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Review – A Christmas Carol

Click poster for info.

Click poster for info.

With the voices of Jim Carrey, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn. Rated PG for scary sequences and images. 96 minutes.

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.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.

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About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

3 responses »

  1. I disagree with you. Motion capture animation is far from being a dead-end. All modern video-games use motion-capture data to drive the triggered real-time animation. Also, consider all the visual-effects shots made possible by motion capture in films such as Lord of the Rings, and the Disney Pirates movies. Remember the mega-hit family film called Happy Feet? It was the Oscar winning 2006 motion-capture film with dancing penguins.

    I would like to see a review that takes the full history of the practice into account. In short, I believe this review of Christmas Carol suffers from a lack of perspective.

    Reply
  2. I would have to agree with that reply, Ayrn… You can fault a clunky script or uneven directing, but motion capture is not to blame. I have not seen “The Polar Express,” but I liked “Beowulf” for the most part and some of the effects were incredible. I’m pretty sure liking Zemeckis’s “A Christmas Carol” comes down to one’s opinion on the media – which appears to be 50/50. I personally think it has potential.

    Reply
  3. Well done! Performance capture isn’t so much an artistic dead end- as it is just DEAD. Dead in the eyes. It fails (so dramatically!) to fulfill the goal it was ultimately conceived to fulfill= giving pixels a sentient human presence on screen. All it has done so far is make a hand full of lazy, down-stream directors capable of doing ANYTHING they like. Anyone remember when great films were the result of artistic endeavor and constraint? When limits in film-making technology made directors smarter, sharper, astute? Aware of their limitations they’d slash the fat off their stories- spend money where it counted (climax) and not waste it on the other acts. (Unless ones idea of scrooge shrinking, slipping down a drain and surfing on an icicle is considered important to the build-up of his character and or story.) I’m all for folks liking their video games. But please don’t mistake 8 bit technology for classic film. If I get one wish this holiday- It’ll be Mickey Mouse pulling the plug on this miserable cinematic fashion accessory.

    Reply

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