It’s not by any means accidental that the opening title reads, “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” since whatever else this latest take on Charles Dickens’ story is, it’s Disney-fied to the teeth. Nearly everything about the film is bigger, glossier, broader and more desperate to make an impression than it needs to be. It’s a film so determined to make you notice it, that it comes across like an obnoxious child screaming, “Look at me!” It’s less a movie than the plans for a theme-park ride—a feeling that’s exacerbated by letting director Robert Zemeckis loose on it with his beloved motion-capture animation. The creepy, rubbery-faced characters might have been remonkeyed from figures out of the Hall of Presidents or the Country Bear Jamboree.
The funny thing about all this is that while I disliked this version of A Christmas Carol, I didn’t actually loathe it with every fiber of my being. And while I found it utterly superfluous—there are any number of better versions of the story—I also found chunks of the film interesting. On rare occasions—mostly toward the end of the film in the scenes involving the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come—it’s almost inspired. Of course, being the unholy offspring of Disney-corporate thought and high-concept Zemeckis, the moments of inspiration are quickly overwhelmed by gobs of overproduced overkill. But they are there—assuming, you care for the idea of A Christmas Carol reimagined as a horror picture.
Dickens’ original—which the film follows with almost alarming faithfulness in terms of story and dialogue—is, of course, a ghost story. It’s supposed to be on the spooky side, but the Zemeckis version takes this to new heights—or depths, depending on your outlook. Zemeckis’ decision to show the demise of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carrey in one of his many incarnations) is both odd and downright horror-movie disturbing. The scenes that follow with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come—while generally faithful to the book—are intensely creepy, and perhaps the most terrifying depiction of this unsettling character ever shown. Unfortunately, they’re badly marred by the insertion of overcooked business involving a funeral coach and a truly inane bit where Scrooge is reduced to the size of a mouse—complete with cartoon-mouse voice.
The whole idea of letting Carrey play—or at least give voice to—a number of characters is nothing but a stunt. The film benefits not one whit from him playing the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, and having the former speak with a vaguely Irish accent and the latter sport a Lancashire one makes no sense whatsoever. Oddly, Carrey’s performance as Scrooge is reasonably effective, but then he’s not doing a whole lot more than offering an impression—a good one—of Alastair Sim’s reading of the role. Still, there’s something to be said simply for the character not being Jim Carreyed out of existence.
The supporting roles are pretty bad, or at least pointless, but this has much to do with the whole motion-capture business and the character design. Why, for example, does Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) look like some kind of homunculus troll? Why do the carolers look like refugees from the animated chorus of Cockneys in Mary Poppins (1964)? Why does Colin Firth affect a lower-class accent? I have no idea. Perhaps the oddest thing of all is the fact that in the midst of this, the film manages to retain at least some of its emotional punch. That’s probably more a testament to the strength of Dickens’ story than to anything actually on display here. Rated PG for scary sequences and images.