Trying to get excited about a Christmas film in November is not easy. The smoke from bonfire night has barely cleared, yet Disney is expecting audiences to enter into the Christmas spirit with Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol.
The release date appears even more bizarre given the potential box office takings this movie could have amassed – and is subsequently missing out on – over the Christmas holidays. Yet it’s hard not to be intrigued by a Robert Zemeckis-Jim Carrey collaboration.
A Christmas Carol – Robert Zemeckis’ Latest Movie Adventure
Robert Zemeckis has always been one of motion picture’s great explorers, a pioneer of new methods of filmmaking. The director might not be a household name on the same scale as Messrs Spielberg, Lucas or Cameron, but his CV is nonetheless impressive.
From convincing audiences that a DeLorean could actually travel through time in Back to the Future (1985), to the first motion-capture animation, The Polar Express (2004), Zemeckis has always believed in pushing the effects envelope. What came in the intervening years is a chronicle of some of cinemas most groundbreaking innovations.
Lest we forget the fusion of film-noir and animation in the smash hit Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that had audiences revelling in Bob Hoskins’ seemingly life-like interaction with Disney and Warner Bros. most famous cartoon characters. And who can forget seeing Forrest Gump baring his behind to Lyndon B. Johnson, or sharing a chat show slot with John Lennon? Even the less effects-laden Castaway was a lesson in method (production ceased for a year while Tom Hanks lost the necessary 50 pounds and grew his facial hair).
However, there has been criticism from some quarters regarding Zemeckis’ persistent endorsement of motion-capture and, in this instance, its application to Dickens’ festive tale.
What’s the point, you may argue, in animating Jim Carrey – Hollywood’s most animated actor? Surely if a large percentage of an actor’s performance – not simply the voice – is rendered using this technique then it would surely be just as simple to scrap the animation altogether, leaving us with a celluloid alternative?
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Meets 21st Century Cinema
Putting it simply, the motion-capture animation brings something entirely new and enlightening to a story that has been adapted countless times. A Christmas Carol has been covered through comedy and drama, with Scrooge’s story brought to life by everyone from Lawrence Olivier to The Muppets.
Zemeckis’ version doesn’t ask to be taken on board as one of the best adaptations of the novel. Granted A Christmas Carol is a vehicle for the many personalities of Jim Carrey but Zemeckis’ re-imagining is a genuinely engaging adventure for all the family, made even more enjoyable by the 3D version (available at most multiplexes).
The 3D effect works surprisingly well, utilising the depth that the medium can provide with much less reluctance than previous 3D offerings. The snow-capped nineteenth century streets of Britain come crisply to life and Scrooge’s jagged, miserable features protrude from the screen quite eerily, especially in close-up. The 3D version is so impressive that if you’re thinking of seeing this film, then there really only is one option.
Jim Carrey Proves a Surprisingly Good Choice as Ebenezer Scrooge
Carrey’s elasticity is perfect for motion capture animation. The technique utilises all the benefits of Carrey’s style – his enthusiasm and slightly eccentric performance – while moulding his appearance into four separate guises. The Carrey gene is within all four, with the actor given free reign to be as creative as possible without the danger of spilling into over-performance (this is animation after all).
As well as Scrooge, Carrey takes on the role of the three spectres sent to haunt the miser on Christmas Eve. His creations stretch to an Irish (?) ghost of Christmas past, in addition to a (quite humorous) ghost of Christmas present, whose northern accent falls somewhere between that of Ringo Starr and Peter Kay.
There are also some familiar faces in support, with the currently rather under-used talents of Gary Oldman as Scrooge’s downtrodden worker Bob Cratchit. Bob Hoskins teams up with Zemeckis once more to play Scrooge’s former employer Mr. Fezziwig and Colin Firth makes an appearance as Scrooge’s estranged nephew Fred. All of whom seem perfectly acceptable choices for their respective parts and put in adequate but brief performances.
Admittedly the final third of the film does come a little too close to a trademark Disney adventure and meanders a little too far from Dickens’ literature, but after a brief jaunt it returns (thankfully) to a more familiar conclusion and you’re more than willing to forgive its trespasses. Let’s face it, this is effectively a cartoon marketed at children after all.
Verdict on A Christmas Carol
It’s notable that Jim Carrey’s best work has always come through his more understated roles, demonstrating he can actually act underneath his hyperactive comedy façade. Memorable turns in films such as Man on the Moon and The Truman Show testify to this. But occasionally it’s nice to get a dose of Carrey’s eccentricities, even if by the end of the movie you’re as exhausted as you would be looking after a toddler who’s ingested far too many E numbers.
You’ll definitely walk away from A Christmas Carol full of festive cheer, the only problem being, when you emerge from the darkness of the cinema you’ll soon remember that it’s not Christmas Eve at all, just another rainy day in November and there’s work to go to tomorrow.