Wednesday, February 08, 2006

SPOOKING ABOUT AFRICA (1957)

Somehow, Casper has ended up in the Dark Continent in Spooking About Africa, and while there might be an implicit racist joke buried in the title, there is no such behavior alive in the cartoon itself. It is a pleasant and innocuous animal tale, where Casper breaks routine a little bit (he forgoes the crying jags to which he often finds himself succumbing), and directly aids an elephant with a serious dilemma and a crying jag of his own: the pachyderm is stuck in a deadly series of monstrous sneezes that are swiftly making him a social outcast in the jungle. While Casper does continue his friend-seeking ways, they are a minor distraction to the plot; except for the opening scene with a zebra, who is naturally scared out of his stripes, and then the hanging-in-midair stripes are scared separately, giving chase swiftly after their horsey body, there is little of the traditional Casper plot within this film's center.

The elephant is named, understandably, Wheezy, and he has already sneezed the proud feathers off of a peacock before Casper runs into him. He then knocks a trio of obnoxious monkeys off of their vines, but before they can get retribution for the accidental act, Casper arrives, forcing the set to adopt the cliched but useful See-Hear-Speak-No Evil pose in midflight before escaping into the trees. The elephant is not the slightest bit afraid of the ghost (he has much bigger problems than poltergeists), and actively seeks Casper's counsel in the matter. Casper ties a knot in the pachyderm's trunk, but the next time he sneezes, the air gets trapped and the trunk turns into a large grey balloon, carrying Wheezy off into the atmosphere. Casper flies up and releases him, and his flight down is exactly that of a normal balloon in the same circumstance. Only with a larger crash. And with an elephant tied to the end of the balloon.

However, in the release of all that air, Casper discovers a feather has been loosed from within the elephant's trunk: the very cause of all of Wheezy's problems. He is overjoyed at the thought of not sneezing constantly, but then fate has something else in store for him: a large fire has broken out in the jungle, and tens of animals go dashing past the pair in fear from the inferno. It is decided that only one of Wheezy's sneezes is sufficient to blow out the fire, which is funny, because it should be only be sufficient to enlarge and spread the flames. But apparently jungle fires are different from forest fires, and they can be simply snuffed out like a birthday candle. So, Wheezy sucks the feather back into his trunk, sneezes in a very large fashion, and saves the jungle. The animals celebrate, but then Wheezy sneezes directly at them and knock them end over end. Casper dives inside of Wheezy's trunk and retrieves the offending feather, and the film ends with the two of them as heroes.

If you think that I am being cruel in giving only a series of "5" ratings to all of the Casper films that I have reviewed this week, it is only because of what they are: bland, inoffensive, unprovocative, unremarkable stories and animations. They are not bad films, per se, but they are not necessarily good films either. Much of Paramount's product, like much of the Terrytoon and Walter Lantz catalogs, fall into this category. While Disney films could often affect this same stance, there was usually far superior animation involved (and, admittedly, larger budgets, but a larger budget does not a good film necessarily make), but there are examples where this is not enough to warrant a rating above "5" either, when an underwhelming or blandly developed storyline fails the entire film. (See my review for Football Now and Then for an example.)

Casper was usually about a safely played formula, and this generally relegates him to the suburbs of my ratings system; but even here, where the formula is broken to a certain small degree, the film is still not remarkable enough to warrant much more than a casual acceptance of its very existence. It's probably the least amount of attention a ghost is likely to warrant without truly scaring. Like Casper.

Spooking About Africa (Paramount, 1957) Dir: Seymour Kneitel
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

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