It’s Christmas Eve, all, so we here at CinefantastiqueOnline.com want to wish you the very best of Christmas holidays and a most pleasant 2010! And in keeping with the jovial spirit of the season, we submit the following question: Does the world need another version of Charles Dickens’ 1843 perennial classic, A CHRISTMAS CAROL?
Yep, there be yet another celluloid (and digital, too) incarnation of the beloved tale, entitled DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (or A CHRISTMAS CAROL: AN IMAX 3D EXPERIENCE, depending on where you see it). The addition of IMAX and 3D may strike a note of fear in the heart of purists though: Has Dickens’ delicate tale been steam-rollered beneath a barage of Hollywood high technology? Read on for the answer…
Just in case you’ve been living on another world or in another dimension, the whole story kinda goes like this:
Seven years hence Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner (and probably only friend) Jacob Marley died and Scrooge has been greedily carrying on by his lonesome ever since. But this Christmas Eve Marley’s pained spirit pays Scrooge a visit to warn him that if he doesn’t change his ways he will suffer Marley’s fate and be forced to wonder eternity in misery and regret. Then Marley informs Scrooge that in order to aid his reclamation, three spirits will be sent to show him. You know them, right? The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? In the end, does Mr. Scrooge become the penitent man he needs to? Ehhhhhh, could be.
But because you probably know the story as well as you know your own name you may be asking why yet another version? Just how many do we need, anyway? After all, it’s always the same story involving the same characters, right? It’s pretty much engrained in everyone’s head, isn’t it?
Well, I suppose one could argue that those are all valid questions. But then again, couldn’t a fan of the season retort with a simple Why not? And would that person really need logical force behind his or her defense? I mean, isn’t it rather like listening to a singer you like singing their version of a half-a-dozen loved Christmas carols?
In the case of the latter, one might simply say, “Let the folks who want it have it. ‘Tis the season, you know.” But in regard to the former one could point out that this rendition of A CHRISTMAS CAROL offers us the wild & wacky Jim Carrey (HORTON HEARS A WHO, LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS), a new animated take (in ‘state-of-the-art’ CGI, no less)…and 3-D!
In fact, Disney’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL does attempt to make its mark on each of those levels, and perhaps because I’m in the Christmas spirit – and because there is hardly another decent Christmas-themed movie out there right now – I’m going to tell you that it’s a pleasant effort, and you should go ahead and take the family to see it so that all of you may enjoy a relatively nice Christmas event in the theater. Allow me to explain why:
Several of the versions I’ve seen over the years tend to get lost in the classicness of Dickens’ tale; they take themselves a bit too seriously, becoming bogged down in their own form of stodginess, with Ebenezer Scrooge devolved into a heavy-feeling caricature rather than a flesh and blood character. Not all have been so – there is the notable exception of George C. Scott’s 1984 portrayal, and let’s not forget Alastair Sim’s famous 1951 incarnation – but enough have taken this approach to leave an indelible imprint on my mind. For example, one of the relatively recent incarnations stars Patrick Stewart (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION), a solid thespian, yet the piece felt a tad stilted and heavy; it lacked a sense of holiday spirit, holiday fantasy fun.
Not so with new version directed by Robert Zemeckis’ (POLAR EXPRESS). Jim Carrey’s Scrooge fits in nicely with Mr. Dickens’ description of the character: “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice ….” The new animated rendition of the old coot – achieved with motion-peformance capture technology – brings this description to life on screen.
Granted, this is another interpretation that descends to the level of caricature here and there, but it does so in the vein of fun. It’s an animated story; therefore, I allow it to indulge a bit more in playful qualities that will keep you generaly entertained (frankly, at a cost of about $200 million you’d better be). However, I should also like ready you in relation to a scene in which Jacob Marley’s ghost falls too much into the horror film category for a Christmas fantasy, to my way of thinking at any rate. There are also times where the film seems a shade more interested in taking us on roller coaster rides at the expensive of a building of character or a deepening of story or generating its own sense of reality, animated or not.
Still, at its heart, this A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a genial telling, which manages to be light and uplifting. Neither is the animation as eerie feeling as it is in POLAR EXPRESS. And its technique – which I was not anticipating with any great gusto – offers an intriguing vision of the story. The color scheme is appealing, as is the lighting design that illuminates Dickens’ Victorian world and places parts of it in shadow. And Alan Silvestri (who is to Zemeckis what John Williams is to Spielberg) delivers a score that adds to the jolly, joyful spirit of the fantasy. In other words, it is not miserly in design or execution.
So in the end, minor reservations aside, I can say to thee, put on thine ole Christmas cap, tuck away thine cynicism, and enjoy yet another version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. And God bless ye, every one.
DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Buena Vista; 2009; 96 min.) Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Robert Zemeckis. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Produced by Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, and Robert Zemeckis. Executive produced by Mark L. Rosen. Cinematography by Robert Presley. Production Design by Doug Chiang. Art Direction by Marc Gabbana, Norman Newberry, and Mike Stassi. Special Effects Supervision by Michael Lantieri. Visual Effects Supervision by George Murphy. Music by Alan Silvestri. Edited By Jeremiah O’Driscoll. Casting by Scot Boland, Victoria Burrows, and Nina Gold. Cast: Jim Carrey (in eight parts, no less), Steve Valentine, Daryl Sabara, Sage Ryan, Amber Gainey Meade, Ryan Ochoa, Bobbi Page, Ron Bottitta, Sammi Hanratty, Julian Holloway, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins, and Jacquie Barnbrook. MPAA Rating: PG for scary sequences and images.