Disney Kicks The Dickens Out Of 'Christmas Carol'

Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey) in 'A Christmas Carol' i i

One Man To Play Them All: Jim Carrey plays not just the character of Scrooge in the new motion-capture movie A Christmas Carol, but also the three ghosts who visit him one Yuletide to offer him a glimpse of himself. ImageMovers Digital LLC hide caption

itoggle caption ImageMovers Digital LLC
Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey) in 'A Christmas Carol'

One Man To Play Them All: Jim Carrey plays not just the character of Scrooge in the new motion-capture movie A Christmas Carol, but also the three ghosts who visit him one Yuletide to offer him a glimpse of himself.

ImageMovers Digital LLC

A Christmas Carol

  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Genre: Animation
  • Running Time: 96 minutes

Rated PG

With: Jim Carrey, Cary Elwes, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn

Disney's A Christmas Carol — poor Charles Dickens loses attribution to the Mouse, and with cause — marks director Robert Zemeckis' third foray into motion-capture animation, after The Polar Express and the decidedly non-holidayish Beowulf. The technology theoretically gives Zemeckis control over every last pixel, without the threat of actors, camera crews or simple gravity rearranging the zeros and ones in a more spontaneous way, but mostly it results in the awkward integration of photorealistic figures into all-digital environs. It's like some fiendish plot to turn the wealth of human drama into a demo of the world's dullest cutting-edge video game.

Any proper adaptation of A Christmas Carol has to be rooted in hardscrabble realities of mid-19th century London, a place where the poorest of the poor live in candlelit squalor, isolated by the miserly habits of Ebenezer Scrooge and society at large. But as the story has become a holiday perennial, the coarser edges of Dickens' world have been steadily buffed down, and Zemeckis' techno-magical version goes further than most; he's effectively turned London into a sleek diorama of pristine brick and cobblestone surfaces, and scrubbed the faces of the wretched as clean as porcelain dolls. And that's before he throws in the requisite Disney action beats.

Nevertheless, Zemeckis' meticulous 3-D rendering does produce some visual marvels, starting with Scrooge himself; his elongated face, gaunt frame and long, spindly fingers suggest a body aligned with a toxic spirit. Mercifully resisting the urge to turn Scrooge into Grinch 2.0, Jim Carrey suppresses his manic tendencies for much (though not all) of the movie, curling his tongue around famously cantankerous lines that don't need further embellishment. He also gives voice to all three of the guides who lead Scrooge through his dark night of the soul: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

Gary Oldman pulls off his own hat trick, playing both noble Bob Cratchit and sickly Tiny Tim, as well as Scrooge's late partner, Marley, who haunts the miser in fluorescent green.

Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim (both voiced by Gary Oldman) in 'A Christmas Carol' i i

The dirt-smudged faces of Dickens' poor (including Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, both voiced by Gary Oldman) get scrubbed clean in Robert Zemeckis' snow-globe vision of 19th-century London. ImageMovers Digital LLC hide caption

itoggle caption ImageMovers Digital LLC
Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim (both voiced by Gary Oldman) in 'A Christmas Carol'

The dirt-smudged faces of Dickens' poor (including Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, both voiced by Gary Oldman) get scrubbed clean in Robert Zemeckis' snow-globe vision of 19th-century London.

ImageMovers Digital LLC

The elasticity of A Christmas Carol occasionally works in its favor, as when Zemeckis abstracts Christmas Future into a simple silhouette that engulfs Scrooge in darkness and shadow. But more often than not, his Scrooge gets tossed around like a rag doll, catching aerial view after aerial view of the city, and at one point blasting off to the stratosphere like Chuck Yeager in pajamas. Zemeckis' concessions to Disney — and perhaps to his long-running yen for expertly calibrated cartoonishness — finally scrape bottom when he sends a 6-inch Scrooge slaloming through the streets atop an icicle.

So where's Dickens in all of this? Still in print, though likely itching to do some haunting of his own. Lately, A Christmas Carol has been hijacked to provide a one-size-fits-all formula for all sorts of morality plays, keeping Matthew McConaughey from tomcatting around in the rom-com Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past and prodding a Michael Moore type into affirming the Fourth of July in the right-wing farce An American Carol. From there — though it's the faintest of praise to say it, and though an icicle-surfing Scrooge may seem a far ways from the Alastair Sim standard — you'd have to declare Zemeckis' version a step in the right direction.

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