November 05, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Get that light outta my face or you're getting
a visit from the Ghost of PETA Present!

Grade: B

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, and Robin Wright Penn

MPAA Rating: PG

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Combining digital 3-D visuals with a 2.0 version of the animated, performance capture technology he employed five years ago in The Polar Express, director Robert Zemeckis fashions a phantasmagorical retelling of A Christmas Carol. that also fully embraces the dark textual themes (too dark for young children, I’m afraid, despite the Disney imprimatur) lurking within Charles Dickens’ venerable morality tale.

Jim Carrey pulls multiple voiceover duty, principally as the irascible Ebenezer Scrooge, which Zemeckis renders as a reptilian apparition whose skeletal frame is seemingly held together only by withered flesh and a dingy overcoat. As 3-D snowflakes appear to fall inside the theater, Zemeckis pulls few punches during visits from the great beyond by a truly terrifying Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman) and Christmas Ghosts Past (ethereal), Present (jolly and eerily demonic), and Yet to Come (silent but deadly), all of them voiced by Carrey. Together, they accurately summon the sort psychological cataclysm that could actually wipe away Scrooge’s crippling avarice, so entrenched that Scrooge filches the coins from the sunken eyes of his dead partner.

From the stunning opening shot, an aerial tour through every parcel of Victorian London, Zemeckis utilizes his animation pet ably to conjure fantastic visions of the unreal or merely bygone with an enthralling mixture of classicism and modernism. To make room for his London flybys, Zemeckis does not linger long over Scrooge’s boyhood – hints of a neglectful father here, an unexplained fear of poverty there – or his cruel domineering over Bob Cratchit (Goldman again).

Morover, Zemeckis’ continued bugaboo, as in Polar Express and Beowulf, comes with assimilating likenesses of actual actors – simulacra of Oldman, Bob Hoskins, and Colin Firth resemble slightly melted wax effigies. And, while I admire Zemeckis’ attention to artistry and literary faithfulness, it is a shame – and ultimately financially counterproductive – that much of the haunting imagery is too frightening for the youngest members of the film’s target audience.

Rehashes of Dickensian anti-capitalism overtones – “This Boy: Ignorance; This Girl: Want. Beware!,” bellows Christmas Present – lack immediate social resonance. But, it is the inner-metamorphosis, the same that fueled such subsequent fare as It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, that rings loudest and longest. Conceptually imaginative and touching, this Christmas Carol carves out its own, unique place amongst the myriad adaptations of this holiday classic.

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Bill Horner III said...

Spot-on. It is too bad it's not as kid-friendly as one might think, but it's faithful to the feel of Dickens' classic. And thanks for not calling the kids "creepy" - even though the animation for the minor characters wasn't as strong as for Scrooge...