Since Charles Dickens penned his story A Christmas Carol in 1843, it has been rewritten and explored in almost every medium. The tale of the miserly old curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge who has no heart, his devoted employee Bob Cratchit, and the emotional subplot of Cratchit’s son Tiny Tim and his failing health are unforgettable, as are the three wise but intimidating ghosts who visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve.
But this holiday classic is so ingrained in the popular conscience that another telling needs to bring something new to the table. Fortunately Disney’s latest version, directed by Robert Zemeckis, uses 3D motion-capture technology to bring a new dimension to the familiar story. While slightly gimmicky, the CGI animation adds new depth to the holiday favorite.
Pros and Cons of Motion-Capture Animation
As with all of the visuals in the film, the opening credit flight over a snow-covered, old-time London is remarkable in its detail and movement. Buildings and streetscapes are rich and sumptuous. The colors, the vapor coming from the mouths of the characters, and all the other small details prove to enhance rather than detract from the story.
Where the motion-capture animation falls short is with the character faces. Jim Carrey as Scrooge and the three ghosts has the kind of face that can be transformed into any kind of caricature, and it works well in the animated form. But the other human characters have the same problem that existed with Zemeckis’ two previous experiments with motion-capture, The Polar Express and Boewulf. Instead of looking realistic, they look bizarre and unreal, like mannequins. The effect is jarring and immediately takes viewers out of the story, reminding them that they’re watching a cartoon.
A Christmas Carol Lacks Emotion
While the story stays fairly true to the original, what it’s lacking is heart. There is little emotion and what there is of it seems forced. What audiences will really miss is the moment when Scrooge’s chilly heart actually melts. He never seems quite as nasty as he has in previous versions, which makes his transformation less impressive. From the moment Marley dies, Scrooge seems ripe for change and ready to be loved. Perhaps it has something to do with how rushed the story is. While it takes some time to get going, from the moment Marley’s ghost appears, Scrooge is pretty much convinced.
Action sequences including a blast into the sky and a chase scene through the streets of London have been added in order to up the action factor. It seems as though Zemeckis felt these gimmicks were necessary to keep young audiences interested in what is essentially a character-based story. Yet they do nothing to advance the plot or improve the quality of the story. Also, there are enough frightening scenes and disturbing images that it’s questionable whether or not young kids should be taken to see this film.
A Festive Holiday Movie
Despite it’s issues, A Christmas Carol is still a quality holiday movie. Alan Silvestri’s score is excellent, complimenting the sumptuous visuals beautifully. Silvestri incorporates orchestral snippets from many popular Christmas carols, as well as other seasonally appropriate arrangements.
While it has its problems, Disney’s A Christmas Carol is still far superior to most of the inane holiday fare that floods theatres every year. Time-honored and charming, it’s a welcome addition to the holiday movie genre. After all, there’s something to be said for the power of a classic, even if it has been given a less than perfect update.