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Casper, A Spirited Beginning.

(DIRECT-TO-VIDEO)

A 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Saban Entertainment home video release in association with the Harvey Entertainment Co. Produced by Mike Elliott. Executive producers, Haim Saban, Jeffrey A. Montgomery, Lance H. Robbins.

Directed by Sean McNamara. Screenplay, Jymn Magon, Thomas Hart, from a story by Thomas McCluskey, Rob Kerchner. Camera (color), Christian Sebaldt; editors, John Walts, John Gilbert. MPAA rating: PG. Running time: 94 MIN.

Tim Carson - Stove Guttenberg Sheila Fistergraff - Lori Loughlin Chris Carson - Brendon Ryan Barrett Mayor Hunt - Rodney Dangerfield Bill Case - Michael McKean

Voices: James Earl Jones (Kibosh), Pauly Shore (Snivel), Jeremy Foley (Casper), Bill Farmer (Stinky), Jess Harnell (Fatso), James Ward (Stretch).

Aimed squarely at the gradeschoolers who helped make 1995's "Casper" a theatrical B.O. hit and homevideo bestseller, "Casper, A Spirited Beginning" is a lightweight made-or-video "prequel" that should post impressively strong sales. Rental prospects are slightly less lustrous, if only because of new pic's more limited appeal. Unlike its predecessor, which made at least token efforts to amuse and involve older viewers, this by-the-numbers follow-up is strictly kid stuff.

True to its title, "A Spirited Beginning" begins with Casper (voiced by Jeremy Foley) introduced as a neophyte ectoplasm on his way to a spooky boot camp for the newly departed. Bounced from the "ghost train" by a cranky fellow passenger, Casper winds up in Deedstown, a quaint little hamlet with its very own haunted house. Sky, Stretch and Fatso - aka the Ghostly Trio - claim Applegate Manor as their haunting ground, and offer to teach Casper the supernatural tricks of their trade.

Steve Guttenberg heads the human cast as a developer who wants to raze Applegate Manor to make way for a shopping center. Things get complicated when Chris (Brendon Ryan Barrett), the developer's 10-year-old son, befriends Casper and joins his preservation-minded teacher (Lori Loughlin) in a campaign to save the haunted mansion.

Much like the 1005 "Casper," new effort relies heavily on dazzling computer-generated trickery to fill key roles. Casper and the other ghosts - including the overbearing Kibosh (voiced by James Earl Jones) and the craven Snivel (Pauly Shore) - seem more real, and much more charismatic, than their flesh-and-blood co-stars. Guttenberg and Barrett make agreeable impressions, but Loughlin and several others give over-emphatic performances that can only be described as cartoonish.

Director Senn McNamara sustains a pace that is perfectly suited to viewers with limited attention spans. Some parents may wonder why a children's film contains so many in-jokey references to 'The X-Files" (which, like "A Spirited Beginning," is a Fox product). But that won't keep them from repeatedly using the pic as a made-for-video baby-sitter.

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Author:Leydon, Joe
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Oct 6, 1997
Words:435
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