Here, Harvey has persuaded the Trio to vacate Whipstaff and accompany him on a camping trip out in the wilderness, because he believes that an old-fashioned male bonding ritual would be somehow beneficial in curbing their aggression. As they attempt (not very successfully) to rough it in the Friendship Forest, the Trio become increasingly paranoid that Bigfoot (alleged to have been recently sighted in the forest) is stalking them. It's never specified why the Trio would be so afraid of Bigfoot or what they suppose it might do to them (ordinarily, poltergeists have only two things to fear - exorcists and vacuums), but their irrational terror won't let up. The underlying gag is in the obvious, unspoken irony that the Trio, themselves symbols of the mysterious and macabre, should be so disconcerted when confronted by another, very different kind of dark unknown. And it is the incomprehensibility of what they're up against that seems to be fueling their fear - this much is hinted during in scene in which they mock Harvey for suggesting that they take cover from what he presumes to be an earthquake (something might fall on them? No big deal), only to completely change their tune on deducing that the tremors are being caused by some heavy, unidentified creature headed in their direction. Whenever the Trio flee from what they assume to be Bigfoot, they are considerate enough to always take Harvey with them, only there is a running gag that they keep causing him injury by attempting to drag him through walls. This episode also has a very strange twist which, depending on your knowledge of Famous Studios/Harvey Entertainment, may or may not have confused the hell out of you.
It's easy enough to surmise why ghosts should inspire horror in the living. They are unwelcome reminders of our own mortality and of the uncertainty of what lies after death, but they are also symbols of how the past continues to reverberate throughout the present (you don't have to be up against a literal ghost to experience the sensation of being haunted). To that end, Bigfoot, too, might be said to be a kind of ghost. There are a host of conspiracy theories out there linking Bigfoot to the paranormal (the notion that Bigfoot is an extra-terrestrial entity has spawned a whole subculture of conspiracy theories in itself), although that's not what I'm getting at here. I think what's important is that Harvey and the Trio spend the episode being haunted by something that's long dead - more specifically, a part of themselves from which they became divorced long ago - and with that in mind the twist ending feels slightly less arbitrary. "Legend of Duh Bigfoot" is a story of man (the spirit and the flesh) venturing into the wilderness in order to find himself, and not exactly liking what he finds out there.
With the Trio so hung up on the possibility that Bigfoot is on their tail, it falls on Harvey to be the voice of reason. He is not willing to entertain the suggestion that Bigfoot is out there, which he dismisses as "ridiculous", although Stretch is quick to point out the possible hypocrisy - after all, the reason why Harvey connects more easily to a threesome of poltergeists than to the living is because he was shunned and ridiculed by his fellow fleshies for his belief in ghosts (not that an open-mindedness to all forms of strange phenomena is necessarily a requisite for a belief in one - Harvey actually has the evidence that ghosts exist, although I suppose he didn't before he came to Whipstaff). The irony in Harvey's case is that he's gone into the wilderness in order to track down a very different kind of phantom - that is, the "wild guy" he supposes to be lurking inside every man (and ghost) - but that too may be nothing more than a fantasy, a distorted cultural memory of something long faded. Harvey spends much of the episode advocating (albeit ineffectually) the traditional narrative that a trip to the wilderness and a mastery of nature is the ideal route to getting touch with an intrinsic, underlying virility, a stagnation of which he links to a breakdown of self-esteem in modern man (and ghost). Harvey explicitly identifies this as an exclusively masculine rite of passage at several points, going so far as to suggest that traits of this primal survival drive continue to manifest in the stereotypical male behaviour of the present: "Since the first Neanderthal discovered fire, men have gained energy and pride each time one was lit...which explains why most men take their BBQ so seriously!" Harvey's statement is immediately suspect, in that he credits this innovation to the extinct Neanderthal and not to the actual ancestor of modern man (erroneously? What he means by "discovered" is kind of vague), but the association between primitive survival skill and Neanderthal carries the subtle suggestion that the "wild guy" he is determined to coax out of hiding is similarly defunct. Stinkie reminds us of the Neanderthal's ultimate failure to thrive when he theorises that "Neanderthals must have starved to death", an expression of his contempt and bemusement at the expenditure of time and energy required to create a fire from scratch. The observation is double-edged; on the one hand, the ghosts are able to satiate their appetites ("survival" may be a tad redundant in their case) by using their initiative to resourcefully cheat the system - Stretch flies out to an Italian restaurant and plunders the tables after scaring away the patrons - thus demonstrating that they know how to adapt in a world that's long moved on since the days of Neanderthals. But it also reinforces how dependent they are on the comforts of civilisation. Man has not outgrown the survival skills that served his ancestors well so much as surrendered them in favour of an altogether cushier existence. Meanwhile, Harvey discovers that the "wild guy" within is not exactly forthcoming. Despite his proclamations that, "I feel powerful! I feel good! I AM A MAN!", he is unable to get that fire to light (whereupon he gives up altogether and joins the ghosts in their ill-gotten Italian take-out). In other instances, his attempts to summon his inner primordial being prove entirely detrimental to survival, such as when he attempts to show the Trio how to howl, and attracts a hostile wolf pack (in Maine???).
The "wild guy" within is long dead, although its ghost continues to stalk the wilderness and haunt the Homo Sapiens who let it die out with the Neanderthal, and this is where Bigfoot comes in. The lore of Bigfoot, the fabled man-ape of the North American wilderness, is so persuasive, according to anthropologist David J. Daegling, because it speaks to us of the ambivalent manner in which we relate to nature, and of the part of ourselves that we may have abandoned in the woods when we exited via the evolutionary ladder. In Bigfoot Exposed, Daegling writes that, regardless of the authenticity of the Bigfoot legend, the mythos has a symbolism, and a cautionary message all of its own: "Bigfoot signifies the wilderness and the power of nature...no real animal can compare to the Sasquatch as the embodiment of the scale, the power, and ultimately the mystery of the wild." (p.249-50) Daegling sees Bigfoot as functioning as a kind of folkloric "ecomessiah", because its being creates a paradox - it is at once too human and not human enough. We see enough of ourselves in the creature, but also vestiges of the evolutionary path that we managed to avoid traveling. This gives Bigfoot a strange duality, it being a haunting reminder of where we came from while also conveying unease about where we might possibly be headed. Bigfoot is an ominous figure, not so much because it constitutes a threat in itself, but because it is suggestive of the collision course on the horizon, as our encroachment of the natural world grows ever more critical; the conflict between our fulfillment in the present and the preservation of our past. Writes Daegling: "We can catch a fleeting glimpse of our connection to the earth, our origins in the raw wilderness, if Bigfoot remains in our midst." Ben Crair, writing in the Smithsonian Magazine, agrees, stating that the elusive primates are "symbols of pure freedom, living by instinct and foiling every effort to pin them down." Bigfoot's being is threatened by human encroachment but it also defies its human neighbours in its refusal to allow itself to be recognised by science and in remaining always a few steps outside of comprehension.
Here, the phantom threat of Bigfoot is similarly suggestive of a confrontation between past and present, in a way that points to the irreconcilability of man and nature - man split from his "wild guy" eons ago, and the extent of the disconnect has made it impossible for him to now go back and retrace his footsteps. Naively, our heroes think they can wander in as part of a weekend excursion and just pick up where they left off (the episode opens with the ludicrous image of a billboard advertising Bigfoot Shoes, which speaks volumes about the bastardisation of nature and man's desire to refashion it into a personal holiday camp). They soon discover that the "wild guy", in their absence, has taken on an existence all of its own, which serves only to remind him how drastically out of their element they are out in the wilderness - tellingly, when the Trio flee from Bigfoot, their immediate impulse is to make a beeline for the nearest tenet of civilisation, a lakeside log cabin (which again, they commandeer by scaring out the rightful occupants). Harvey persists in his efforts to assert ownership of the wild guy, which he insists is nothing more than a particularly bothersome facet of the human psyche ("You've gotten in touch with your fears; you've even named them!"), as the offscreen stalker outside the cabin becomes ever more of a monstrous void, dangerous not only because it defies comprehension, but because it threatens to drag them down with it into its maelstrom of unknowns. The wild guy has turned against its former master, and now represents an inversion of the assumed man and nature dynamics - rather than reaffirming man's preconceived notions about his authentic self, it calls into question his assurances about his place atop the ecological ladder and the certainty of his survival. Inevitability, we find ourselves building towards a direct confrontation between Harvey and the wild guy he has come in search of (right beforehand, he attempts to rally the support of the Trio by appealing to their sense of virility - "Are we as guys going to stay in here and wait for whatever it is to come and get us?" - but the Trio stay firmly put inside the cabin and force him to go it alone, having decided that this model of masculinity is downright impractical). Harvey heads out into the dark woods to meet with that distant offshoot of his himself and to cajole it into submission - he does so, absurdly, by chanting a variation of the "I Love You" song popularised by Barney The Dinosaur, in an attempt to reconcile himself with the wild other by calling to mind their common origins ("I like you, you like me, we're a downright happy family"). But the face-to-face encounter only emphasises the dissipation, and Harvey is unable to confront that dark shadow from whence he came, which now stands poised to devour him whole (although perhaps not so literally - we'll get onto what form the wild guy actually takes soon enough). The Trio come to his rescue (albeit causing him one further injury in the process), whereupon they all pile into their vehicle and exit the wilderness once and for all, having decided that the only way to retain any sense of self-assurance is to stay the hell away from the woods, where they've figured they have no business being anyway.
Some episode notes:
- There is a running gag throughout the series (not featured anywhere within the movie) where Stretch will make one observation, Stinkie will make another, related observation, then Fatso will come out with some alliterative non-sequitur and get pounded by Stretch or Stinkie, or both. In this case, "This is nothing!" "This is nadda!" "This is Nadia Comaneci!" Here, Fatso explicitly expounds on the underlying logic behind this seemingly inane compulsion, demonstrating to Stretch that he's simply "adding to the riff", but it does little to endear the process to Stretch. The "Nadia Comaneci" to whom Fatso refers is the Romanian Olympic gymnast, who won five gold medals between 1976 and 1981. The instrumental music piece "Nadia's Theme", composed by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin Jr, is so-called for its association with her, although the piece was originally written as "Cotton's Dream" for the 1971 film Bless The Beasts and The Children. True story: thanks to a mislabeled compilation CD I owned, for years I was tricked into thinking that THIS, of all things, was "Nadia's Theme". I wish it were. What an incongruously depressing ditty.
- I'm assuming that the fleshies Stretch encounters at Graziano's Pizzeria are supposed to be caricatures of actual people, but I wouldn't like to guess who.
- The episode's best exchange - Harvey: "Bigfoot is only folklore...". Fatso: "Oh, like Peter, Paul and Mary?"
- As I noted last time, the way Dan Castellaneta voices Harvey, he usually sounds like a softer-spoken version of Krusty the Clown. When he screams, "OHMYGOSH!" at the very end of the episode, however, I can definitely hear Homer Simpson.
- So, about that twist ending. Turns out, Harvey is correct about there being no such thing as Bigfoot (in the Friendship Forest, anyway), but he and the Trio are being stalked by something. And that mysterious something is finally revealed to be a freakishly large talking duckling in a bonnet and a diaper. Yes, that's Baby Huey, one of Casper's old brethren from the Famous Studios, and later Harvey Comics. True to form, Huey only wants to play with his reluctant company and cannot comprehend why Harvey and the Trio have scarpered. Initially, I wondered how much sense this ending would have made in 1996 to children who were only familiar with Casper's most recent incarnation. But actually, Huey himself had only recently experienced a revival in 1994, with the TV series The Baby Huey Show, so it's possible that enough children would have known who he was. There, he was voiced (in later episodes) by Joe Alaskey, the voice of Stinkie, who I'm going to assume was also voicing him here.
The (assumed) familiarity of Baby Huey to the viewer creates an obvious irony, for he is no longer the unknown as far as we are concerned, but something exceedingly recognisable, ridiculous and benign. But at the same time, I can see why Harvey and the Trio would be so afraid of him, for he is an embodiment of their disparate roots exactly. The series does after all represent the cartoon translation of a live action envisioning of a cartoon world, and is the end-result of quite the evolutionary journey. And the notion of Baby Huey existing in this particular incarnation of the Casper universe is a little...peculiar? We might accept the presence of ghosts, but a giant anthropomorphic duck is a whole different kettle of fish altogether, and suggests a very different evolutionary trajectory for this specific universe. So what we have at the end is two different cartoon realities that have arisen from a common ancestry and now find themselves inexplicably converging, prompting one to contemplate the other in horror and realises how deeply, disturbingly incompatible they are. Clearly, Harvey and the Trio have strayed too far out of their comfort zone and now their reality is at risk of folding on itself completely. They are better off getting back to that haunted manor where all they have to contend with is one another. Leave the anomalous duck who shouldn't logically exist to trample around his mind-bending natural playground.