You cannot ruin the essence of A Christmas
Carol. The example of a man who learns that wealth is not happiness, but
happiness is wealth, is surely eternal.
It’s been Muppet-ified, musicalized and Bill Murray-ed with
great success. And yet it’s possible to wrap Charles Dickens’ entrancing story
in layers of humbug that diminish it. The odious Matthew McConaughey romcom Ghosts of Girlfriends Past made viewers hold their heads and moan
like Jacob Marley. Still, the resilient tale survived.
Better than that, but not as good as the source material
deserves, is Disney’s A Christmas Carol. This is a holiday offering
whose gaudy 3-D packaging matters more than the old relic inside. Director
Robert Zemeckis (the Back to the Future films, Who Framed
Roger Rabbit) favors thrill-ride effects that are more often the star
than the servant of the story. It’s like “Silent Night” played by Led
In this Christmas fable Scrooge zooms airborne across
Victorian London like a cruise missile, does skateboard-style slides along an
icy rooftop, and spends more time falling through the stratosphere than a
champion skydiver. He’s shrunk to the size of a mouse and menaced by runaway
carriage horses. If there was a way to work a flying DeLorean into the story,
I’m sure Zemeckis would have leapt at it.
It’s not all razzle-dazzle, however. The film uses 3D
subtly, to add depth of field to the action rather than jab pokers in your eye,
and its most effective sections are rather somber. The palette is largely black
and gray, setting the tone for Scrooge’s world, a place drained of joy.
Color arrives with the ghosts of Christmas Past (an
unearthly beacon of living flame) and Present (a chuckling giant in robes of
red, white and green). When they convey Scrooge to the festivities at
Fezziwig’s ball and his nephew Fred’s Christmas party, he literally begins to
see the light. When darkness reasserts itself in the fearsome form of Christmas
Yet to Come, Scrooge is put into the only high-wire set piece that underscores
the themes of the story, a graveyard cliffhanger where the old miser dangles
over a mineshaft to the inferno.
Frequently, though, Zemeckis distrusts the story, pushing
vertigo-inducing effects that trump substance. Given a choice between Dickens’
rich prose and theme park razzle-dazzle, he goes for spectacle every time.
The vocal performances are fine. Jim Carrey makes a
delightful Scrooge, less the villain of the story than its misguided fool, and
his three Christmas ghosts are vividly realized. Bob Hoskins radiates hearty
good cheer as kindly Mr. Fezziwig, though he sounds vocally identical as a
greedy tradesman come to loot Scrooge’s bedchamber. Colin Firth and Gary Oldman
are better than fine as Fred and Bob Cratchit.
But every voice is more distinguished than the
motion-captured avatars representing the characters. While they’re better than
the dead-eyed zombies of Zemeckis’ earlier computer-film experiments Polar Express and Beowulf, they’re still in the range
of Disneyland androids. Why do we need these blurry photocopies of real actors?
Have you ever seen a film with Oldman or Hoskins or Firth and thought “I’d
really rather see a computer simulation”? (Leave Carrey out of this; he’s
a human cartoon anyway.)
These humanoid digital embellishments are less convincing
than a man in a suit was playing the unearthly Faun in Pan’s
Labyrinth. Watching this film is like watching an animated diorama in a
department store window. And for that you don’t need 3-D glasses.
“A Christmas Carol”
Voices of: Jim Carrey, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Rated PG for scary sequences and images
Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.