October 06, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Kids like to put their parents through two kinds of movie hell. First, they hijack their folks to a noisy theater where hundreds of youngsters laugh, scream, and gasp at the latest child-marketed blockbuster. Then, when said blockbuster comes to video, they commandeer the VCR for weeks, questioning their parents about the motives for each character’s actions. Considering the content of Casper, the live-action hit about the friendly ghost of comic-book and cartoon fame, parents may soon find the second type of ordeal more trying than usual.

While the bland Casper comic books and cartoons never bothered with back story, or with the implications presented by their hero (who is, after all, a dead child), this Casper does. Indeed, in telling the story of Casper’s death and his visits with mortal kids, it posits a coherent feel-good metaphysic, with handy explanations about ghosts and angels — not to mention a ”Lazarus” machine that can bring people back from the dead. It probably never occurred to Casper‘s creators that a lot of their conceits border on blasphemy in almost any faith. With the tape version, kids can focus on all the ways in which the story contradicts conventional doctrine about the Great Beyond.

But if you’re not concerned by such issues or think your kids are hip to the whole life-and-death thing, Casper offers some high-spirited fun. The special effects are lovely; Casper is all wispy puffiness and agate blue eyes. The vulgar, exuberant humor comes mostly courtesy of Casper’s three uncles, who resemble a more obnoxious troupe of Animaniacs. And Christina Ricci (The Addams Family), as the girl who befriends Casper, is even more beguiling than usual. Too bad everyone involved in making the film is going to rot in hell. (Just kidding…I think.) C+

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