Movie Review: An Authentic Christmas Carol

XmasCarolPoster2__scaled_600Short of Aesop’s fables, is there any story that has been retold more often than A Christmas Carol? There have been countless stage productions, numerous TV spots, animations, and feature length film versions. It’s been done so often you can Google it and find a commonly asked question is, “How many times its been made and remade?” (and the answer for inquiring minds according to IMDB is currently 51.) That count includes director Robert Zemeckis’ latest interpretation of the Dickens’ classic. It can claim a first as it’s the first Carol done through motion capture (or mo-cap), and presented in 3D. The mo-cap technology has come a long way since 2004’s Polar Express, which is the first film Zemeckis directed using the technology, and has used in each film he has directed since.

Thankfully, Zemeckis, who has the screenplay credit, sticks to the core elements of the story and doesn’t take many (if any) liberties with it. Over the years, seeing various versions of A Christmas Carol, I have begun to categorize them in one of two ways. There are light-hearted takes on the story; think 1983’s Mickey’s a Christmas Carol. The other darker and more foreboding takes are like the KC Rep’s 2008 production. Usually an effectively foreboding Marley sets the tone as the first specter that visits Scrooge in the darker variations. Zemeckis’s version certainly goes the dark route – so dark that I was a little surprised, since this is being billed as Disney’s A Christmas Carol. From Marley’s appearance (looking like something you would expect to see in Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride) to the darkest turn, it certainly lives up to its PG rating. The jovial ghost of Christmas present is here, but has the darkest exit I have ever seen for the character. This film stays very true to the story, and for me, is one of the best interpretations I have seen of A Christmas Carol.

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That said, I have a sticking point. The motion capture technology (while having progressed by leaps and bounds since the bizarre, dead eyed characters of 2004’s Polar Express) has reached the point, for me, of the uncanny valley. For those not familiar with the term, it basically refers to computer generated imagery looking so true to life that it is a bit unnerving and creepy. I never felt any creep, but there were a few moments where it just felt odd. Also, seeing the film presented in 3D, there were several typical 3D sight gags used over the course of the film. I am not a fan of such gimmicks and was a bit disappointed that Zemeckis used them. The snow scenes and the flying scenes in 3D do stand out as pretty decent usage of the 3D technology to draw you in, so I suppose it’s a game of trade-offs as to whether the 3D really worked or not.

Some of the character design choices were also a hit and miss for me. I loved Marley’s appearance, and Zemeckis plays it safe on the designs of the ghosts of Christmas present and past. The ghost of Christmas past has a pretty slick design as a lit candle. The look of the always-lit-face was pretty cool looking and a neat effect. On the other hand, Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s nephew character designs didn’t really work for me at all. They are unique, but I just didn’t care for them.

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Jim Carrey really stands out in this telling of Carol. Not surprising, since he is credited in no less than eight roles. Ah, the magic of motion capture, and the vocal and physical abilities of one Jim Carrey make for an almost perfect mixture. I could hardly believe it was him behind the voice of Scrooge. He absolutely owns each of the ghosts. Yes, he plays each of the ghosts that visit Scrooge. He did so well as a couple of them that I didn’t think it was him until the credits rolled. The only one that didn’t really work for me was the ghost of Christmas past. The gender-neutral (but leaning effeminate) take on it just didn’t work for me. The design is fine; it was just the odd quirks of the character felt a bit out of place.

Robert Zemeckis’ take on A Christmas Carol is a good one. I would easily recommend it if you are a fan of the tale. If you’re not, I don’t think this faithful version will do anything to change your feelings toward it. It’s being presented in three different flavors: Imax 3D, standard 3D, and regular film. Which one to see it in is your choice; for me the 3D was good, but I didn’t feel that it was really all that necessary.

I give A Christmas Carol 3 “Hitchhiking Ghosts” out of 5

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By John Coovert

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