Have you ever noticed over the years how some kids movies capitalize on whatever is popular at the time? Think of all the Disney Channel movies in the early-2000’s that centered around extreme sports, like Motocrossed, Johnny Tsunami and Brink!. How about teen musicals like High School Musical and Camp Rock in the second half of the decade? Or the OVERLOAD of kid sports movies in the 90s like The Mighty Ducks, Little Giants and Rookie of the Year? These movies may get attention at the time because they center around a popular trend, but when that trend fades away and tastes change, the memory of those movies fades with it. Unfortunately, trend-bait movies for kids still exist, and they are using even stranger trends to build movies around. For example, you know how people love to go see movies about ghosts and even post videos on YouTube of supposed “ghost sightings”? Well, wouldn’t it be the darndest thing if a kid did that?
Chasing Ghosts follows 11 year-old Lucas (Toby Nichols), a socially awkward kid who spends his time videotaping funerals and roadkill after the death of his older brother. When he believes to have seen a ghost in the video of a funeral that he took, he posts it on YouTube and becomes a viral sensation. He attracts the attention of local author Chris Brighton (Tim Meadows), who once died and came back to life. Lucas wants to know what it’s like to die in the hopes of coming to grips with losing his brother and moving on with his life.
It’s important to keep this plot in your head while watching the movie, because there are so many sudden tonal shifts that it’s hard to keep track of what the movie is actually about. It goes from a somber discovery story to how bad Internet fame can be to moving on from a lost loved one and then to cute kid comedy. None of the transitions between these parts of the story are smooth or subtle, they just pop up out of nowhere and totally derail the film. The characters are also written paper-thin, especially Lucas’ parents (W. Earl Brown and Robyn Lively). The dad (Brown) is disinterested in everything and the mom (Lively) is almost cartoonish in how she goes from grieving for one son to shoving her son into interviews with local reporters the next.
There’s really no need to knock the performance of Toby Nichols, because he does a fine job with his underwritten character. He’s mostly quiet and looks indifferent to all the events going on around him. Pity should be given to Tim Meadows (of Saturday Night Live fame), who tries hard to bring some humor to the picture but gets saddled with awkward old guy humor. His development and bond with the character Lucas tries to be endearing, but the moments between the two are too few and far between the soggy melodrama.
For kids, Chasing Ghosts is nothing more than an afternoon special complete with Apple product placement, kid humor, and the quirky dance sequence for the little ones to get down to. Unfortunately, Chasing Ghosts is boring, cliched, and confusing for anyone over the age of eleven. It never really knows what it’s supposed to be about until the end, and it’s too slow and monotone to get invested in. What starts as an important lesson about moving on turns into a quirky take on internet fame, then back to the first thing. Do what little Toby tries to do and move on from this.