'Casper's' Spirited Cast



Casper: A Spirited Beginning. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. 90 minutes. $19.98; laserdisc: $29.98. This "prequel" to Casper's ghostly beginnings is not brought to you by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures, whose 1995 feature, "Casper," was a blockbuster hit. Instead it comes from 20th Century Fox and Saban Entertainment (of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" fame), who nabbed Harvey Entertainment Co.'s direct-to-video rights to the cartoon icon-turned-movie star.

So, does the heavily promoted result, available in stores Tuesday, resemble the original? Yes, but not for the better.

Once again, Casper forms a bond with a lonely, motherless kid. This time the kid is 10-year-old Chris (Brendon Ryan Barrett), who's not only bullied by his peers, but is neglected by his dad (Steve Guttenberg), a land developer.

It's Chris who introduces newcomer Casper to the Ghostly Trio--Fatso, Stinkie and Stretch--ghost school dropouts who are haunting the old mansion that dad wants to tear down, a move protested by Chris' beautiful teacher (Lori Loughlin).

Meanwhile, Casper and the Trio are being stalked by Kibosh, the malevolent chief ghost-trainer, and his assistant specter Snivel (voiced by James Earl Jones and Pauly Shore, respectively).

The shallow story line and cheesy dialogue are dressed up with plenty of costly computer-generated special effects, and such celebs as Rodney Dangerfield, Michael McKean, Sherman Hemsley, Brian Doyle Murray and others make appearances. But Chris' parent problem would be disturbing in the real world, and it--and a plethora of kid-pandering (and kid-insulting) vulgarities of the "smooth move, Ex-Lax" and "Earth to butt-head" variety--contribute to the film's overall feeling of mean-spiritedness. (Pun intended.)

Mary Poppins. Walt Disney Home Video. 156 minutes. $22.99. Special effects have moved light-years beyond this 1964 Oscar winner starring Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, but it's still one of Disney's all-time best. This newly restored "limited edition," including entertaining footage on the making of the film, looks great and sounds sublime.

Annie. Columbia TriStar Home Video. 127 minutes. $19.95. For a family visit or revisit with the 1982 film version of this comic-strip musical and its fun cast--Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Aileen Quinn, Ann Reinking, Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry--here's a new "Broadway Tribute Edition" of the redheaded orphan's rags-to-riches tale.

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