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Thursday, October 24, 2013

'Casper's Halloween Special:' A Ghost of a Chance for a Fun Holiday Special

Casper's Halloween Special
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1979 NBC program "Casper's Halloween Special" is a show that one really wants to like but highlights shortcomings of both the titular character and its limited budget. This gregarious ghoul is a favorite of many of us from our elementary school days, and "Halloween" very sadly shows that the tremendous appeal of his persona does not survive adolescence especially well.

This set includes the bonus special "The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't" from 1972. This show is a perfect companion for "Halloween." Thoughts on this one follow a discussion of "Halloween."

The same gee-whiz innocence, extreme altruism, and burning desire to be liked and not frighten off potential friends of all species that makes children love Casper provokes a desire by adults to put the creature-busting Winchesters of "Supernatural" on his trail.

The plot of "Halloween" is that Casper wants to take advantage of children wearing costumes on the titular holiday to dress up for the purpose of passing as a living boy so that he can both socialize and enjoy the fun of trick-and-treating.

The primary obstacle that Casper faces comes in the form of efforts by his dim-witted ghostly companion Hairy Scary and Hairy's friends. This not-so-friendly ghost and his like-minded group not only relish scaring youngsters on this special night but are intent, if not hell-bent, on thwarting Casper's plan.

Casper soon connects with the saddest and most diverse group of orphans this side of "Annie." As if these kids do not have enough hardship in their lives, the orphanage budget lacks any funds at all for costumes.

Other woes come in the form of homeowners treating these waifs despicably even before Hairy et al target this group for harassment that adds to the dislike by the living members of the community. Suffice it to say, the kids (and Casper) are alright by the end.

The humor, which is more low-key than the afternoon "Casper" cartoons from the early and mid-'70s, and song-and-dance numbers will appeal to kids who are too young for "Supernatural;" the overall themes will create feelings of nostalgia in adults.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, perfectly depicts the vibe and overall themes described above.

"Thanksgiving" has a similar overly-sweet sense. This one begins with a human family and squirrel clan separately enjoying Thanksgiving dinners. The intense excitement of the homo sapien and rodent offsprings regarding what is most likely the exact same meal that they enjoy every Thanksgiving is the first warning that adults are in for a mildly turbulent ride.

The male head of the squirrel family beginning to relay the story of how his great-great-grandfather Jeremy saves the first Thanksgiving (but really does not) confirms the fears of those among us who meet the age requirement for a driver's license that this special is almost exclusively intended for a younger audience and incredibly glosses over the nature of the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.

The central story involves a Pilgrim boy and a Native American boy wandering into the woods together on the afternoon before the first Thanksgiving feast that the Pilgrims and Native Americans share. Sensing trouble, Jeremy goes after the lads and ends up as the primary hero.

Like "Halloween," "Thanksgiving" will delight anyone young enough to simply accept fairy tales (and friendly ghost stories) at face value.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, speaks for itself. (Sincere apologies for the best option being a video shot of images on a traditional-screen television.)

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Halloween" or "Thanksgiving" is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.