Monday, February 06, 2006

There's Good Boos To-night (1948)

There's Good Boos To-night (Paramount, 1948) 
Dir: Isadore Sparber
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

Roughly three years passed before Paramount decided to give Casper the Friendly Ghost another go, and in that three-year period, someone at the studio apparently gained a thirst for blood. Not content to let Casper simply find a living friend with whom to pal around gaily, the studio decided that the best way to get a chum for the fat little ghost was to cold-bloodedly kill something. I'm not complaining -- someone needed to inject some excitement into this series -- but since the Casper films are generally considered to be kid-friendly, this is about as shocking as you can get. Who expected this bland series to get all Bambi on us

There's Good Boos To-night starts out almost exactly like the original Casper flick, The Friendly Ghost (reviewed yesterday here), with the hero ghost earnestly reading while his fellow ghosts plot and exact an air raid-like attack on all of humanity. The book on this go-around is called "Animal Friends", and it is filled with pictures of children befriending furry little creatures. The ghosts implore Casper to join them as they did before, but he will have nothing of it. Again, he decides that it is best to strike out on his own rather than remain in the company of these warlike savages, and off he goes to make friends.

This time, the first recipient of his well-meaning but misunderstood ghostly affections is a calf, which runs worriedly away to its mother. When she goes to check out Casper herself, she is frightened enough that she runs to the nighttime horizon and jumps clear over the moon! Casper follows an adorable skunk for a stretch, but when the striped stinker discovers who is riding caboose, he bolts off, but leaves all of his odor behind to latch onto the ghost. Casper then grumpily takes a bath, rolling himself through the wringer to squeeze out the water. He begins to cry, which sets into motion the normal reply: a new friend comes calling, a small and very cute red fox.

The fox nuzzles Casper and licks his face. Casper names him Ferdie and they become fast friends and boon companions. In the midst of their play one day, a hunter arrives with two hound dogs in tow. It is clear from the music that he is after foxes. The dogs give chase to Ferdie as the hunter fires hordes of bullets at the fox. Casper steps in at the last second to try and stop the assault, and he scares off the trio in his normal manner. He turns to Ferdie to see if he is alright, but the little fox shows no signs of life. Casper picks him up and tries to revive him, but it is no use: Ferdie is dead. The final scene shows Casper at the gravesite of his only friend (apparently the children he saved and befriended in the first film no longer found him pleasant or interesting anymore), and as he bemoans his fate, the ghost of Ferdie Fox rises from the ground and begins to nuzzle and lick Casper once more! Hooray! And they died happily ever after! THE END

My favorite touch in the film is at the beginning with the opening narration. The first film’s narrator told you immediately that there would be nothing to fear despite the foreboding imagery that opened it; this film tricks us with an opening that is actually somewhat creepy as the narrator affects a tone befitting the great Thurl Ravenscroft, asking us "Now, isn't this a perfect setting for a spine-tingling ghost story? Well, this is a ghost story. Do you scare easily? Do you have nightmares? Do shadows on the wall frighten you?" The camera pans across a misty, murky swamp scene, with bats flying out of the darkness, and moves to the outside of a cemetery. The narrator then pulls the switch and says, "Well... relax. This isn't that kind of a story." For about thirty seconds, the film has a good mood going, and then turns into practically the same film as the first one... but with that one major difference.

For while this may not be that kind of a ghost story, it is a ghost story where a cute little fox dies tragically. I wonder if the fact that Casper's friend is actually a predatory animal had something to do with it being socially acceptable to kill him at the end. I also wonder if they would have done the same thing if Casper's buddy was a lamb or the baby calf from earlier in the film. I think most likely they would not have done so. I also wonder that if we didn't miss some interesting scenes by not having Ferdie live; I would have enjoyed seeing goody two-shoes Casper's reactions when Ferdie went out and killed a baby bird or bunny for his evening meal.

As for the bloodshed that did make it onto the screen, I have one question: if Paramount was so eager to kill something in one of their cartoons, why didn't they cross Casper over into the Popeye series, and then do in one or all of Popeye's annoying nephews, Pip-Eye, Pup-Eye, Poop-Eye and Peep-Eye? Now, that would have been a good cartoon, and it would have immediately improved the fortunes of two stagnant cartoon series. That's a bargain any way you carve it up.

RTJ

P.S. This review was written just before I found out that Myron Waldman, a chief animator and director with the Fleischer and Paramount/Famous Studios died Saturday morning at the age of 97. He was an animator throughout the Casper series, in addition to creating Pudgy the Pup and Hunky and Spunky for the Fleischers, and while I may seem cynical about the Casper series over the next four days, there is no denying Waldman’s incredible contribution to animation history. (You will notice that while I may have taken silly or odd story elements to task, I have not done so with the animation.) Read more about the late great Mr. Waldman here at Cartoon Brew.

*****

And in case you haven't seen it...


[This piece was edited and updated with video and new photos on 10/4/2016.]

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