Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”)
Written by: Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”)
After dozens and dozens of retellings of the classic 19th century Charles Dickens story “A Christmas Carol” over the past century, you might think there would be nothing left to gain from another go-around with the timeless text. How many different ways can you say “Bah-Humbug” anyway?
But in Robert Zemeckis’ latest animated version, the director behind such films as “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away” has created a brand new vision that’s much darker and visually pleasing than anything that has come before. Add to that an assortment of lively voice performances by Jim Carrey (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and “A Christmas Carol” is a holiday treat despite its emotional shortcomings.
While the film doesn’t hammer home the true importance of family or make a character like Tiny Tim a target for pity like others have done in the past, Zemeckis’ “Carol” still has an ace in its stocking. His name is Ebenezer Scrooge and the penny-pincher is grouchier than ever. The iconic Christmas character, who has been portrayed numerous times before, gets his first transformation into motion capture animation, the process Zemeckis used in his last two films “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.”
In case you’ve somehow never heard the tale before, Scrooge, a bitter old miser living in London, is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley. Marley, who drags around weights and chains to signify the miserable life he once led, informs Scrooge that he will be haunted by three ghosts who will take him on separate journeys through his past, present, and future. The supernatural experience is supposed to reveal the true meaning of Christmas to Scrooge. It’s a life lesson that he could truly use. Not only does he snarl at the idea of paying his employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) for personal time off for the holidays, he’d rather get frostbite on his beaky nose than spend time with his only nephew Fred (Colin Firth).
Carrey’s turn as Scrooge might not rise to the performances of actors including George C. Scott or Alastair Sim in their respected versions, but Zemeckis gives his character a bit more free range to be sillier and brasher than his usual personality traits allow him. Carry never overdoes it with his voice work either, which is crucial to Scrooge as an introvert. His gangly frame, much like Carrey himself, is more surreal because of the amazing attention to detail in the character’s face. The 3-D spectacle attached to the film only enhances the experience.
The animated film, however, might be a bit too intense for little ones. While Zemeckis unintentionally made “The Polar Express” frightening with his demon-looking elves at the end of the movie, he is well aware of the dark tone that hovers over “A Christmas Carol.” Depending on your own level of comfort for nightmarish imagery in your holiday movies, this one might trigger tears for some kids (then again, so does Santa Claus at the shopping mall).