1995 saw James Horner climbing steadily to the height of his fame. The year yielded first-rate scores for Braveheart, Apollo 13, Casper, JumanjiandBalto– with a dud like Jadethrown in for good measure. Even though Titanic and worldwide recognition were still just around the corner, it was a banner year for James Horner, and in retrospect, Caspergot lost in the mix ever so slightly. Partly that’s because the movie was not viewed kindly by critics (although it grossed just over $100 million domestically and just under $288 million worldwide) and partly because the level of excellence Horner displayed on Braveheartand Apollo 13, both nominated for a Best Score Oscar, have tended to outshine even this high-caliber effort, now given a splendid 2-CD deluxe treatment by the tireless folks from La-La Land Records.
Despite its relative obscureness in the Horner canon, the forces behind Casper were not to be trifled with. The movie was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, who chose 30-year-old Brad Silberling to direct his first feature project and carefully surrounded him with seasoned veterans, among them Michael Lantieri, Scott Farrar and Dennis Muren from ILM, lenser Dean Cundey, editor Michael Kahn and animation specialist Phil Nibbelink, who assisted Silberling with animatics on the set and had previously co-directed An American Tail:Fievel Goes West(1991) and We’re Back! A Dinosaur Story (1993). And in James Horner’s competent hands, the score of Silberling’s first foray into big-budget popcorn fare was never going to be anything other than memorable.
In the DVD audio commentary, Silberling has these nice things to say about the composer:
“He’s really a remarkable collaborator for a filmmaker: he gave us a sense of the magic and the wonder but he also really gave the emotional climax of this picture, I think, some of its primary color, and was tremendous to work with. I had the advantage of hiring him before production began. We had great discussions about, again, how to really make this something different and certainly something different from the other scores that he had had a chance to do. And the results are just, just wonderful. And I think this is one of the sweetest cues in the picture.”
The cue Silberling is referring to is One Last Wish, the movie’s emotional climax and one of the three or four cues that speak directly to the movie’s core themes. In fact, it’s easy to dismiss Casper as a family popcorn movie, but scribes Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver made it a point at least to touch upon some meaty stuff, even though some choices ran into a surprising amount of controversy. Having grown up with re-runs of the television series that started way back in 1949, Silberling desperately wanted to contemporize the Casper character. Spielberg was all for it: here was a boy frozen at about the age of 12, but he had been a ghost for decades, so there’s no reason why he couldn’t be hip and current. Says Silberman:
“If the guy is watching Mr. Rogers and Hard Copy, he has to have learnt something. So we wanted Casper to have a truly adolescent reaction to the first girl that drops on the springs of his bed.”
Unfortunately, the original Harvey family, who owned the Harvey characters, were apparently outraged by the mere hint of adolescent leanings and budding sexuality.
I am mentioning all this because these are matters that directly impacted the score James Horner would ultimately be asked to provide. Says Silberling:
“James came in, looked at the film, saw it for sort of the modern fairy tale that it was and wanted to bring all of those elements to it without it becoming saccharine.”
In the same interview, James Horner elaborates:
“The films I tend to pick now are films that sort of try and do something for me a little bit spiritually as opposed to just, you know, jobs. (…) What they were looking for from me was not cartoon music. They were looking for me to give to Casper this lost quality of youth or childhood that he’s given up and can never recapture. And it makes it more of a fairy tale.”
To be fair, the score features a substantial amount of cartoon music, but when all is said and done, what you take away from it is the approximately twenty minutes of truly heartfelt material. Between them, Fond Memories, The Lighthouse – Casper and Kat, Casper’s Lullaby (actually a concert arrangement) and One Last Wish bring out the very best in James Horner the dramatist and the emotionalist.
So there you are. If you saw Casper as a kid or if you are old enough to have taken your kids to see Casper expecting the Hollywood equivalent of a Big Mac, you may be surprised by the great lengths to which the filmmakers went to portray Casper, Kat and her father as layered, transformative characters, infuse the movie with a true sense of magic and make a valiant stab at addressing some weighty issues. Here is the ‘unfinished business’ which keeps dead souls from crossing over into the afterlife and living souls from finding closure, and which drew Horner to the project in the first place: Casper McFadden (voiced by Malachi Pearson) cannot remember what he was like as a boy or what his parents looked like, and desperately longs for a (girl)friend; Kat (Christina Ricci) is facing all kinds of teenage angst – if only her father would stop uprooting her every five minutes and give her a chance to grow up in the kind of stable environment she needs to come to grips with the loss of her mother; unable to recover from his wife’s death, Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) throws himself body and soul into the absurd business of therapy for ghosts as a way to cope with his feelings of inadequacy when it comes to raising a teenage daughter all by himself. In a particularly touching moment, the angel that Amelia has become assures her grieving husband that he is a good father and tells him: “You and Kat loved me so well when I was alive that I don’t have unfinished business. Please don’t let me be yours.” The filmmakers realized the subject matter lent itself easily to moments that would fly at least a few levels over the heads of the target audience, and Silberling said he always found himself walking a fine line. Needless to say, these are the moments when James Horner’s score truly shines, and they will be the focus of this article.
By the way, the issue of unfinished business keeping ghosts from crossing over into the afterlife, a notion obviously not unique to Casper, actually turns out to be the story’s Achilles’ heel. Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty), one of the movie’s baddies who “dies” to become a ghost and subsequently gets into the vault to steal Casper’s treasure, is defeated when Kat reminds her that she has no more unfinished business. At that point the only option left to Carrigan is to cross over, which she very reluctantly does. Somehow, though, that rule does not apply to Casper: once he has had his Cinderella moment at the end of the film and kissed Kat, he should have found at least some measure of closure, and yet he goes back to being a ghost as if nothing had happened.
But back to the score. The roughly twenty minutes that allowed Horner to inject a certain degree of spirituality into the proceedings are also pretty much the only moments that have the impact the composer intended. In addition, the score as it appears on the albums and the film version are often two or even three very different beasts indeed. All these differences can be traced back to the following factors: 1) Horner re-arranged short cues from the score into longer, suite-like cues for inclusion on the MCA album, 2) cues were dialed out, shortened and broken off, which means the MCA album contains music that is nowhere to be heard in the film and 3) some material did not make it to the MCA album, most notably the four cues that feature Horner’s fantastic arrangements of the old TV tune, “Casper the Friendly Ghost”, composed by Mack David and Jerry Livingston. In fact, the only time you heard that tune on the MCA album was in track 14, a Little Richard cover of the tune that I personally found nothing short of hideous. By and large, roughly 55 minutes of the underscore survive in the finished film.
The La-La Land album features the full 77-minute score, featuring must-have cues that were previously unreleased. In the case of the score’s first cue, Kids with a Camera, the reissue even features two versions, one with James Horner’s new Casper theme and the rescored version featuring the original cartoon theme. Scene #91 was dropped late in the editing process, but the music Horner composed for it now survives as The Doctor Is In (LLL disc 1 track 11).Sonically, the La-La Land album is an appreciable upgrade compared to the 1995 MCA album. Mike Matessino, who co-produced the reissue and Shawn Murphy, the score’s original recording engineer, decided to take a more modern sonic approach to the overall dynamics and presence. They also applied this to the original album, a remastered version of which makes up disc 2 of the new La-La Land edition. If we pull out the calculator, the 1995 album was 61 minutes without the songs and Casper’s Lullaby, compared to 72 minutes today with this new edition (without counting the four interesting bonus minutes). The addition of unreleased music in the new presentation of the score on disc 1 is therefore limited to 11 minutes and may not seem to be worth the purchase for those who already have the 1995 album. However it can be justified by taking into account the narrative experience which is new because the arrangement of the tracks is more respectful of the film. These 11 minutes are spread over half of the 21 total tracks, so the feeling of novelty is constantly present, and is not limited to one or two cues.
It makes sense to split the score up into its two defining parts: the light side and the sad or meditative side. Between them, they inspired Horner to write no fewer than seven themes. The light side is the comedy, the fantasy and the kid-friendly horror, and it sees Horner using the leitmotif approach, linking five thematic building stones to specific characters or sets of characters: Casper gets two themes, a playful one that Horner composed especially for this movie as well as the Friendly Ghost theme from the cartoon show. The story’s bad guys, Carrigan and Dibs (Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame), get their own theme, a somewhat goofy harpsichord and saxophone line that is more comical than ominous. Kat and her dad get a theme that defines them as the leftover parts of a family. Even though the shadow of the deceased mother weighs heavily on them, they will eventually learn to develop a strong father-daughter relationship, and so the theme is full of life and innocence, with soft rhythmic accompaniment that will remind Horner fans of the pastoral opening and closing cues from Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). Finally, Casper’s three ghostly uncles get a theme which is tonally similar to the one for Carrigan and Dibs but musically different – it receives the deluxe treatment in Teaser (La-La Land disc 1 track 24, arguably the best of the unreleased cues), which Horner composed prior to the film’s release and which features spectacularly orchestrated, fast-paced statements of the theme.
The sad side of the story is far less leitmotific in its approach and concentrates on concepts rather than characters: death, the fear of being an inadequate parent, the longing for company, the fading of memories and the loss of childhood and of loved ones. All of these concepts are captured in a duo of absolutely gorgeous melodies, one of which (almost exclusively performed by the piano) would pop again almost literally in The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008). In that score too, Horner would use it to underscore the quest for reunion beyond the grave, this time between a daughter and her father. Inevitably, especially in careers spanning several decades, film composers are bound to revisit the same concepts or themes. Does a film composer have a right to tie those instances together with recurring uses of the same musical identity or is such a decision detrimental to his or her artistic integrity? I leave it to the individual reader and listener to arrive at her own judgment, but the fact remains that Horner did so repeatedly – he expanded Virgil’s theme from Project X (1987) into the main theme of Mighty Joe Young (1998) and there are more examples. It is natural to feel troubled by the paradox of a top-tier film composer resorting to a practice that cannot easily be reconciled with the overwhelming and perhaps unrivaled emotional truthfulness exhibited by so much of his work, but every human being comes with his or her paradoxes and this was one of James Horner’s. Some of us have found a way to resolve the paradox by reminding ourselves that Horner deliberately sought to integrate individual scores into the greater whole of his oeuvre, like many threads woven into a patchwork. And while this is an argument of some validity, it may not settle the issue for everyone out there. Oh well. If anything, it keeps the discussion alive.
The following cue-by-cue analysis discusses the entire score as heard in the final version of the film, warts and all. Wherever possible, I have used the track titles featured on the first disc of the new La-La Land edition. Since lots of tracks on the score albums diverge substantially from the film version, it is not always possible or even realistic to point out which cue goes where, but I will give it a try anyway. Whenever I mention a factoid about the movie’s production, it is based on director Silberling’s audio commentary on the DVD.
1 – Kids With A Camera (1:49)
LLL disc 1 track 22
No music plays over the Universal logo, just rumbling thunder and a howling wolf. After the earth in Universal’s logo has morphed into the full moon, we see two boys pulling up their bikes by the gate of Whipstaff Manor. They want to get a selfie taken inside the mansion and be able to brag about it at school.
The score’s first cue starts when Nicky and Andreas crawl under the gates. Whenever Horner is not commenting on the deeper themes of the film, he enthusiastically embraces the musical clichés of the comedy and horror genre. While in no way original, this is exactly the kind of music this often tongue-in-cheek story called for. (Young Brad Silberling himself made it a point to stuff the film with little homages.) In this case, Horner relies on dark strings, wispy tendrils of mysterious choir and even his own trademark rolling piano accents as the boys wander into the foreboding mansion.
As Nicky and Andreas fight over who gets to photograph whom, the camera goes back and forth between them and in a nice touch, Horner chooses to mimic that. It’s also a way of injecting some rhythm into the music. Horner builds on it as Casper arrives: the strings become more lively and an accent signals the moment when Casper takes the camera and takes the boys’ picture.
Of course, Nicky and Andreas run off in a wild panic, at which point the cue soars with one of the previously unreleased gems of the score, an upbeat and fully symphonic rendition of the cartoon theme. We’ll call it the Friendly Ghost theme from now on.
This cue also establishes an influence that looms large over the score: the animation scores Horner had previously composed for Spielberg projects, particularly The Land Before Time (1988). Horner never wasted an opportunity to tie new projects into the fabric of his larger oeuvre and so at the very least some of the orchestration of Littlefoot’s story carries over into this score. Horner caps things off with a final flourish for the brass as the digitally created title card appears and the screen goes white.
In fact, two versions of this cue were recorded and the film version is the re-score requested by Spielberg. Horner’s original take on the cue featured his own Casper theme instead of the Friendly Ghost theme (LLL disc 1 track 1).
2 – Carrigan and Dibs (1:03)
MCA track 2 / LLL disc 1 track 2
Not exactly overcome with grief, Carrigan Crittenden listens to the will of her departed father being read to her by Rugg (Ben Stein). When she discovers that she is left nothing but Whipstaff Manor, she has a fit and throws the will into the fire. At this point, her lawyer Dibs notices strange writing that appears in the flames: “Buccaneers and buried gold / Whipstaff doth a treasure hold”. The full track starts earlier and introduces the Carrigan and Dibs theme under the dialogue, but the message in the fire is also an appropriate starting point for Horner’s second cue, which presents misterioso strings and more of the pompous saxophone and celesta theme for the story’s bad guys, who in children’s movies are usually bumbling buffoons. The final genre trope comes in the form of a theremin that wails over the cue’s final stinger, when Carrigan and Dibs arrive at Whipstaff manor in the middle of a stormy night.
Part of composing a good score is knowing when to compose nothing at all. Horner had scored Nicky and Andreas’s prank with dark strings, but that was because the boys were already afraid when they set foot in the large entrance hall. Carrigan and Dibs expect to find little beyond rundown property so providing ominous music here would have been Horner scoring the audience instead of the characters. Even when the bad guys hear Casper say his name, they suspect nothing out of the ordinary. The music starts when a translucent shape slides down the staircase and mickey-mouses it with a sliding motion in the strings. Enter a short statement of the Friendly Ghost theme, albeit now accompanied by somewhat darker orchestral shades. When the bad guys scream and wake up the ghosts of the uncles, they manifest themselves in a whirlwind of apparitions and the music is dialed out.
4 – March of the Exorcists (1:32) MCA track 5 / LLL disc 1 track 3
Carrigan and Dibs enlist Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) to perform an exorcism. Silberling has the uncles twist the priest’s neck, at which point he walks out again with his head backwards. Horner avails himself of the prancing theme for Carrigan and Dibs, and pauses for Dan Aykroyd in full Ghostbusters (1984) attire running out of the mansion saying: “Who you gonna call? Not me!” The cue is the first part of March of the Exorcists.
5 – All I Want Is A Friend (0:10) MCA track 5 / LLL disc 1 track 3
Frustrated by the failed attempts to get the ghosts out, Carrigan decides to have the whole mansion demolished. Sensing their existence is threatened, the uncles break into demonic laughter and chase all the workmen away, with Casper flying after them and sighing: “All I want is a friend…” Horner relies on some playful rhythmic material that is heavily reminiscent of The Land Before Time. This is the ending of March of The Exorcists. The cue was basically cut in half and most of the second half was dropped except the ending.
After Carrigan and Dibs have skipped town, Casper is left alone watching TV. An episode of Hard Copy introduces him and the audience to Dr. James Harvey, who lost his wife Amelia in a tragic accident and started a new career as a therapist for ghosts. Casper realizes that this is the guy Carrigan needs and so he flies off to the motel where she has rented a room. Of course, ghosts have a well-documented habit of traveling through telephone wires, and Horner presents the third and perhaps liveliest statement of the Friendly Ghost theme, this time with a decidedly Christmassy touch provided by the tambourine. The decision was made not to play the comedy of Casper slipping into the TV set and repeatedly pointing it to Carrigan while she is on the phone.
7 – On To Whipstaff (1:31) MCA track 3 part 2 / LLL disc 1 track 4 part 1
On the road, Kat gets into something of a fight with her dad over his uprooting her to find new ghost therapy opportunities. After a while, James Harvey realizes his daughter has a point and he cuts her a deal: if the Whipstaff gig turns out to be a bust, he will stop moving around. Father and daughter seal the decision with a pinkie deal (actually a nice set-up, its pay-off occurring at the height of the second act). Horner starts the cue on the pinkie deal and on a bed of rhythmic material that is reminiscent of Something Wicked This Way Comes, presents the first two statements of the wonderful family theme, bridged by material that brings back memories from Land Before Time. When they are seen arriving at Whipstaff, the music hints at the uncles’ theme and Horner finds a way to make the cue’s last note land exactly on a cut to James Harvey getting out of the car. MCA’s track 3 (confusingly called Strangers In The House) is a suite of three cues: the first and third make up LLL track 4 (but the order is reversed), the second plays during the Eastwood / Dangerfield / Gibson / Crypt Keeper cameos and will be discussed at greater length in First Haunting / The Swordfight.
8 – Strangers In The House (4:20)
MCA track 1 part 1 / LLL disc 1 track 5 part 1
Kat goes off looking for a room of her own and starts up the monumental staircase. Nearly all of Casper was filmed inside Universal studio soundstages, one of the largest housing this huge three-story set with some of the visible cracks due to a series of earthquakes that hit California just before shooting on Casper started in 1994. Production designer Leslie Dilley was inspired by the work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, and at one point during the development of the screenplay, Brad Silberling recalls, Kat said the ceilings looked like something Dr. Seuss had thrown up. The line was not deemed kid-friendly enough and eventually dropped.
James Horner scores with a mixture of playful rhythms and mock-eerie sliding strings, conjuring up exactly the right mood for the piece. When Kat discovers the room of the uncles (Stretch, Fatso and Stinkie), Horner hints at their theme. A short while later, Kat settles down in what was once the room of young Casper McFadden, and when the friendly ghost realizes there’s a girl on his bed, he is beside himself with exhilaration – Horner provides a quicksilver statement of his own Casper theme.
When dad drops by to see if Kat is okay, the cue moves to the family theme for the next minute or so, with sad memories of mom and Casper’s theme popping in when Kat inadvertently drops a box of things on the little fellow’s head. Horner develops the Casper theme in the trumpet when the titular hero assumes the shape of a pillow, which Kat fluffs a little too energetically for his liking. An appropriately whimsical harmonica performance of the theme plays under the bit where Casper introduces himself to Kat, at which point she passes out. Casper flies to the nearest sink, fills himself up with water and wrings his body like a towel over Kat’s head. She wakes up and starts screaming. The cue accents this and then drops out.
9 – No Sign Of Ghosts (1:12)
MCA track 1 part 2 / LLL disc 1 track 5 part 2
Dad tries to convince Kat there are no ghosts, but then bumps into Casper himself. Horner presents more statements of his own Casper and family themes, which are wholly appropriate but inevitably turn this cue into a bit of musical wallpaper.
10 – The Uncles Smell Visitors (1:11)
MCA track 4 part 1 / LLL disc 1 track 6 part 1
The uncles are alerted to the presence of visitors. Smelling blood, they immediately go after Dr. Harvey, knock him unconscious and slip into his body. This short cue draws exclusively from the uncles’ theme.
11 – First Haunting / The Swordfight (3:40)
MCA track 4 part 2 / LLL disc 1 track 6 part 2
In a nod to Poltergeist (1982), Harvey comes to and walks to the sink, only to see hallucinations in the mirror. In Poltergeist, that was the start of the one truly graphic horror moment, but here Harvey’s reflection morphs into four cameo performances, by Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield, Mel Gibson and finally the Crypt Keeper from Tales From The Crypt. The fifth cameo was supposed to be Steven Spielberg, but the movie’s executive producer somehow did not make the cut. Some of the music Horner uses during the cameos can be heard on La-La Land disc 1 track 6 (1:20-1:45), although the chime effects that mark the transition from one cameo to the next are combined in the film with a straightforward arrangement of the uncles’ theme, which makes these twenty or so seconds significantly more musical. Fortunately yet bizarrely, this arrangement of the uncles’ theme sans the chime effects can be heard on LLL disc 1 track 9 (0:00- 0:22) as well as on the MCA album (track 3, 0:34-0:56). After this, Horner launches into the score’s first real set-piece. Harvey steps into a bucket and slips on the stair carpet, which wraps around him as he rolls down. Horner scores all this with vivid and densely orchestrated statements of the uncles’ theme. At the time of the MCA album’s release, the cooing choir accompanying the bumbling theme led some film music critics to draw comparisons between this cue and Danny Elfman’s circus-like stylings from Beetlejuice (1988).
At the foot of the stairs, the uncles are ready for combat, swords drawn. Harvey confronts them with a toilet plunger and the swordfight gets underway. Horner’s take on the sequence is predictable but highly effective: a piece of swashbuckling music led by a boisterous fanfare inspired by the Sea Hawk brass fanfare (1940) composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The two statements of the fanfare are surrounded by equally busy action music which is so bass-heavy and so densely layered that, sure enough, more than some of it ends up buried under the dialogue.
Having lost the plunger, Harvey switches to a vacuum cleaner and finally sucks the uncles up, trapping them in the dust bag. The family theme is heard as father and daughter are reunited and the cue ends with one short statement of the uncles’ theme as we hear them arguing inside their tight confinement.
12 – Casper Makes Breakfast (2:55)
MCA track 7 / LLL disc 1 track 7
To give you an idea of how quickly the business of special effects evolves, the short scene where Casper makes Kat breakfast alone contains as many digital effects as all of Jurassic Park combined, and that game-changer was only two years old in 1995.
Horner makes extensive use again of his own Casper theme and surrounds it with lively material for the cooking sequence. Kat wonders what it’s like to touch a ghost and both join hands in a short but magical moment, underscored by the simple but highly effective piano theme. Here, it speaks to Casper’s longing for a friend and the inability to make physical contact. The second part of the cue is more upbeat and comical, playing under Harvey’s arrival in the kitchen and more interplay between the ghost and the humans, Casper’s theme now moving to the saxophone.
13 – Ride Of The Valkyries – Ghosts Melt (0:31)
LLL disc 1 track 8
The uncles burst into the kitchen signaling their arrival with a blast of Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries and greet Dr. Harvey’s invitation to a round of therapy with supreme mockery. In a variation on the rotten tomato scene, they throw a healthy dollop of goo at him. (In fact, the hand throwing the stuff off screen was Steven Spielberg’s – at that time, the bearded one was picking up awards left and right and frequently visited the set, imploring Silberling to put him to work.)
14 – Kat Walks To School (0:27)
LLL disc 1 track 9 (0:22-0:51)
Horner uses the shot of the besmeared Dr. Harvey to ease into the cue and revisits the family theme as we see Kat starting her first day of school. This kicks off “the Carrie subplot”, as Silberling calls it: Kat is nearly driven off the pavement by Amber (filling in for Nancy Allen in De Palma’s movie) but is given a radiant Colgate smile by Vic, to whose charms she instantly succumbs. Later in the film, Amber talks her boyfriend Vic into asking Kat out to the Halloween party, where the evil duo will come up with a prank to discredit the newcomer. The Carrie subplot was a good idea, especially since it promises to provide Casper with a romantic competitor, but unfortunately, the thread comes to nothing and so there was no reason for James Horner to acknowledge any of it.
The composer also steered clear of the subsequent classroom scene, which was funny enough that it did not need any music. The scene puts a spin on the situation where you do not want to be seen with your parents on your first day of school. In this case, Kat is followed around by her ghost wannabe boyfriend, who pops up in a picture of Mount Rushmore and ties all the disagreeable classmates’ shoelaces together, so that they trip over themselves at the end of the class. When asked who wants to have the Halloween party at Whipstaff manor, all hands go up and Silberling frames the shot so that it references the chanting Indians from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977).
15 – Fatso As Amelia (1:07)
LLL disc 1 track 10
Meanwhile, back at the mansion, the uncles tell Dr. Harvey they know his deceased wife Amelia and could easily produce her in exchange for his getting Carrigan and Dibs off their backs. Harvey cuts a deal and Fatso goes looking for Amelia. Horner presents the first sustained performance of the second sadness theme (with a distinctive head of three rising and three falling notes and almost exclusively performed by soft strings) and orchestrates it for soft choir and strings that add just a touch of mystery. It’s all a red herring of course, because behind the backlit door, Harvey will find none other than Fatso himself dressed up in women’s clothes. However, Horner wisely decided to go along with the pretense, and stages a crescendo that obviously climbs to nothing.
16 – The Lighthouse – Casper and Kat (4:38)
MCA track 6 / LLL disc 1 track 12
The second sadness theme returns in a music-box arrangement as Casper assumes different guises: a freshly pressed shirt in a drawer, a balloon popping out of a closet, anything that could draw Kat’s attention. She, of course, has just received Vic’s invitation to the Halloween party and is on cloud nine. Horner completely ignores the comedy of the situation and uses the second sadness theme as a jumping-off point for the first sustained sequence of refined melancholy. First, there’s a brassy moment and a superb heroic, cymbal-accented statement of Casper’s theme as the ghost transforms himself into a caped superhero with a distinctively Austrian accent, drags Kat out of the window, lets her fall down and catches her Superman-style.
The remainder of the scene is a conversation between Casper and Kat atop a lighthouse overlooking the beautiful moonlit sea. It’s all filmed in a single, delicately gliding camera movement. The focus is on Casper not remembering his life as a human boy (second sadness theme) and Kat worrying about forgetting what her mum was like (piano theme). The soft wafting electronics beneath the themes lend the cue an ethereal, magical quality. The use of the choir, again, reminded some critics of Danny Elfman, this time the softer material from Edward Scissorhands (1990), but by and large, this is vintage Horner.
The conversation goes on after Casper has returned Kat to her (and his) bedroom, and while Horner keeps developing the delicate lines of this wonderful cue, we are treated to perhaps the movie’s most touching moment: while Kat is falling asleep, Casper presses a kiss against her cheek. Kat’s reaction is nothing like what he had hoped for: “Casper, could you close the window? It’s cold.” The profound disappointment felt by the character is multiplied tenfold by Horner’s masterful scoring here, the piano giving way to very soft, plaintive strings. Less is obviously more and the moment is just heartbreakingly sad. Casper curls up at the end of Kat’s bed and the music eases out.
17 – Kat In The Attic – Fond Memories (1:15)
MCA track 8 part 1 / LLL disc 1 track 14 part 1 (0:00-1:20)
A sustained electronic note eases in as Kat discovers Casper’s old toy room. She wonders if the toys in the boxes could jog her friend’s memory, and Horner responds with an oboe variation on the piano theme. The third part of the 8th track on the MCA album corresponds to Costume For Kat (LLL disc 1 track 13) and the section between 1:01 and 1:19 of track 14 on La-La Land’s first disc features a swelling orchestral-electronic lead-out that was previously unreleased.
18 – To Lazarus (4:39)
MCA track 8 part 2 and track 11 part 1 / LLL disc 1 track 14 part 2 and track 15 part 1
The score’s most animation-like cue (and one of its most magical) plays under Casper rediscovering the toy room, now fully restored by Kat. There’s all manner of antique trappings, and Casper floats around them in utter wonderment. Amid simmering strings and enchanting orchestral flourishes Horner presents a particularly lyrical version of Casper’s theme, before we switch to the reflective first two minutes of Descent to Lazarus. During these two minutes, Horner’s freely associative writing reflexes lead him to provide a slowed-down version of a theme from Land Before Time. It appears just once in this score, and with the support of a solemn horn it does a great job conveying the melancholy of the moment. Kat asks: “What is it like to die?” and Casper answers: “Like being born. Only backwards.” (For you parents out there, this exchange alone will guarantee an interesting sit-down with your kids after the end credits have rolled.)
The mood changes completely when Casper is reminded of the Lazarus, a giant contraption invented by Casper’s father in an attempt to bring his son back from the dead. Casper remembers where to find the Lazarus and takes Kat along for a wild descent to the mansion’s elaborate subterranean laboratory.
19 – In The Lab (2:50) MCA track 11 (middle) / LLL disc 1 track 15 (middle)
Sitting in a chair, Kat has to run the gauntlet, so to speak, as she is subjected to a ride through the Up and at-Em Machine old McFadden had invented to perform his morning routine for him while he was still too sleepy to brush his teeth, comb his hair and get shaved, among many other things. Carrigan and Dibs are hot on their trail but Horner ignores them for the time being, instead indulging in delightfully sprightly and upbeat music for the eventful trip down to the lab. The cue mickey-mouses the chair sliding down and coming to a standstill.
Meanwhile, Dibs also runs the gauntlet, but whereas Kat managed to dodge most of the water and shaving cream, he finds himself covered by all of it. Predictably yet effectively, Horner brings into play the Carrigan and Dibs theme here, and in general, will spend the next twenty minutes composing very conventional leitmotif-driven music during this story-heavy part of the movie. You see Casper, you hear Casper’s theme; you see Carrigan, you hear the bumbling march; you see someone falling, you hear someone falling; the Lazarus is activated, you hear rumbling percussion and slightly foreboding brass; you know what I mean. The music does its job competently, but that’s about it. It’s basically wallpaper scoring, but of course, the many themes and colorful orchestrations keep it all musically varied and interesting.
For the trained Horner fan, a couple of moments are worth mentioning. One occurs when Casper imitates a pirate and Horner reprises the gorgeous seafaring theme from The Pagemaster (1994). Then Kat finds a book which bears the title Frankenstein and which, when opened, in fact reveals the button to activate the Lazarus. At this point, Horner references the five-note horn motif that accompanies nearly all the eerie scenes with the magical book in Jumanji (1995). The musical quotes are as funny as they are meaningful.
20 – The Lazarus Revealed / Failed Resuscitation (2:49)
MCA track 11 (end) / LLL disc 1 track 15 (end)
The Lazarus rises out of the misty lab pool and at 1:05:33 Casper realizes: “It’s what brings ghosts back to life!” Immediately, Horner switches to a lively, almost exhilarated statement of the melancholy piano theme – it’s like the composer jumped at the chance to use the sadness themes whenever possible.
There is one vial containing just enough magic fluid to bring back one ghost, and faced with the prospect of an impenetrable safe, Carrigan wants to be the one to use it. Horner’s music accompanying Casper’s attempt at resuscitation grows appropriately grotesque, in keeping with the gothic tone of this Frankenstein-like scene. The crescendo is prematurely cut off when a hand is seen removing the vial from the Lazarus and thwarting Casper’s attempt to return to the world of the living.
21 – “Dying” To Be A Ghost (0:33) MCA track 9 / LLL disc 1 track 16
At first, Carrigan wants Dibs to die, become a ghost and fly into the safe to steal Casper’s treasure. Dibs, of course, is not exactly chomping at the bit and would much rather Carrigan performed that little chore herself, and before anyone can say Boo! both are at each other’s throats – or rather, going for the jugular. In another movie, this could have led to all kinds of very black humor and / or ugly nastiness, but in Brad Silberling’s hands it becomes a hilarious chase, the comedy made even broader by Horner’s spirited use of the Carrigan and Dibs theme. Of the seven-minute cue as it appears on the album, nothing much remains intact in the film, though, apart from thirty-second snippets like this one. For reference, the 9th track of the MCA album is a suite. Its first part corresponds to Dying To be A Ghost (film version) (LLL disc 1 track 16, marked as featuring previously unreleased music but in fact nearly identical), its second part corresponds to Dad Returns (LLL disc 1 track 18).
22 – “The Bitch Is Back!” (0:26) MCA track 9 / LLL disc 1 track 16
Eventually, Carrigan Crittenden drives her car into a tree overhanging a cliff and falls to her death. Dibs’ relief is short-lived, however, because a giant shadow looms up behind him and in a thundering voice, the ghost of Carrigan announces herself: “The bitch is back!” (The use of the term bitch would be wholly unthinkable in a family movie these days.) Embracing the genre’s clichés, Horner indulges in a bit of organ music that positively drips with pathos.
There was no chance for Horner to score the next scene, which is filled with source music and sees Dr. Harvey getting drunk in a bar, hugging the uncles and unwittingly charming them out of an attempt to kill him (they would appreciate some fresh meat, or rather ectoplasm, in their midst). At the end of the scene, James Harvey falls down an open trench and dies.
23 – Carrigan’s Ghost (0:32)
MCA track 9 / LLL disc 1 track 16
The failed resuscitation attempt has left Casper looking like a fried egg sunny side up, and as Kat re-inflates him, we hear a statement of Horner’s Casper theme. They are rudely interrupted when Carrigan flies in accompanied by agitated and surprisingly Silvestri-esque strings, like the moment when Marty McFly discovers his dad’s grave in Back To The Future Part 2 (1989). The reference (LLL disc 2 track 9, 2:35-2:40) cannot possibly have been accidental, and anyway, in a movie like this, anything goes.
The vial with the precious resuscitation fluid still in her right hand, Carrigan manages to penetrate the safe and steal the chest that contains Casper’s treasure. Seconds later, however, Dibs gets his hands on the vial, only to be dispatched to the other world by his enraged employer. Realizing nothing stands in her way anymore, Carrigan orders Casper and Kat to start up the Lazarus and bring her back. However, since she no longer has any unfinished business, she is pierced by beams of blinding light and forced to cross over. Kat succeeds in catching the vial just before it hits the floor and the treasure chest lands with a thud, the lid blown open. (The treasure, as it turns out, is a glove and a baseball that once belonged to Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Casper’s favorite player.) Horner scores Carrigan’s demise with shrieking strings and brass over eerie choir, vaguely reminiscent of Queen Bavmorda’s death from Willow (1988).
25 – Dad Returns (3:02) MCA track 9 part 2 / LLL disc 1 track 18
Harvey has turned into a ghost and flies into the lab. Horner appropriately portrays him with some variations on the uncles’ theme, but unfortunately he does not recognize his daughter anymore – Horner quickly provides flashes of the family theme. That changes when the pinkie-deal set up early in the film pays off and Harvey’s memories come flooding back to him. Meaningfully, Horner interjects a tentative statement of the momentous piano and string chords that will finish the film’s climactic cue, One Last Wish. Its appearance here sets up the redemption to come.
Casper realizes what he has to do and gives up his chance to become human again so that Kat may be reunited with her father. Dr. Harvey is effectively resuscitated by the Lazarus but the victory is bittersweet. Cleverly, when Kat and her dad give each other a heartfelt hug, Horner does not use the family theme but the two themes of sadness, acknowledging Casper’s quiet desperation. This decision takes the cue well beyond the level of wallpaper scoring, and amazingly, it is what Horner pulls off routinely in any of his top scores.
With the bad guys out of the way, the finale can now get underway and it is wholly and satisfyingly centered around the protagonists. The second sadness theme is used as Casper goes through his Dark Night Of The Soul, but then a red light appears and with it, Amelia Harvey in the guise of an angel. Horner orchestrates the piano theme for soft strings and adds tentative wordless choir. Before long, the score turns to Casper’s theme, lyrical and confident, when the ghost hears he is granted human form until 10 o’clock in the evening – enough time for him to find Kat and interact with her like a real human being.
The next scene might have been a lot less cloying had the filmmakers decided to rely on underscore instead of shoving a song down our throats that is appropriate only for its title: Remember Me This Way (written by David Foster & Linda Thompson and performed by Jordan Hill). There are at least two reasons for the resulting toe-curling sentimentality: the song comes across as a cheap way to market the original soundtrack album, and while it may be justifiable as a love song playing at the Halloween party that is now in full swing, it contributes to making the short appearance by Devon Sawa as Casper the boy incredibly and unforgivably campy. As it is, it breaks up two score tracks that Horner would undoubtedly have tied together in a climactic nine-minute cue of infinite emotional refinement if only the filmmakers had not taken a temporary leave from sanity.
27 – One Last Wish (3:36) MCA track 12 / LLL disc 1 track 20
Right at the moment Kat recognizes Casper in the handsome boy who asks her to dance with him, the piano theme takes over from the song. Very soon, the oboe doubles the piano and the second sadness theme returns as James Harvey says goodbye to his wife – I’ve discussed the details of this scene earlier in this article.
There are many reasons why the cues making up the sad side of the story work better than the light side: the sound mix is more prominent, the two sadness themes are both admirably simple and emotionally overwhelming, the orchestration and pacing of the cues display commendable restraint and perhaps most of all, James Horner was allowed to ignore sync points and really let the music breathe.
But every Cinderella story has a clock and when this one starts chiming at 10pm, Horner restates the momentous and redemptive piano and string chords hinted at just before James Harvey was brought back. The chords assume a mystical quality here (the sound mix allows them to take front and center!) and they make the complex and ambiguous feelings of the moment resonate in a major way: the sadness of having to say goodbye (to a wife or to a very short existence as a human being) and the serenity that Kat, James Harvey and Casper derive from having their deepest wishes granted.
There’s one more fantastic moment in the score: Casper and Kat finally kiss as the boy is transforming back into a ghost. Even so, Casper has satisfied his desire to exist as a human being and especially, to love and be loved, and this kind of closure is reflected in the final notes of the cue, which exude a kind of serene resolution that never fails to give me goosebumps. To me, these seconds alone are ample proof of the incredible dramatist and storyteller, and the unparalleled emotionalist that James Horner was.
28 – Boo? (0:20)
LLL disc 1 track 23 (0:43-1:08)
In a change of tone, Casper realizes all the kids at the Halloween party are staring at him, and not knowing what to say, he lets out a soft “Boo?”, at which point everyone runs out the gates in a frenzied panic. (Brad Silberling says he was only too happy to see off the 350 sugar-high teenage extras that had been acting on the set like, well, 350 sugar-high teenagers.) For this 20-second cue, Horner presents the fourth and last statement of the Friendly Ghost theme, as a respectful final nod to the musical idea (before it is taken up again by Little Richard in the transition to the end credits).
29 – The Uncles Swing / End Credits (6:23)
MCA track 15 / LLL disc 1 track 21
The jazzy start of Horner’s six-minute end title cue, The Uncles Swing, is replaced in the film by the Little Richard song, but fortunately, most of the remainder of the cue plays over the end credits crawl (starting at 1:31:20, to be precise). In swift succession and boasting irresistible orchestrations, it parades four of the score’s main identities: the family theme, Horner’s Casper theme and the two sadness themes, before winding down to a beautiful trumpet take on the Casper theme and a strikingly delicate string solo followed by a long sustained note for low strings that brings the score to a serene and satisfying close. It’s actually the same as Casper’s Lullaby, the formal concert arrangement of the two sadness themes (LLL disc 2 track 10).
Ultimately, the lighter side of the score is somewhat less successful, partly because it often ends up butchered in the final film, partly because Horner necessarily painted white on white in the many scenes that failed to develop the story’s protagonists and therefore needed little scoring in the first place. When a film score has nothing to say emotionally, it very quickly becomes redundant, and this is what happened in Casper’s second act, especially. Fortunately, all these cues are saved by the composer’s customary musical excellence and by the impeccable orchestrations (Art Kempel, Greig McRitchie and Don Davis). Beyond this, the two themes of sadness and their gorgeous manipulation in the film constitute the score’s lasting legacy. They allowed Horner to deepen and heighten the spiritual quality that Caspersurprisingly exhibits and nurtures. Let us hope that James Horner had no unfinished business on that fateful morning of 22 June 2015, and that his spirit is now basking in the mystical serenity that his artistic soul spent a lifetime expressing through the most graceful of musical notes.