MRR Movie Review: A Christmas Carol

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Miser Ebenezer Scrooge is awakened on Christmas Eve by spirits who reveal to him his own miserable existence, what opportunities he wasted in his youth, his current cruelties, and the dire fate that awaits him if he does not change his ways. Scrooge is faced with his own story of growing bitterness and meanness, and must decide what his own future will hold: death or redemption.
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Movie Review: "A Christmas Carol"

-- Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2009
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Animation/Comedy/Drama

Disney's "A Christmas Carol" is the twenty-first film version of the beloved Charles Dickens novel. Director Robert Zemeckis has created a unique 3D-animated experience featuring motion-capture work from Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, and Robin Wright. The animation and production design may not be for everyone, but it does put a new spin on an old classic.

Carrey plays the crotchety old Ebenezer Scrooge, who treats his only employee, Bob Cratchit (played by Oldman), with disdain and cruelty, paying him barely enough to survive. Scrooge even pays him the indignity of forcing him to work on Christmas Day. Cratchit, whose son Tiny Tim is ill, must suffer through personal discomfort as Scrooge's tightness with money means the office is not heated.

On the night before Christmas, the ghost of Jacob Marley (Oldman) visits Scrooge. Adorned with chains designed to drag him to hell, Marley warns Scrooge that three ghosts will appear later in the night. Scrooge dismisses it as a bad dream, but when the ghosts do arrive, he is forced to look within and change his ways before his destiny destroys him.

This is the third film by Zemeckis to entirely use motion-capture technology, which involves filming actors and then animating over them to change the image entirely. It's an interesting technique that Zemeckis has mastered, with his work on this film being miles ahead of his previous animated films, "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf." Still, the work does suffer from dead-eye syndrome, as although the characters and sets are lifelike, the eyes don't quite capture a realistic look. Despite these limitations, the acting work is still fun and it's a kick to see Carrey and Oldman play several different characters. The animation is top notch, creating an immersive environment for the audience to lose themselves in.

Jim Carrey strikes the perfect balance in his roles as Scrooge and the three Christmas ghosts. He knows when to reign in his over-the-top tendencies, bringing an aspect of sadness and regret to his portrayal of Scrooge. Although Carrey overacts at some points, it's often when the film revs up the action, allowing him to match the scenery onscreen with his behavior. While he doesn't quite hit the marks of previous Scrooge portrayals by George C. Scott, Alastair Sim, Michael Caine, or Patrick Stewart, Carrey more than holds his own by putting his own spin on the character.

Continuing his recent trend of appearing in character roles, Gary Oldman brings his solid acting skills to "A Christmas Carol," taking on the roles of Bob Cratchit, Marley, and Tiny Tim. Even under the animation on display, Oldman's nuance and commitment to character makes him disappear into these roles. Where Carrey makes himself known even when he's underneath layers of animation as the Ghost of Christmas Present, Oldman completely disappears, inhabiting these age-old characters with the skills of a pro.

As with most of his films, Zemeckis had made a fine movie, but it feels bombastic at times. Perhaps it's the very nature of this story, which has often been portrayed as a staid Victorian-era tale of remorse and greed. Here, Zemeckis turns everything upside down, creating an action film out of what is usually a quiet character study. The ghost scenes turn "A Christmas Carol" into a thrill ride on par with something one would expect out of Indiana Jones.

Despite these misgivings, there is a lot of craft and skill put into the film and it is a fun retelling. It's perfect for kids bored by some of the older incarnations of the story. Adults will like the great characterization and beautiful animated sets. The use of 3D is stunning, showing future filmmakers how to use the technology wisely. Zemeckis has always been a technology wizard, having used special effects in "Back to the Future" and "Forrest Gump." Here, he shows off all his skills, making this version of "A Christmas Carol" the most technically accomplished of all time.

Ultimately, Disney's version of "A Christmas Carol" is a serviceable adaptation of the classic Dickens tale that is perfect for families. All the actors hit their marks and while the film doesn't necessarily fit in with the usual Dickensian adaptation, it's a fresh enough spin to hopefully inspire viewers to check out other films featuring works by Dickens. As should be expected in a Robert Zemeckis production, "A Christmas Carol" is a technical marvel that is the director's best motion-capture film yet.

Rated: 3 out of 5 stars

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