DVD Review: Casper The Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection (1945-1963)

Casper the Friendly Ghost took a while to scare up a following. Viewers imagine major cartoon characters were born superstars. Can you imagine Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny as struggling? They suffered growing pains before establishing themselves as icons. Casper’s “The Friendly Ghost” came out in 1945. Three years passed before his sophomore short. Why the delay? “The Friendly Ghost” had all the elements of the later cartoons. Casper’s a ghost that refuses to scare people. His ghost buddies hate him for being so nice. When Casper goes outside to bond with the living, he scares the bejesus out of them. Why? Cause no matter how kind he acts, Casper is still an undead ghost. Why did it take a few years before the spook became a ‘50s paranormal phenomenon? The simple answer is casting. Imagine the fat Jonah Hill as a ghost. Casper had to define his curves. Casper The Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection (1945-1963) shows the streamlining of Casper and his transition from theatrical hit to television star.

The third effort, “There’s Good Boos To-Night” is the most ghostly of the friendly ghost shorts. Casper once again attempts to bond with animals. He ends up befriending a young fox. All seems well until a hunter and his dogs arrive on the scene. They pursue the fox. Casper does his best to protect the fox, but ghosts can’t take a bullet. This leads to the only time in that we see how ghosts are made. This is not a good one to show your pre-schooler. There’s a dead body, a burial and lots of tears. There is a happy ending in a macabre manner. This is the only cartoon that broaches this subject. The first three cartoons were part of the Noveltoon series at Famous Studios. It wasn’t until the fourth entry, “Casper’s Spree Under the Sea” that Casper was given a namesake series like Popeye and Superman. After a slow start with 3 cartoons over a five year span, Famous went into overdrive making 52 shorts in the next decade. The shorts primarily focused on Casper and the Ghostly Trio. They were the afterworld bullies that wanted him to be evil. “Hooky Spooky” had Casper’s cousin Spooky that didn’t have a problem spreading the fear. “Which Is Witch” brought along a love interest for the child ghoul. Wendy the Good Witch is also a nice Halloween figure. Spooky hates them both and sabotages the relationship.

The New Casper Cartoon Show was how the studio repackaged the series for 1963’s Saturday morning TV fun. Instead of merely putting the existing cartoons together in a package, the producers created 26 new cartoons. They’d be mixed together with the old Casper and Harveytoon cartoons.This made kids not feel like they were stuck watching a complete rerun. This was how it could be a “New” show. While the fresh cartoons have the characteristics of limited animation, it doesn’t feel like a downshift. Casper wasn’t the fastest paced of cartoons. The big need for speed was when he shocked an unexpected person or animal. The new cartoons are a few minutes shorter than the original theatrical adventures. Spooky, Wendy, The Ghostly Trio and Nightmare the Ghostly Horse get more screen time in the new cartoons. The big plus of this set is the inclusion of the original opening and closings for the TV series. The new cartoons are as good as the later Casper efforts so there’s no major quality drop. Casper The Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection (1945-1963) gives the birth and rebirth of a cartoon icon.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame.The quality of the transfers improve as over the years. There’s a few rough moments, but not bad enough to ruin the viewing experience. The audio is mono. The mix can get a bit muddy when they use effects to create the ghostly voices outside of Casper. You might want to crank up the volume as you turn down the lights.

Shout! Factory has included the following extras:

Audio Commentaries are featured on several of the cartoons. Harveytime Fun Times author Mark Arnold (author of The Harveytime Fun Times), Alison Arngrim (daughter of Casper’s voice Norma MacMilian) and Bradley Bolke (voice of numerous characters) share their knowledge. Bloke talks about the difficulties of breaking in as a voice actor and how sweet it is when you’re on the inside of the recording booth.

Casper Documentary (15:23) gives the history about how a nice character arrived on the scene. Mark Arnold gives the main part of the history. The creators sold Casper to the studio for $200. Alison Anagram talks about her mother Norma McMillian doing the voice of Casper for her friends. Bradley Bolke discusses being the voice of Chumlee on Tennessee Tuxedo.

Gallery of Comic Book Covers
(5:50) is a montage of the Harvey releases.

The First Three Casper Cartoons are included as a bonus features since the trio are in the public domain.

Casper The Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection (1945-1963) gives you everything you’ll ever want to know about the spook that smiled. The shorts illustrate the physical transformation of Casper so that he became more iconic. The inclusion of “There’s Good Boos To-Night” will cause casual fans to be shocked.

Shout! Factory presents Casper The Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection 1945-1963 Starring: Casper, Wendy, Spooky and the Ghostly Trio. Boxset Contents: 85 shorts on 3 DVDs. Released on DVD: October 11, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.


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