On a Yuletide reading tour of America, Charles Dickens relates one of his most famous stories: that of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. Visited by three Christmas ghosts, will he see the error of his ways?
"The Movie" subtitle seems redundant on this, the umpteenth big screen version of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas fable. New adaptations seem to come around as often as Christmas itself, with this one following 1999's excellent TNT/Hallmark production starring Patrick Stewart.
One has to wonder, then, whether this worthier-than-thou animated version, reportedly five years in the making, would have been considered financially viable by anyone other than the National Lottery Film Fund. It offers very little that is new, except for the live-action opening, in which Dickens himself (played by Simon Callow, who also provides Scrooge's voice) sets the scene for the story with the help of - eek! - a computer-generated mouse.
On paper, the voice cast is certainly impressive. Nicolas Cage, who previously riffed on A Christmas Carol in The Family Man, turns up as Marley's ghost, while the British talent includes Kate Winslet, Jane Horrocks, Rhys Ifans, Red Dwarf robot Robert Llewellyn (who also co-scripted), Michael Gambon and Juliet Stevenson. Yet most of the cast perform so anonymously they might as well be unknowns. Winslet and Charlotte Church also trill a couple of forgettable songs.
The painted backgrounds and animation style - familiar to fans of Raymond Briggs' The Snowman and When The Wind Blows, both of which Murakami helped animate - are often impressive. But it is doubtful whether, in this age of Pokémon and Shrek, Christmas Carol: The Movie will find an audience among any but the least demanding children - and BAFTA voters, at whom the film seems more squarely, and cynically, aimed.
You cannot fault the ambition, animation or artistic endeavour in this latest version of Dickens' classic tale, rendered in classy 2-D animation, top and tailed with live-action sequences. But the narrative is so curiously lacking in audience appeal that kids may find the prospect of spending Christmas in the workhouse more attractive.