The free-associating, pop-culture-cross-referencing comedian Dennis Miller ought to love the Casper movie. Jam-packed with the ghosts of umpteen movies, TV shows, cartoons, old toys (remember EZ-Bake Ovens?), and today's brand names (Visa card, Ivory soap), Casper sometimes feels more like channel-surfing than moviegoing. And that, say Casper's first-time screen scribes Deanna Oliver and Sherri Stoner, was the mood executive producer Steven Spielberg wanted the better to broaden the adult appeal of a decidedly juvenile character. Stoner and Oliver kept Casper's topical gags flying thick and fast just like in their teleplays for Animaniacs or Tiny Toons. ''You have to be specific with your humor,'' says Oliver. ''The more specific you are, the funnier it is.''
Among Casper's wink-wink cribs (warning, a few story spoilers ahead):
From Apocalypse Now:
Casper's uncles fly in to the sound of roaring helicopters, humming Wagner's ''Ride of the Valkyries'' and paraphrasing Robert Duvall's Lieut. Col. Kilgore.
In a Spielberg-suggested variation on that film's gruesome bathroom-sink scene, Dr. Harvey (Bill Pullman) morphs into Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield, Mel Gibson, and the Crypt Keeper.
From Saturday Night Live:
The first exorcist to try driving out Casper's uncles is Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello), the old ''Weekend Update'' regular.
Spirit remover No. 2 is Dan Aykroyd, in full paranormal-containment regalia. A third guest ghostbuster didn't make it into the picture: Poltergeist's Zelda Rubinstein. ''We pictured her shooting out the chimney, screaming 'Go toward the light!''' says Oliver.
From Snow White:
Casper's uncles have beds with their names carved in them, just like the Seven Dwarfs. Asks Ricci: ''I wonder where Doc and Dopey sleep?''
From The Wizard of Oz:
The uncles parody the Wicked Witch of the West's ''I'm melting'' death scene.
From Terminator 2:
Casper turns into a steroid-pumped action hero, invoking Schwarzenegger when he says, ''Come wit' me if you wahnt to liff.''
I guess that's why they call spirits familiars.