Charles Dickens’ ever-popular ghost story of redemption A Christmas Carol is one of the most frequently adapted tales of them all, with at least 40 British and American versions alone out there, ranging from early silents to the Flintstones and Barbie doll versions. And what makes this one special? Well, that is entirely a matter of personal taste.
Everyone familiar with Robert Zemeckis’ Polar Express and Beowulf will have a good idea of the visual style employed for this, the director’s first Disney production since his groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It’s motion capture animation, so the characters look a lot like the actors who provided their voices and physical performances. And it’s in 3-D, so all manner of objects from sharp implements — eeek! — to snowflakes — oooh! — are tossed at the bespectacled audience at regular intervals. The advancement in technology is undeniable and the 3-D is very good, but how well one likes this depends very much on how well one responds to motion capture. To us it’s neither as “real” as live action nor as beautiful as classic hand drawn animation could be — Pinocchio, say. And it’s not as cunning as the best CGI we’ve come to love in a Toy Story or Shrek.
What we get is a holiday season novelty, then, which is satisfactory as much because the cast give it all they’ve got as for some attractive visual effects flourishes, but it is constantly rather unsettling. Scrooge’s good-natured nephew Fred, for example, is played nicely by Colin Firth. We know it’s him and it looks like him, but not quite, kind of like he got inflated. What’s the point? Gary Oldman has fun playing the damned spirit of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s poor, put-upon clerk Bob Crachit and his sickly son Tiny Tim, who looks like a kiddy body limping around with Oldman’s shrunken head stuck on top. Carrey on double overtime does an okay English accent as a wizened Jim, er, Ebenezer, a vaguely Irish one as the odd Ghost of Christmas Past (alarmingly, a candle with a flame for a head for some reason) and a Brian Blessed impersonation as a bluff Northerner Ghost of Christmas Present. Never mind the ghosts, the most terrifying thing in the movie is Scrooge when he’s reformed, so cheery he’s borderline lunatic. So in its way it is special, but not necessarily a keeper.