With the voices of Jim Carrey, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn. Rated PG for scary sequences and images. 96 minutes.
Although the makers of this latest take on Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas Eve of horrors suitably acknowledge the authorship of Charles Dickens, they give it the proprietary title of DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Even Walt might be surprised. And that’s not a good thing.
It’s a hard story to mess up, although Bill Murray certainly tried with “Scrooged” (a film he’d be better off regretting than “Garfield”). Whether you prefer Reginald Owen, Alistair Sim, Albert Finney, George C. Scott or even Mr. Magoo, the tale of how the miserly misanthropic Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future and emerges a changed man has moved people ever since Dickens originally penned it. It is to writer/director Robert Zemeckis’s credit that he gets that, and his screenplay adaptation is, for the most part, faithful to its source. With Jim Carrey playing Scrooge and all the ghosts, this easily could have turned into another “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
That said, the film goes wrong on two points, making this an experience that people will love or hate, depending on their tolerance for visual gimmicks. First, it’s another 3D animation. One can only hope this fad plays out sooner rather than later. The sequences that seem exceptionally un-Dickensian have the camera swooping impossibly around London, or following Scrooge into space or through the sewers. Clearly these scenes are there to provide a frisson to those who shelled out the money for a 3D experience. At least Scrooge doesn’t give Tiny Tim a paddleball at the end of the movie.
Worse still is that Zemeckis seems unable to admit that the motion capture animation he’s been using on “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” is an artistic dead end. The characters look more like puppets than people, and while they don’t look quite as soulless as the homunculi of “Polar Express,” you’re always aware of the artificiality of it instead of the way you accept the animated characters of, say, “Toy Story” as “real.”
So we get Scrooge in all his boniness, but in one shot when he holds up his hand it’s not clear he has fingerprints. Gary Oldman plays Bob Cratchit, but he has been distorted enough that he looks like Alfred E. Neuman. Carrey comes off better as Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, although for some reason Christmas Past looks like a cross between a candle and Harpo Marx. All of this proves to be a distraction.
There are moments you wish Zemeckis had done this as a live action film. Most of the time Carrey serves the character and when he cuts loose as Christmas Present, it’s fitting. Oldman and Bob Hoskins (as Fezziwig) fare less well as they are portrayed by bad cartoon versions of the real actors. Colin Firth (as Scrooge’s nephew) and Robin Wright Penn (as his youthful fiancée) have limited success in overcoming the shortcomings of the animation through their vocal performances.
Some will like this “Christmas Carol.” Some will not. However, one thing is clear: after three tries by Zemeckis, it is clear that this is not the future of animation.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.