Shame on me, for I allowed my expectations for Robert Zemeckis' animated A Christmas Carol to be clouded by Disney's lousy marketing campaign, which made the film look like it was going to be a loud, silly wannabe thrill ride that featured the famed Scrooge flying about and screaming a lot.
In truth, Scrooge does fly about and scream a lot, but he also does much, much more. This is a surprisingly faithful—in other words, sometimes dark and creepy—adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic, with a little 3-D whiz-bang thrown in for good measure. When the frantic sequences are squished together in a short preview trailer, they are just annoying. Within the film, effectively spread apart, the sequences become exhilarating.
While these moments pop visually, it's the core story about the miserly, miserable Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey) experiencing a spiritual awakening that makes this movie a true winner. Zemeckis hits all the right notes.
Carrey is already a bit like a cartoon, so it's not much of a leap for his image to cross over into motion-capture CGI. His likeness can be seen in the pointy, twisted face of Scrooge, the wispy, mystical ghost of Christmas Past, and the Santa-like Ghost of Christmas Present. He has tremendous vocal fun with the experience, and his physical acting prowess is evident in Scrooge's more lively and frantic moments. I can't wait for the DVD extras and the sight of Carrey dancing around in one of those motion-capture suits.
Much of the story is told slowly and deliberately, as if the action is being observed by one of Dickens' ghosts floating over the action. Scrooge's office is a dark, dank place where frost puffs from the mouth of his loyal assistant, Bob Cratchit. Gary Oldman lends his voice and likeness to Cratchit, as well as Marley's Ghost and even Tiny Tim. His performances are perhaps the movie's most heartwarming. (Well, except for his turn as Marley's Ghost. He's scary as all heck in that role.)
Zemeckis isn't afraid to include the gloomy aspects of the original story. Cratchit's abode is a dark place, barely lit by a few candles and light coming off the fireplace. One truly gets the sense that this man is underpaid. And the aforementioned Marley moment is a chiller, replete with the ghost's jaw nearly falling off. Proceed with caution if your child is 10 or younger.
I was not a fan of Zemeckis' first motion-capture release, the unintentionally spooky The Polar Express. However, by the time Beowulf hit screens a couple of years ago, I'd warmed to the format. The technology is catching up to the idea, and Carol looks great. It's quite suitable for ghostly tales.
Some might think that releasing A Christmas Carol in early November is a strange move, but it is a 3-D movie, and a little flick called Avatar is on the way to 3-D and IMAX screens in mid-December. There aren't enough 3-D facilities out there to support two big releases at the same time, so it makes sense that Disney got a head start (although its opening-weekend box-office haul was somewhat less than remarkable).
If you are looking to get into a holiday mood good and early, go see this one, and be prepared for a surprisingly good time. If you think the idea of an authentic Scrooge blasting through the cosmos on a ghost rocket sounds stupid, think again. It's actually quite cool, and the overall movie, thanks to Zemeckis and Carrey, is enchanting fun.