Movie Review for Disney's A Christmas Carol

What The Dickens

Disney's A Christmas Carol

Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy | G | 1 hr 35 min
Columbia Pictures
Main Cast
Jim Carrey
This latest cinematic iteration of A Christmas Carol is quite an odd bird. The trailers paint it out to be some sort of crazy 3D thrill ride, and at some points, it is. But it’s also surprisingly faithful to Dickens’ language and original themes, meaning a lot of Victorian dialogue mixed in with all the chase scenes. Mix in Robert Zimeckis’ still-unsettling performance capture animation, and you’ve got a film that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, providing moments of brilliance, yet pleasing nobody in the end.

The movie retells Charles Dickens’ classic tale. Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey) is a miserly old man who has never seen the point of Christmas, haughtily dismissing anyone who would ask him for generosity or good will during the season. On Christmas Eve, the ghost of his business partner arrives with a warning: he will be visited by three ghosts who will show him the error of his ways. And sure enough, that night, he is taken on a journey through Christmases past, present, and yet to come, showing him everything he has lost, and everything that he stands to lose.

The tale is timeless, and Zimeckis seems to realize that, sticking surprisingly close to the text of the source material. The language stands in direct contrast to all the technology on show, giving the film an air of refinement that softens some of its sharper corners. The language remains absolutely wonderful, but will probably go right over children’s heads, especially when the movie moves into some of its darker themes. This adaptation is notable for being one of the few translations of Dickens’ story to really give focus to the horror aspect of the tale. This is a ghost story after all, and though it ends with holiday cheer, it can’t really be ignored that the path Scrooge takes is a pretty horrific one. Take note parents: this is a far darker film than you might expect, and younger children might not be ready for some of its scares.

While the adherence to the text and themes is admirable, it doesn’t mesh well with everything else that Zimeckis brings to the table. The thrill ride elements are squeezed in uncomfortably between monologues. The sequences do look pretty good, the 3D actually providing some extra value to the experience. But they also feel a little out of place within the context of all the Victorian speech and the pontificating about what makes life worth living. I’m still not sold on Zimeckis’ performance capture shenanigans either. Here, he strikes an uneasy compromise between realism and cartoonishness, and the result is more unsettling than anything else.

The voice cast this movie’s assembled is pretty impressive. Jim Carrey’s plays at a wide range of emotions through his multiple characters, and he handles them nimbly, if a bit over-the-top. The enthusiasm for his performance makes it easy to see the actor behind the role, which is both good and bad, depending on what you’re looking for in the film. Gary Oldman plays his parts with great precision, hitting all the right notes at all the right moments. It’s a little unsettling to think that he played both Bob Cratchett and Tiny Tim, but that’s part of the wonder of it. Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Bob Hoskins and Robin Wright Penn show up in tiny roles, and they all do a good job of it.

A Christmas Carol ends up being pretty decent, but that’s mostly because it sticks so close to the text. Dickens’ story holds up pretty well through the centuries, and when the movie foregoes the gimmickry and just focuses on telling this story, it works pretty well. But it also tacks on technology that still doesn’t seem quite ready, and more than a couple of sequences that try to take this tale to action territory. It tries to be everything to everyone, and ends up being just a few things to some people.

My Rating:

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