The holiday season is officially in full gear. Red cups and Christmas Blend at my favourite coffee shop, trees and lights up at the mall, and “Santa Baby” blasting over the speakers of every store I enter. What better time to unleash Robert Zemeckis’ 3-D CGI adaptation of Charles Dickens classic tale.
A Christmas Carol tells the story of cheap, mean, old man Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey). He despises everything about Christmas and his cold heart spares no one. Giving his only employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) the day off work with pay infuriates him. The idea of having dinner with his nephew Fred (Colin Firth) makes him nauseous. He hates beggars and carolers and kids playing in the snow. “Bah, humbug!” to it all, he says.
His coldness has caught up with him this Christmas though. It’s been seven years since his partner Marley (also voiced by Oldman) passed away and he’s come back to warn Scrooge to change his ways or face an eternity of regret in the after-life. Marley explains that three ghosts — Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come will be visiting Scrooge beginning Christmas Eve. This news does not sit well with Scrooge but even before he can argue about it, Marley is gone.
The Ghost of Christmas Past arrives right on time, pulls Scrooge out of bed and takes him on a journey that shows him how much fun he once was and how the people around him adored him. It also shows him the woman he loved and lost because of his stingy attitude. The Ghost of Christmas Present opens Scrooge’s eyes to Cratchit’s hardships: his son Tiny Tim is sick and he can’t afford a proper family Christmas meal. Scrooge’s eyes are also opened to how much people care about him even though he doesn’t return the feeling. Last, but not least, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him a world where he is no longer alive.
All of these moments have a profound effect on Scrooge and he promises to be a better person, and, of course, celebrate Christmas once again.
Alastair Sim’s portrayal of Ebenezer in the 1951 film Scrooge (later renamed A Christmas Carol) is regarded as the most sincere version to grace the screen. Carrey appears to realize this and doesn’t try to own the character and instead comes across as channeling Sim’s spirit. It works well and the outcome is, dare I say, better than Sim. Carrey’s voice is scratchy and broken and he is very scary. We also get to hear his voice talent and range as he plays the three ghosts (Christmas Past’s voice had a little Andy Kaufman-like feel even).
I’m not usually a fan of motion-capture animation and although A Christmas Carol is a huge improvement from Zemeckis’ Beowulf and The Polar Express, it’s far from perfect. The backgrounds are magnificent (a scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present sitting on top of a fully-decorated Christmas tree is outstanding), and sweeping shots from above the town are amazing (and truly make the 3-D worth it). But it’s the poor animation of certain characters that distract from the viewing experience. Thankfully most of the scenes are of Scrooge and the three ghosts and they look great. However, Fred, Cratchit, and many of the other minor characters feel like stiff, plastic dolls and I’d prefer to have seen them in Pixar-style animation instead.
Don’t be fooled by the marketing of A Christmas Carol. The film is very dark and Zemeckis sticks to the original source faithfully. When Marley first appeared in a rather creepy sequence, even the adults in the theatre jumped, and younger children were regularly being taken out of the screening, especially during some of the intense 3-D scenes. Maintaining this dark vibe is what makes it work though, and in the end you leave feeling merry and jolly. I wouldn’t take any children under the age of five to see it though.
As Christmas movies go, A Christmas Carol lifted my spirits and put me in the mood to celebrate the holidays. This is an early gift from Disney that I’m sure will be enjoyed by many for years to come. Heck, I’ll probably see it again a few more times this holiday season.
**** out of 5 stars
Top image: Jim Carrey as Scrooge in Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.