20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of Casper

As we enter the Halloween season, a favorite tradition among many people is watching movies that fit in with the spooky holiday. Horror films are an obvious choice, but there are also a lot of more lighthearted fare to enjoy this month that still meshes with the Halloween vibe but doesn’t require watching with the lights on and is also easier to enjoy as a family.

Hocus Pocus can definitely stake its claim to being the most iconic of that more fun type of Halloween movie, especially for ’90s kids, but here are other similar types of movies from that era that deserve revisiting this time of year. We can’t forget 1995’s live-action adaptation of Casper, the Friendly Ghost who had previously only been the star of comic books and animated series.

Co-starring alongside the computer-generated ghost was Christina Ricci, who had been making quite the name for herself during those years as a young actress who was at home in macabre family films– she also brilliantly played Wednesday Addams in the two Addams Family films. With a cast that also features Bill Pullman, Eric Idle, Devon Sawa, Brad Garrett, and some very impressive cameos, Casper was a surprisingly fun movie that actually holds up much better today than you might expect. In fact, to audiences of a certain age, it’s the only version of the classic character that they know– despite Casper existing for nearly 60 years in various forms prior to the release of the film.

Here are 20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of Casper.

20 It Was The First Movie With A CG Lead

These days, we think nothing of entirely CG characters not only appearing in movies but starring in them. Films like Avatar and Warcraft have as many CG characters in them as live actors. In 1995, it was still a very novel concept– and it was just one of the many ways that Casper was a lot more cutting-edge than it gets credit for, years before the likes of Gollum or Dobby.

In fact, Casper has one very impressive distinction in that regard– it is considered the first feature-length film to have a CG character as a lead. Sure, Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman get top billing, but it’s obvious that Casper is the star of the movie.

19 Devon Sawa Is Game For A Sequel

Though he wasn’t yet quite the household name that he would become near the end of the ’90s, Devon Sawa still turned young heads and broke young hearts when he showed up near the end of Casper as the titular character’s human form. Even though his part in Casper is much smaller than it would be in later movies that he’d actually headline, it’s not entirely surprising that the actor remains fond of the film and the fans it earned him.

In fact, in 2017, Sawa tweeted, “Alright, I know it’s been awhile…but I think I’m finally ready to do a Casper sequel.” It only took a few minutes for Sawa to walk that back, claiming he actually “isn’t ready” for a new Casper and trying to dismiss it all as a joke– but we believe he’d accept the part if offered.

18 Steven Spielberg’s Deleted Cameo

One of the most memorable scenes in Casper occurs early on in the film, when Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman) looks in the mirror and watches his face morph into a few highly recognizable figures. First he turns into Clint Eastwood, then Rodney Dangerfield, then Mel Gibson, and finally, the Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt. All of those actors– including Cryptkeeper’s voice actor– actually filmed that footage specifically for this scene.

The mirror morph originally included one more famous face– Steven Spielberg, who is a producer on the film.

Spielberg’s part was cut for pacing reasons, which he was perfectly fine with as he never feels that comfortable in acting roles.

17 The Effects Took Two Years To Complete

The ghost effects in Casper were actually quite cutting-edge for their time, and hold up surprisingly well for a movie that is over 20 years old. It wasn’t just that Casper, his uncles, and the various other spectral beings in the movie were entirely computer-generated, but that they were mostly see-though, which is a neat– but also challenging– visual effect.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that all of that work took a long time— two years, in fact. A single two-minute scene could take upwards of eight months of post-production work to accomplish. In a funny little fact indicative of the time the movie was made, the effects were said to require “the equivalent of 19 million floppy disks” to create.

16 The Canceled Sequel

Like many family films of the 1990s, Casper lived on in direct-to-video sequel form for a few years after the success of the original movie. These sequels are, well– they are direct-to-video Casper movies, no better or worse than you’d expect them to be without most of the cast or creative team behind the original.

Sadly, we almost got a legitimate, big-budget Casper 2 that would’ve brought back both Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman.

The concept– pitched by veteran animated movie writer, director, and storyboard artist Simon Wells– was working its way through the pipeline until Ricci and Pullman suddenly seemed less available for the project than was previously though. Combined with the studio being content with cheaper-to-make video sequels, it was ultimately scrapped.

15 Tennis Ball Stand-Ins For Ghosts

In recent years, CG characters in movies generally start out with an actor actually performing the scene live on set with all kinds of colored lights attached to their body– and 9 times out of 10, it’s Andy Serkis. It’s pretty easy for the other actors to appear as though they are interacting with whatever the effects team turns the actor into as they were previously playing off a real person.

In the dark ages of CG that Casper was made during, a bit more creativity was required. As explained on the movie’s DVD commentary, Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman, and the other actors who interact with ghosts were originally delivering their lines to tennis balls at the ends of poles in order to know where to be looking. Other times, they were simply acting to nothing at all.

14 Christina Ricci And Devon Sawa’s Other Movie

One of the interesting things about Devon Sawa’s aforementioned tweeting about a Casper sequel is that he also mentioned another movie he wouldn’t be opposed to appearing in a follow up film.

The movie also featured him not only co-starring, but having an on-screen romance with Christina Ricci.

Also released in 1995, the coming-of-age movie Now and Then featured an ensemble cast of some of Hollywood’s best young talent at the time, with Ricci and Sawa also starring alongside Gaby Hoffman, Thora Birch, and Rumer Willis, among others. So is Devon Sawa nostalgia for his 90s film roles, or is he just nostalgic about working with Christina Ricci? And if it’s the latter, can anyone blame him?

13 Some Famous Voices Stepped In For The Animated Series

It shouldn’t have been a big surprise that neither Christina Ricci nor Bill Pullman reprised their roles in The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper, the Fox Kids animated series that ran from 1996 to 1998 and picked up where the movie left off– kind of. That said, some of Casper‘s actors did return for Spooktacular, including Casper voice actor Malachi Pearson, and Ghostly Trio performers Joe Alasky and Brad Garrett.

That isn’t to say that they skimped on the replacements, however. Taking over for Pullman as Dr. Harvey was none other than Dan Castellaneta, best known as Homer and dozens of other characters on The Simpsons. Kath Soucie stepped into the role of Kat Harvey, famous for her voice work in Space Jam (Lola Bunny), on Rugrats (Phil and Lil), and on Dexter’s Laboratory (Dexter’s mom).

12 The Wendy The Good Witch Crossover

Harvey Comics was home to more iconic characters than just Casper the Friendly Ghost– among the company’s other famous names were Richie Rich, Baby Huey, Felix the Cat, and Wendy the Good Little Witch. Like any good comic book company, various Harvey characters would frequently have crossovers and team-ups.  Casper eventually made a movie with Wendy in the 1998 direct-to-video movie Casper Meets Wendy.

Hilary Duff playing the role of the Good Little Witch.

However, the original plan for Casper was for Christina Ricci’s character to be named and based on Wendy— but Universal didn’t want to pay extra for the rights, so she became an original character with a different name entirely. Not all traces of that idea were erased, though, as evidenced by Kat’s very Wendy-esque red hoodie.

11 There Were A Ton Of Tie-In Video Games

It doesn’t seem to happen as much these days– and when it does, it’s often a mobile game– but once upon a time, any kids movie with even a remote chance of being a hit had a major video game tie-in to coincide with it. Casper was no exception. 1995 was an interesting year for video games, though, seeing the release of the 32-bit systems but with the 16-bit systems still having a strong presence.

Casper‘s video game adaptations spanned an unusually large number of platforms, with versions appearing on PC, Mac, SNES, PlayStation, Saturn, Game Boy, and even the 3DO. It was among the last major releases for the system. There was also a Tiger LCD version for those who remember those monstrosities. Those are just the games specifically based on the original movie.

10 Devon Sawa didn’t voice Casper the Ghost

When you see articles referencing “the boy who played Casper,” they’re almost always about Devon Sawa. It makes it seem as though Sawa also voiced Casper’s original ghost form, but this isn’t the case.

The voice of Casper in the movie as well as the animated series was an actor named Malachi Pearson.

Prior to Casper, Pearson was best known for making the rounds through the T.G.I.F. family of shows, doing one- or two-episode appearances on Full HouseFamily Matters, and Step by Step. After just a few small post-Casper gigs, the most recent being an appearance on Malcolm in the Middle, Pearson has no further credits on any available public filmographies. It’s not entirely clear what he’s been up to for the last 18 years or so.

9 A Big Musical Number Was Cut

As cutting-edge as Casper was and with how much effects work went into it, its $55 million budget seems fairly modest– but studios weren’t routinely releasing movies that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make in 1995, so it was probably still seen as a costly endeavor at the time.

Universal seemingly thought it had spent more than enough on the movie already, as the studio balked at a planned musical number to feature the Ghostly Trio singing to Dr. Harvey that would’ve cost several million dollars to film.

Given that Casper went on to gross nearly $300 million, we don’t think that extra couple million would’ve broke Universal’s bank. 

Ironically, Casper would be made into a live Broadway musical a few years later.

8 Only Two Actors Returned For The Direct-to-Video Sequel

In place of what could’ve been a cool Casper theatrical sequel written and directed by H.G. Wells’ great-grandson, we got the direct-to-video prequel Casper: A Spirited Beginning starring Steve Guttenberg and Lori Loughlin in 1997. Not even Malachi Pearson could be convinced to come back and reprise his role as Casper, if that’s any indication as to the quality of this production.

In fact, Beginning could only wrangle a whopping two cast members from the first movie to return: Ben Stein and Rodney Dangerfield, who no longer played himself– he was the mayor this time. Sure, there are some decent names elsewhere on the cast list, including Michael McKean, Sherman Hemsley, and Brian Doyle-Murray, but it’s of little consolation as the movie itself is so forgettable.

7 Christina Ricci’s Son Thought Casper Was Real

It has to be weird for a child to find out they have a famous parent who has starred in big-name movies, and a lot of actors have all kinds of fun anecdotes involving this very phenomenon and how their kids reacted to their parents’ work being revealed to them.

In an interview with People magazine, Christina Ricci explained how her son, Freddie, came home from school one day and asked her if she was a famous actress. At that point, Ricci decided it might be time to introduce three-year-old Freddie to some of her earlier films, including Casper.

After watching the movie, Freddie asked his mother about her “childhood with [her] best friend, the ghost.”

Freddie was apparently a bit too young to understand that he wasn’t watching home movies from his mother’s youth.

6 Casper’s Tragic Backstory

Throughout most of Casper’s history as a character, he was always a ghost from a ghost family and was never actually a human. This backstory makes the most sense for a character aimed at kids, as the alternative is that Casper being a child ghost means that he was previously a human child who lost his life.

The writers of the Casper movie had no interest in softening that blow, deciding to go with that darker alternative origin story for the character involving a fatal case of pneumonia, which is discussed in the movie. It definitely casts the otherwise-lighthearted movie in a much dimmer light.

5 The Backstreet Boys Filmed A Video On The Set

Much of Casper takes place inside the spooky old mansion that the Harveys move into where they meet the Friendly Ghost and his uncles, known within the film as Whipstaff Manor. While Whipstaff’s location in the film, the town of Friendship, Maine, is in fact a real town and the mansion was made to resemble something that might be found there, it was largely built on sets and doesn’t actually exist, sadly.

Like Casper himself, however, Whipstaff found a way to live on beyond the movie– that same set was later used to film portions of the Backstreet Boys’ music video for “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”, most notably the big dance hall scene. Given that video’s macabre vibe, the Whipstaff set was definitely a good fit.

4 A Shout-Out To The Comics

The specific version of Casper you were first introduced to depends largely on your age, and it’s easy to assume that most people reading this list either first met him through the 1995 film or perhaps saw reruns of the 1950s cartoon on Saturday mornings. The character made his debut in a 1939 storybook.

Comic books were the character’s most famous home prior to the 1990s.

As a tribute to the comic series, which was published by now-defunct Harvey Comics, the main characters in the Casper film were named James and Kat Harvey after the company that helped make Casper famous. The most recent iteration of Casper in comic book form was via a 2009-10 miniseries series called Casper and the Spectrals.

3 J.J. Abrams Worked On The Script

A lot of future screenwriter superstars have to pay their dues doing rewrites– sometimes uncredited– on unexpected movies. Joss Whedon, for instance, was famously one of the writers on the original Toy Story. J.J. Abrams also had a similar stepping stone around that same time when he did an uncredited rewrite of Casper.

To be fair, Abrams had already garnered attention previously with movies like Regarding Henry and Six Degrees of Separation under his screenwriting belt. What is noteworthy about Casper is that it would be the first time that Abrams worked with Steven Spielberg, which then got Abrams on Tom Cruise’s radar and led to Abrams’ eventual involvement with the Mission: Impossible series,  helping to guide it to some of its best installments.

2 The TMNT Movie Director Turned Down The Job

There’s no denying that Casper director Brad Siberling did his job well, and his talent for this type of film was further cemented when he later helmed the movie version of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. He wasn’t the first choice.

After seeing the 1990 live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Steven Spielberg was extremely impressed.

Its director, Steve Barron, immediately came to Spielberg’s mind as the person who should direct Casper. Barron had also previously made a name for himself as a legendary music video director, responsible for such iconic videos as Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and a-ha’s “Take On Me.” But Barron turned Spielberg down— a decision that he has since said he regrets.

1 Universal Studios Had A Big Casper Exhibit

One of the benefits to having your movie distributed by Universal Pictures is that it can lead to a presence at one of its theme parks. Sure enough, Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Studios Florida both had significant Casper-themed areas at their parks for a time following the movie’s release.

The Casper world at Universal Studios Hollywood, which launched alongside the movie and ran for four months, was an impressive area that included a recreation of Whipstaff mansion, various pieces of memorabilia from the movie, and several stations showcasing the then-impressive tech behind the making of the movie. It seems quaint in these modern times of making-of videos on YouTube and Blu-ray extras, but in 1995, it was pretty novel to get such an in-depth look at the making of a movie.

Do you have any other Casper trivia to share? Let us know in the comments!

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