing to become human to be with her.
The film was another box office success and received generally positive reviews, with some criticism of the film’s hypersentimentality – but if your film is about an immortal being becoming earthly for naught but love, what can you do?
Interestingly, the main conceit of City of Angels bears a marked similarity to Casper, in which the friendly ghost also wishes to become human to get a girlfriend. Ultimately, Casper sacrifices his body-getting power – which is the technical term – to restore Kat’s father to life.
City of Angels was in fact a remake of the German film Wings of Desire, meaning the likeness is entirely coincidental. But like the friendship between an ectoplasmic boy and a goth girl in Casper, it seems Silberling’s involvement was simply meant to be.
1. Spielberg wanted Steve Barron to direct
Steve Barron is a legendary music video director, best known for his work on Billie Jean and Take on Me, but he has also worked as a feature film director and was initially Spielberg’s top pick for Casper.
Most of Barron’s qualifications for the job stemmed from another family film adapted from comics: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT).
TMNT was one of the biggest box office shocks in 1990. After being turned down by most major film studios, and suffering setbacks during production due to claustrophobic Henson-made turtle outfits, it raked in $202 million at cinemas worldwide.
As much as Spielberg often plays the starry-eyed filmmaker, the legendary director and producer is ultimately a businessman, and clearly hoped for another box office upset with Casper.
But Barron turned him down, instead opting to make The Adventures of Pinocchio, an utterly terrifying live-action wooden puppet monstrosity, staring Academy Award winner Martin Landau. It bombed at the box office.