A Christmas Carol

Movie Information

The Story: Charles Dickens' classic Christmas ghost story gets the Disney treatment. The Lowdown: An overblown, but occasionally interesting, version of the story that often seems more like a theme-park ride than a serious attempt at telling the tale.
Score:

Genre: Re-Animated Christmas Story
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, Fionnula Flanagan
Rated: PG

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.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

14 thoughts on “A Christmas Carol

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    there are any number of better versions of the story

    Didn’t Disney already distribute The Muppet Christmas Carol? Why are they competing with themselves, when they’ve already released the greatest version known to man?

    Greedy, desperate, cash cow hungry, franchise abusing, cutesifying, children nightmare inducing, pretentious scallywags!

  2. Dread P. Roberts

    See? They’re not all bad.

    Oh, I’m not entirely saying that Disney is the anti-christ inherent spawn of satan; only partially. Good things – even great things – have managed to come out of Disney in the past. Granted, Disney Pictures did originally release The Nightmare Before Christmas under their Touchstone Pictures banner because they thought it would be “too dark and scary for kids”. But obviously things have changed, perhaps in part due to the success of kid oriented movies like Nightmare. Of course, none of this takes into account the wonderful fact of the matter that Disney was scaring the bejeebers out of kiddies since practically the dawn of their existence – with such things as the evil witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

  3. Dread P. Roberts

    Seriously Disney, is a jolly talking skeleton really more creepy and disturbing than a wandering stranger with a cape interrupting the poor grief-stricken dwarfs woodland funeral, in order to KISS A DEAD CHICK!?

    Really Disney? Hell, Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Book of the Dead) is less disturbing than that!

    This doesn’t even take into consideration the generations of children who suddenly became as paranoid as a stoner, over the potential inherent dangers of eating one of the healthiest foods known to man, the apple.

  4. Vince Lugo

    I’ve heard the 3D is excellent here and I’m hoping to see it on the big screen for that reason (well, that and the fact that I’m a big Jim Carrey fan aside from The Cable Guy and Me Myself and Irene).

  5. Ken Hanke

    Oh, I’m not entirely saying that Disney is the anti-christ inherent spawn of satan

    No, but when you mix them with Robert Zemeckis, the evidence mounts.

    Of course, none of this takes into account the wonderful fact of the matter that Disney was scaring the bejeebers out of kiddies since practically the dawn of their existence – with such things as the evil witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

    Far and away the most traumatizing experience of my early moviegoing life was Sleeping Beauty.

  6. TigerShark

    I loved the animation in this, for everything but the faces of the characters. I forget what the technical term is, it’s not “hyper -realism”, but something where the animation of humans is so close to real but “not quite” that it engenders discomfort in the viewer.

    Colin Firth’s a favorite, but he read his lines badly here and his face was awful. So was Cratchitt’s face. Hard to project any emotion of suffering, or love, with a face like that.

    Best Christmas Carol ever is Scrooge, starring Albert Finney (albeit with the final minutes in hell excised). Memorable songs, and a likeable Scrooge from the beginning.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I’ve heard the 3D is excellent

    I found it largely indifferent, but I’m getting really burned out on the process by this point. The best I’ve seen remain My Bloody Valentine and Up — and for very different reasons.

  8. Ken Hanke

    a likeable Scrooge from the beginning.

    Isn’t that kind of counter to the point of the story? (I’ve never seen the film and may not be getting what you mean.)

  9. TigerShark

    >>a likeable Scrooge from the beginning.
    >>>Isn’t that kind of counter to the point of the story?

    Not sure if I can explain what I mean…

    Finney’s Scrooge had a sense of humor, from the beginning. He had many amusing lines and “stood up for himself,” when Marley and the first two ghosts came calling, which is more than Carrey’s Scrooge did. So he showed flashes of humanity that Carrey’s Scrooge didn’t.

    Scrooge also spent much more time with character development, as to why Ebenezer soured and turned out to be so… Scrooge-like. The scenes at Fezziwigs and when Isabel breaks up with him revealed quite a bit about his character, that the same scenes, much abbreviated in this version, did not.

    Albert Finney was also a young man when he did Scrooge, so he is, I think, the only Scrooge who was ever made up to look old, while playing himself in the young Scrooge scenes.

    Scrooge is available, in increments, on YouTube, if anyone wants to check it out. Or do a search on the songs I Like Life and Happiness Is.

  10. Ken Hanke

    That’s a pretty good description of most Disney product.

    And of most modern comedians. (Yes, I am thinking of you, Will Ferrell. And, Mr. Carrey, you have no reason to feel left out.)

  11. Cheshire

    “This doesn’t even take into consideration the generations of children who suddenly became as paranoid as a stoner, over the potential inherent dangers of eating one of the healthiest foods known to man, the apple.”

    Just the red ones, even almost 3 decades later. I love Granny Smiths, though.

    As for the newest disney movie…I only needed one reason to avoid scarring my mind: Jim Carrey. Hanke’s review solidified the other reasons. Normally, I consider Disney a 60/40 crapshoot, odds in favor. There are a few things (Carrey, rewriting a classic, changing history) that veto any chances.

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