Back in the 2000s, Robert Zemeckis directed a trilogy of movies made entirely with motion-capture. Strangely, this series of movies was bookended by Christmas movies, as they began with 2004’s The Polar Express, and ended with Zemeckis’ take on the classic Charles Dickens’ tale, A Christmas Carol, this time backed by Disney.
It seems like giving a summary of A Christmas Carol is pointless, since the story has been retold countless times through popular culture. Mickey Mouse, The Muppets, Mr. Magoo, The Flintstones, The Loony Tunes, The Jetsons, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Sanford and Son are just a handful of the names that have had a go at the story of A Christmas Carol. Despite these seemingly infinite retellings, here’s the summation of the story for the heck of it.
Ebenezer Scrooge is biter and miserly moneylender in 1800s London. Everyone in town is feeling the Christmas spirit, except for old Scrooge, who holds the season, and just about everything else, in contempt. Scrooge only cares for his money, treats his employee Bob Cratchit as a lowly servant, and is so curmudgeonly that everyone in town fears his presence.
On Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is visited by the spirit of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, who was similarly greedy, and is suffering a miserable afterlife. Marley warns Scrooge that unless his selfish ways are changed, he will suffer an even worse fate beyond the grave. But Scrooge is given the chance to change, as he will be visited by three additional spirits representing Scrooge’s Christmas past, present and future who will take Scrooge on a journey through his life to show him the error of his ways.
Though A Christmas Carol is one of the most retold stories around, it remains a timeless tale, and this adaptation benefits from being a pretty accurate retelling. From story elements and dialogue, it’s among the more faithful screen adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic. But like The Polar Express before it, it ultimately suffers from the technology used to bring it to life.
The movie is wise enough to give the characters some caricatured exaggeration – such as Scrooge’s sharp nose and goblin-like chin – so they don’t look quite as artificial as those from The Polar Express. Nevertheless, the character’s still look unnerving and mechanical. Their eyes look lifeless, and the faces often look unintentionally humorous or creepy.
Jim Carrey plays the role of Scrooge, as well as the three Christmas spirits, while Gary Oldman portrays Bob Cratchit and Jacob Marley. The performances are good, but even they get lost by the distracting visuals.
This is all a real shame, because an honest-to-goodness take on A Christmas Carol is increasingly rare, and throwing strong performances into the mix make it all the more promising. But in the end, the visuals are so distracting it actually takes away from the movie’s good qualities. And just like The Polar Express, there are a number of scenes that only seem to exist to show off the special effects, which contradicts the film’s otherwise honest take on the source material.
One can’t help but feel that Zemeckis and the actors involved would have been better off tackling the story as either a live-action film, or a full-on animated feature. But Zemeckis’ insistence on motion-capture during this period meant that was the direction the movie went. Though the story is still strong and the performances are good, the visuals only end up working against them as a distraction, and the movie, though released in 2009, already looks dated.
It’s an honest take on a timeless tale, and that in itself makes Disney’s A Christmas Carol worth a look. It’s just a shame that the timelessness is almost completely sucked away from this adaptation because of the garish visuals.