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Humbug, Humbug, Humbug

Scrooge

It just wouldn’t be the festive season without some Christmas movies to get us in the mood: early November might just be a little too early for some people to begin decking the halls, but the season is starting early with Disney’s presentation of A Christmas Carol, the classic tale written by Charles Dickens and now brought to the big screen by Robert Zemeckis.

Disney’s take on the fable is animated though uses a form of motion capture similarly to that previously seen in Zemeckis’ The Polar Express and Beowulf (although for this movie, the look is a lot smoother, embracing the fact that it is, ultimately, an animated film.) It’s a perfect opportunity for the multi-faceted Jim Carrey to play several roles, this time taking on Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts who haunt him on a Christmas Eve night.

For a modern adaptation, A Christmas Carol is surprisingly faithful to Dickens’ source: set in an impressively realised Victorian London, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge shows off just how miserable he can be when dealing with gentlemen seeking alms, his nephew Fred (Colin Firth) who invites him along for Christmas dinner and his own clerk Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman.) That night, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley (also voiced by Oldman) who pleads with Scrooge to recant on his greedy ways, telling him that he will have three visitors over the next two nights who will show him the folly of his ways. Those three visitors, as everyone should know, are the Ghosts of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present, and of Christmases Yet To Come.

As with most interpretations of A Christmas Carol, this film depends on Ebenezer Scrooge being a despicable man, but one who isn’t without salvation and one that viewers want to see redeemed by the end of the film. In such a role, Carrey is impressive: Scrooge’s voice fits into the London of the 19th Century, and Carrey’s capable of c0mmunicating not only meanness, but also fear and longing with his voice in the same lines of dialogue. As the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, however, Carrey isn’t quite as successful: there’s a forced wackiness for Christmas Past, just as much in the animation as in the character’s portrayal, and the booming joviality of the Ghost of Christmas Present is just a bit over-the-top when juxtaposed with some of the film’s more touching scenes (not to mention a cringeworthy Irish accent.)

Marley and ScroogeWhile the film is entertaining, it doesn’t turn its back on some of the more serious messages of Dickens’ tale, and although this is a family movie, parents of young children might want to consider the story before bringing their kids along: the poverty of the Cratchit family may be underplayed in favour of their warmth and care, but it’s there nonetheless, and the ghosts live up to their name as spectres of death. There’s some terrifying imagery, in particular related to the rotting chained body of Marley and the shrouded-Death-like figure of the Ghost of Christmases Yet To Come that will scare some adults, never mind young children accompanying them, and while such scares are in keeping with the film’s fantasy theme, and are probably no worse than can be seen in similar films, they are indicative of the darker elements of A Christmas Carol.

But this isn’t a film purely about darkness: it isn’t much of a spoiler to say that Scrooge discovers the true meaning of Christmas by the film’s close, and the heart-warming aspects of the story easily outweigh those darker parts as Scrooge finds a family and realises that his money doesn’t equate with happiness.

There are elements of the film that play up the animated style, at times drifting from somewhat realistic to totally fantastic, and some of these scenes feel a little forced, or at least drawn out, to highlight the film’s 3D presentation: they don’t last too long, and provide an impressive, if incomplete, view of Zemeckis’ London, but they distract from the heart of the story, perhaps struggling to create some visual magic, little realising the emotional magic already there in the story.

Christmas Carol One SheetAs such, kids might not quite get what’s going on in the more story-focussed parts of A Christmas Carol, but will nonetheless be entertained, and it’s been quite a while since a Christmas film has been quite so oriented towards the whole family. It’s a surprisingly magical experience because of that fact, and although the kids might have more fun with the adventure, even the most hard-hearted of adults will be pushed not to find this, with its messages of family and altruism, one of the most charming Christmas movies of the last decade.

Festive Zombie Rating: B

A Christmas Carol opens in cinemas worldwide on November 6th, 2009, presented in Disney Digital 3D, IMAX and IMAX 3D where available.

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