Thursday, October 19, 2006

Countdown to Halloween: Boo Moon (1954)

Boo Moon (Paramount/Famous Studios, 1954)
Dir: Seymour Kneitel
Cel Bloc Rating: 5/9

Paramount and Famous Studios jumped onto the 3D bandwagon in the early 1950s, as a great many studios and independent producers were quick to do as they searched for that always elusive, cinematic pot of gold. Taking their two most popular characters, the studio produced a pair of extra-dimensional cartoons in 1953; both, not coincidentally, were set in outer space (because, apparently, at least to movie producers, 3D is instantly identifiable with science-fictional settings): Popeye, the Ace of Space, with the spinach-popping sailor, and Casper the Friendly Ghost in Boo Moon, released into theatres on New Year's Day, 1954.

Apart from his non-stop, whiny search for friends, Boo Moon almost completely does away with the Casper formula: there is no crying for attention, and except for two opening scares on Earth, Casper doesn't go through the usual parade of possible friends turned horrified recipients of Casper's ghostliness. After frightening everyone out of the subway, the producers decide to give us a first taste of 3D thrills, and have Casper flight straight at the screen slowly. Just as his giant smiling face fills up most of the frame, Casper disappears.

Casper happens upon a salesman working the street with a telescope by selling views of the "Wonders of the Moon" for 10 cents a peek. At first, the salesman thinks Casper is just any other little boy, but a second glance has him leap up and then smash himself down into his shoes, while pulling his hat down on top of himself. The salesman then leaps towards the camera as Casper did before, and we see the large sole of his left shoe as he leaps out of frame. A frowning Casper peers through the telescope and sees the Man in the Moon smiling at him. From this brief slice of evidence only, and always desperate for a friend, Casper reasons that the moon seems to be a friendly place. The friendly little ghost undertakes a long, solo flight through space, using just his ghostly powers, to meet the Man in the Moon himself.

When he arrives, Casper is disappointed to find "nothing but rocks and holes," and his long journey has left him weary. Casper stretches, yawns, and lies down to sleep. As he does, tiny Moon People crawl out of the craters, declare Casper to be "a monster" and cage him on a wagon to bring him back to their Moon King. This visual allusion to Gulliver's Travels is incredibly apt, as it turns out, because the Moon King Luna, is played by none other than King Bomba himself from the Fleischer Studios feature-film adaptation of the Swift classic. It is not entirely apt, however, since Bomba played the king of Lilliput's rival, Blefuscu. (Fleischer Studios was notoriously bilked out of existence by Paramount/Famous Studios in 1942, and Paramount kept the film rights to all previously-owned Fleischer properties, including Popeye and their original Gulliver's Travels characters.) Essentially playing the same character, only facing a giant white ghost kid instead of a giant white man, Bomba/Luna is not pleased with Casper, and orders "the monster" to be sent away to the royal dungeons.

Conveniently for Casper (though he could fly out of the cage at any time owing to his non-corporeal form), the Moon Kingdom is attacked by large and vicious Tree Men, who are apparently pissed off about being on the moon when the casting call for The Wizard of Oz took place or something or other, and a violent battle commences. The diminutive Moon Soldiers launch large (or rather, small) balls of fire at a pair of the Tree Men: one is burned through the middle, and runs off pulling his two separated sections together; the other is burnt to about the width of a very tall blackened toothpick, and after his eyes pop open telling us he is still alive (no actual death apart from Casper in these cartoons), the charred stick hurries off in fear.

But the Tree Men won't be stopped. They run to a crater filled with water and suck up the liquid through their branches that serve as noses. The Tree Men squirt the water back at the castle and put out the fires creating the Moon People's only defense. The Tree Men finally break through the gates of the walled city and capture King Bomba/Luna. Casper finally gets in on the hero action, materializing through the ground of the moon, and pulling two roots of each tree under with him and tying them in bows, thereby literally rooting each tree in place. The Moon Kingdom is saved! 

No longer afraid of him, King Bomba/Luna stands on Casper's palm and awards him with a medal and the title of "Sir Friend Casper." Even though he has finally made a large group of friend that trust him, Casper decides to take off to return to Earth, and as he leaves, the Man in the Moon winks at the audience.

Of course, we will never see these "Friends of Casper" again, just as we never see any of Casper's friends again when the next formulaic cartoon rolls around. Until Spooky and Wendy show up, that is. I have two theories:

1) Casper is actually a ghost who befriends and then murders these new "friends" in the space between each film. He is unable to retain any memory of having met or killing these friends; thus, his slate is wiped clean at the beginning of each film, and the repetitious cycle of each Casper film begins anew. Casper is a serial friend killer from beyond the grave.

2) Somewhere there is a Hollywood chapter of the Friends of Casper Anonymous, where abandoned "friends" of the "love 'em and leave 'em" spook meet confidentially to work through their anger issues over Casper. There is Bonnie and Johnny, Dudley Duckling, Wheezy the Elephant, and the ghost of little Ferdie Fox; every couple weeks a rocket lands and King Luna and the Moon People arrive to join in the group hate session, and Luna details an attack plan on whatever haunted house Casper is holed up in that week. The meetings always fall apart when it is decided that Casper is hardly worthy of such attention and rage, but they all agree wholeheartedly that only a truly pathetic individual would spend even a day discussing the life and crimes of a middling cartoon character, let alone five days in a row.

Oh, I think they must be talking about me.

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

[Editor's note: The text and photos for this article were updated on 12/9/2015.]

1 comment:

bgrauman said...

Jackson Beck is the voice of "King Luna" in this one, with Allen Swift as assorted "moon characters" (both later worked together on "KING LEONARDO AND HIS SHORT SUBJECTS"), which was co-directed by Kneitel and Isadore Sparber.