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Dustman 1

Devin Dustman

Erin Rogers

Writing 1010

20 December 2017

Casper the Friendly Ghost

Tales of the dead returning to earth and becoming visible to the living once more, for

good or ill, are present in nearly every culture throughout the world and have existed for eons.

Even today, these stories hold a continued power over our collective conscience, as can be seen

by the media’s continued fascination with apparitions, from the many paranormal investigations

that pervade television, to the constant stream of films detailing fictional accounts of hauntings.

Simply put, ghosts sell. Few media properties exemplify this better than Casper the Friendly

Ghost. Casper, who has starred in 32 comic books, countless televisions shorts and shows, and 5

middling feature length films. Yet, despite many critical failures, it seems that Casper simply

won’t die, despite all odds, making a great deal of money even into the modern era. Another

striking aspect of this franchise is the simple fact that throughout its 70 year history, it’s main

character has stayed virtually constant in everything from appearance to attitude, even as the sets

he was placed in shift greatly. The continued existence of Casper in mass media is surprising for

this very reason. He has always been and continues to be essentially the same ghoul he was in

1945. The reasons largely come from his initial design, which was based largely on a simple

gimmick.

The idea of ghosts is, of course not new, but even the idea of friendly spirits has existed

for thousands of years in many cultures. From The British Isles to Mexico, stories describing

benevolent ghosts are present in nearly every society. There are even tales of affable apparitions

in China, where ghosts are generally described as “troubled souls without bodies caught in an in

between place doomed to a wretched existence among the living” (Farrington, 53). In many of
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these cultures, including China, veneration of the dead is vital, a belief which often comes

directly from an understanding of the existence of both benevolent and malevolent spirits, both

of which demand respect. This worship of dead ancestors has been well documented in the

British Isles. Preceding Christianity, there were many traditions, including mummification of

family members and sacrifices of food and animals, all meant to honour dead family (BBC, 5).

These phantasmal ancestors, while not always friendly, were still considered beings worth

sacrificing for and beings who could help materially or otherwise. These Pagan beliefs continued

to have cultural relevance even after they were no longer being practiced, from Halloween, to the

traditional Western view of ghouls.

While these stories of friendly ghosts have enjoyed some popularity for millennia in

Anglo Saxon culture, they were largely ignored during most of America’s history, especially

when it came to children’s literature. This was done for a variety of reasons. Firstly parents

feared that tales of ghouls and spirits would breed ungodliness in their children (Ferrier-Watson,

27). Moreover, the strident belief in logic and rationality much of the intelligentsia had during

this time put a real damper on the idea of including a true fiction like ghosts in their writing

(Ferrier-Watson, 30). In the stead of true ghost stories, specters in children’s literature nearly

always played the role of a front for a villain who while attempting for a dastardly deed is

exposed by the brave protagonist ( Ferrier-Watson, 42). This played the dual role of rebuking the

existence of ghosts, while also encouraging logical thinking in young boys and girls. One of the

most famous examples of this comes from Nancy Drew, who arguably reached her high point in

this era, she encountered many so called ghosts, but all were nothing more than thieves or

tricksters in reality (Ferrier-Watson, 94). This archetype even continues to exist to this day, with

children's media like Scooby Doo detailing supposed supernatural forces being exposed for the

frauds they are. Despite this, tales of frightening apparitions were actually quite common in adult

literature, with many a tale of ghostly hitchhikers and spectral guardians (Brown, 1). As the
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ideals of the country shifted true children's ghost stories began to lose their stigma, yet Casper

was still certainly not the first ghoul to exploit this reopening market. This can be shown by the

creation and success of the book Dummy, which described the case of a sad ghost who grows

with the help of a young boy to adapt to the modern world (Ferrier-Watson, 104). This book was

published in 1938, more than 7 years before Casper debuted in his first short movie. While

Casper was likely influenced by these early benevolent ghosts, such as the ghoul in Dummy,

these books did set a precedent for the paranormal in young adult fiction. A shift that allowed for

Casper to be accepted as fairly uncontroversial for children, even by the standards of the deeply

conservative 40s. Something that was vital for his success, on a wide market.

The character of Casper was created in 1940, in one weekend, by two friends who were planning

on making a cartoon character to sell to one to one of the major producers (Nash, 4). The plans of

these friends, Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, were eventually successful, with the rights to Casper

being sold to Paramount studios in 1942 for the lump sum of 200 dollars (Nash, 5). This first

Casper was depicted by Joe Oriolo, as a small boy surrounded in a white cloth, with an odd

winter hat, and a cylindrical nose. While this is different than later renditions it is still an image

whose vestiges can even be seen in the more modern renditions of this little ghost, though the

resemblance is even more striking in Casper’s first studio appearance, The Friendly Ghost.

(Korkis)
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This short film, produced in 1945 by Izzy Sparber, described the life of a sad ghost who,

rather than scaring people, preferred making friends. After failing to befriend kids, adults, and

animals alike, he eventually just gave up and just laid himself down on a train track, accepting

his unfortunate fate (Sparber). Eventually, some kindly children came along, interrupting his

suffering, and he eventually returned home with them, scaring off the greedy landlord who was

planning on foreclosing on the house (Sparber). While this short film was certainly light on plot,

it’s positive message and cute protagonist provided it with the popularity to continue being

produced, in the form of noveltoons (paramount’s cartoon distributor), and continue they did.

Noveltoons produced many Casper the Friendly Ghost shorts, 55 in total, continuing even after it

was acquired by Harvey Comics (Nash, 4). These shorts, while making an occasional shift in the

appearance of the young specter, often just rehashing The Friendly Ghost, with slightly differing

casts and set. For example in A Haunting We Will Go, Casper, after being rejected by strangers,

finds a young bird who is not spooked by his lack of corporeality, and proceeds to befriend and

protect him (Kenital). These shorts are truly what defined Casper as we see him today, and are

what defined the plotlines of nearly all of the following television and film adaptations of the

character. Though one marked shift that Casper made during this period, was a shift to a more

comedic tone, which can be found in his first broadcasted television show, The New Casper

Cartoon Show. This show was far more lighthearted than the shorts that came before it, and

while Casper himself stayed essentially the same, many of the episode’s plotlines border on the

absurd, even more so than in the shorts. Though these plot structures do stay quite similar to

those from the shorts.

The continued success of this characterization and plot structure, of Casper being

rebuked, forming a friendship, and proceeding to help this new friend can largely be attributed

to Casper’s audience, characterization, and the medium he was displayed on. Firstly, the fact that

Casper had a constantly shifting audience, does allow for and even encourages flat and safe
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characters. This is exasperated by Casper starting his franchise with continued success despite

repetition, which set a very poor precedent of rewarding the status quo. For example in his later

shorts and his first television appearances, Casper, while gaining new friends, has essentially the

same motivations he did in the original, The Friendly Ghost. Yet despite this Casper continued to

be given more screen time, with more than 81 cartoons being produced between 1945-63,

indicating continued success (Nash, 5). Another major reason that Casper has been able to

stagnate for so many years is that it is very difficult to add much depth to what began as such a

one dimensional character. Casper was founded on the singular gimmick of having a cutsie ghoul

that cares and protects, a gimmick that appeals to primarily to children. Sadly making a 70 year

old character that is based on a gimmick interesting and new, is nearly impossible. So many

directors and comic book writers simply accepted the gimmick, the resulting in a Casper who is

often almost indistinguishable from his predecessors. This is shown very effectively by one of

the most successful pieces of media in the Casper the Friendly Ghost filmography, 1995s Casper.

This movie describes the tale of a small family, a ghost psychiatrist and his daughter, moving

into a house inhabited by Casper and his three uncles, initially the girl and her father are

frightened by Casper, but eventually Casper charms the daughter and they become friends

(Silberling). As the movie progresses, Casper helps this little girl find a machine that can bring

someone back from the dead, which she uses to save her own dad, who minutes before died in an

unfortunate porthole accident (Silberling). This movie, while having a markedly different tone

than much of the earlier media, has Casper the friendly ghost depicted in much the same way as

in the early shorts. Though in Casper there is one very notable change, being that in this version

Casper does have a degree of jealousy and longing not seen in the earlier pieces of media.

Despite this he still continues to be both very charming, and polite, much like in his earlier

renditions. The plot structure of this film is also very similar to many of the earlier renditions,

with Casper first unwittingly scaring people, then making a friend, and finally helping that friend
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obtain a death-reversal machine. In this case, many characters and plot points were added to this

basic paradigm, but it is still very similar to the plots found in the early short films. Finally most

of the early Casper content had one big thing pushing for it, very significant times between

releases. This helped the facade of innovation, and simply allows for more similar plot structures

and less character development. Even when new series began to pop up in the late 70s, after

NovelToons had halted operation, these shows were were just longform rehashings of the same

tired ghost. While some of these later shows deviated from the basic plot, on an episode by

episode basis, the character of Casper was allowed to stay all but constant, rarely making any

shifts beyond the setting. One comedic example of this comes from Casper and the Angels,

which is, believe it or not, a television show that came out in 1979 that was a crossover of

Charlie’s Angels and Casper the Friendly Ghost in space. It describes the escapades of two

female space cops, who were befriended and protected by Casper, among others (Read 1).

Needless to say, it was very very bad. Beyond the middling quality of the show, the character of

Casper is all but a carbon copy of the spirit in The Friendly Ghost with him searching for and

helping friends.

Unfortunately, this trend of not just mediocre, but more recently, horrible Casper based

media has continued, with everything from the television show Casper Goes to Scare School to

the comic book Casper and the Spectrals. This trend of new, largely low quality Casper was

largely kicked off by the earlier discussed boxoffice success, Casper, which immediately created

what could be called a revival for Casper. This can be shown by the slew of Casper based media

that followed its release in 1995, with 4 movies and 2 television shows, being released in the

following decade (IMDB, 4). Sadly during this revival many of the pieces of media have been

quite unsuccessful, both critically and financially. Because of this trend, as well as the fact that

those who lived through the golden era of Casper are starting to die out, it is very likely that

Casper the Friendly Ghost will begin to lose his relevancy in popular culture. This is
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compounded by the fact that Casper is still a static character and has recently lost much of the

little intrigue he still had tied to his name. Though even if Casper is lost to the annals of history,

it is very likely a new sympathetic apparition will arise to take his place. This is especially likely

when the deeply human fascination with ghosts is taken into account, as the undead, and

especially the benevolent undead who have captured our fascination for millennia. Yet there is

still a significant chance that he will have another revival, much like after 1995s Casper, which

jumpstarted Casper for a brand new generation. The chance of this is compounded by Casper’s

outstanding name recognition, with him still being undoubtedly one of the most famous ghosts in

the world. As well as this, children will always have a place for creatures that are cute, while still

maintaining a degree of mystery and taboo, a line that Casper has always walked masterfully,

and one of the few things keeping him interesting to children today. So the future of Casper is as

of now murky at best, with a chance of him losing his relevance, but also a chance of him having

another renaissance.

In conclusion, Casper the Friendly Ghost has shifted very little as a character over the

years, continuing to have plot structures and characterizations that come straight from the 40s.

Casper was created in 1942, and has continued to fill much the same niche and has continued to

be portrayed in much the same way as he was back then. He has been allowed to stay constant

largely because of how he was initially characterised, and marketed so one dimensionally.

Despite a history of great success despite mediocrity, it is likely that Casper’s recent failures

have marked the end to at least this part of his career. Though his career could be eventually

revived much in the same way as it was after 1995s Casper. Even if his recent failures mark the

end of his ghostly path, it is almost a certainty that he will be replaced by another amiable

apparition.
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Works Cited

“Casper (Character).” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/character/ch136401

Brown , Lynn. “Why Were Americans Obsessed With Ghosts in the 1940s ...” JSTOR Daily , 22

Feb. 2017, daily.jstor.org/why-were-americans-so-obsessed-with-ghosts-in-the-1940s/.

Ferrier-Watson, Sean. “Fearful beginnings: the evolution of the American ghost story for

children.” 2013.

Farrington, Katherine. “Seeing ghosts in late eighteenth-Century China in Luo Pins 1766 "Guiqu

Tu" ("Ghost Realm Amusements") scroll.” Harvard University, 2009.

“Religions - Paganism: Britain's spiritual history.” BBC, BBC, 11 Apr. 2008,

www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/paganism/history/spiritualhistory_1.shtml.

Nash, Eric P. “Seymour V. Reit .” New York Times, 12 Nov. 2001,

www.nytimes.com/2001/12/17/arts/seymour-v-reit-83-a-creator-of-casper-the-friendly-

ghost.html.

Silberling, Brad, director. Casper. Amblin Entertainment, 1995.

Sparber, Izzy, director. The Friendly ghost. National Telefilms Associates, 1945. The Internet

Archive, archive.org/details/TheFriendlyGhost.
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Kenital , Seymour , director. A-Haunting we will go. National Telefilms Associates, 1949.

Internet Archive , archive.org/details/AHauntingWeWillGo.

Korkis, Jim. “Early Sketch of Casper.” Animation Anecdotes, 17 Mar. 2017,

cartoonresearch.com/index.php/animation-anecdotes-305/.

Read, Cyndie. Casper and the Angels - Characters,

www.theneitherworld.com/casper/angelschars.htm.

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