A Genuine CG Film Where Heart Supersedes Budget
Generally speaking, the bigger hit CG animated features are the ones based on newly developed characters. There was no Woody before Toy Story, no Sully before Monsters Inc., no Po before Kung-Fu Panda and so on. However, occasionally long-standing 2D cartoon franchises receive the 3D computer generated animated treatment- usually on a smaller budget and a direct-to-TV or direct-to-DVD distribution deal. Among the notables are the Garfield Trilogy (Gets Real, Fun Fest and Pet Force) and Popey. Famous Studios’ iconic Casper the Friendly Ghost received his opportunity in the form of a film produced by the Harvey Entertainment Company and released by Classic Media as a made-for-tv affair in October 2006. Scare School, as it would be called, then came to DVD in 2012 from Classic Media. A 2009 CG animated series of the same name arrived to Cartoon Network as a continuation of the film and a video game was produced as well.
Coming in at a runtime of 78-minutes and not wearing a rating (safe to say it would be Rated G), Scare School tells of the titular character being sent off to a university for creatures of the night who fail to live up to the expectations established in keeping humans (“fleshies” as they’re known here) in check. Earning the attention of Kibosh: The King of the Underworld for his penchant for making friends with humans; Casper enrolls into Scare School under the threat of being banished to The Realm of Shadows. Headed by the two-headed headmaster Alder and Dash (Jim Belushi & Bob Saget), Casper ends up befriending Ra, a mummy with unraveling issue, Mantha, a zombie girl who keeps falling apart and a host of other wild creatures during his time in Scare School.
Once Casper discovers the headmaster’s plot to use a petrification potion to turn Kibosh into stone and take over the Underworld and Deedstown, he and his new friends must stop him (them?) against impossible odds.
In realizing this film was a made-for-tv piece from the onset, the production team did a really wonderful job in not wasting their budget on fancy visuals and instead wrote a solid script with good pacing and some genuine comedy that even adults will appreciate.
Little details like a pirate “bus driver” with a patch over each eye, who relies upon his loyal parrot to determine where they are going, a vampire who attempts to bite a ghost and ends up piercing his own tongue, even a two-headed “Ankle” (Aunt + Uncle = Ankle) played by none other than The Captain and Tennille round out some of the many charms this film incorporates.
The visuals are purposely stylized to include humans that are short and compact with extra-large heads- which actually works really well for the Casper character model throughout the years.
The casting work is spot on with a vocal talent mix coming from actors with a lot of TV animation history (Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Dan Castellaneta, John DiMaggio, & Kevin Michael Richardson to mention a few). Even Phyllis Diller appears with a role she was born to play.
In all, Casper’s Scare School is a very rare film that manages to hit all the right marks for viewers of all ages. The visuals obviously aren’t going to compare to the ever-inflating budget efforts of Pixar, DreamWorks or the like but don’t let that scare you away from an enjoyable animated film with enough character to hold the interest of viewers of all ages.
While the success and popularity of made-for-tv productions like Casper’s Scare School the movie can be difficult to gauge (unlike more universally accepted box office measurements), it should be noted that the film was successful enough to warrant (at present) two full seasons of a CG animated series also titled Casper’s Scare School on Cartoon Network.