A Christmas Carol (2009)

Synopsis: From Walt Disney Pictures comes the magical retelling of Charles Dickens’ beloved tale — Disney’s Christmas Carol, the high-flying, heartwarming adventure for the whole family, starring Jim Carrey. When three ghosts take penny-pinching Scrooge on an eye-opening journey, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas. This exhilarating and touching Disney classic is destined to be part of your holiday tradition, adding sparkle and heart to all your Christmases yet to come.
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A Christmas Carol (2009) 7.75

Thanks to Alistair Sim’s turn as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 film classic, everyone knows the tale of the miser who makes everyone else miserable, even at Christmas – until he is then visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. The Sim version (which is actually titled ‘Scrooge’) is difficult to beat, so it seems foolhardy to even attempt to match (or best!) it.

Director Robert Zemeckis, however, had an inspired idea. He decided to make an animated film in full CGI, casting a few name actors to do motion-capture performances – and choosing, in particular, the multi-faceted, ever-malleable Jim Carrey to give life to Ebenezer Scrooge as well as the three apparitions.

Zemeckis had, by then, had mixed results with his CGI films ‘The Polar Express’ and ‘Beowulf’. Both were ambitious in scope but proved the limitations of CGI in creating realism. Furthering the problem in both cases were choppy scripts that didn’t especially make the most of the ingredients that they were trying to blend together.

But how could one go wrong with a tried and true classic such as ‘A Christmas Carol’? The tale is timeless and is perfect for adaptation (Lord knows that it’s been done time and again!). In a rare instance, Zemeckis decided to tackle the material himself, and did a fairly decent job of it – I’ve seen much worse from so-called professional writers. But it comes with uneven results.

Perhaps it’s his dual roles of director and writer that’s made the film inconsistent, but it runs the gamut from somber drama to feel-good to slapstick to horror to action to fantasy in distracting spurts. The fact is that all these elements are valid parts of the story, but some of these explode onto the screen for mere minutes and then disappear forever. It can be challenging for the viewer to adjust from one moment to the next.

The key strength of the film is the lead: Jim Carrey’s performance as Ebenezer Scrooge is simply AMAZING. But it is exactly that: a performance. It’s more akin to old school theatre than to modern acting, in that no one would actually act this way in real life – there is a fair bit of hyperbole in the performance, as tremendous as it is.

As well, what Carrey and Zemeckis have forgotten is that an old man wouldn’t be so spry. To see him jump around, fall, climb, and run around like a 20 year-old was fun, but hardly realistic; it betrayed the fact that the film was a motion-capture performance, which means far less immersion for the audience.

Still, the combination of Carrey’s performance and the character design was quite impressive. Quite. I was floored by the detail that was put into the character; it doesn’t create life, but it helps to recreate it. The key issue, unfortunately, is that so much time has been put into that character that most of the other CGI beings were left somewhat incomplete.

As has become habitual for this sort of project, human motion is a problem: all CGI-rendered beings seem to not be subject to the laws of gravity – having a somewhat weightless and rubbery quality to them. This is not a problem for the motion-capture performances, obviously, so one can tell the difference approximately 90% of the time – which makes the film even less credible-looking.

The issue of making hair, beard and fur realistic also remains: they still haven’t found a way to make it convincing. Even Scrooge’s hair had a silky, floating quality to it that would only be real if he’d been at the hairdresser’s to get it treated. Lord knows that they didn’t have the ability in Victorian times! Not that Scrooge was vain enough to pay for such a thing. winking0002 Free Emoticons   Winking

The filmmakers have proven that a lot is achievable in with CGI in creating Ebenezer Scrooge. And yet, even the other characters that Carrey impersonates aren’t fully fleshed out (the first ghost, especially, looked like textureless, early ’90s CGI). I wonder how much time and effort would be required to make a full-length feature like this one as perfect as it would need to be? And, if it takes so much work, why not just make it in live-action? indifferent0004 Free Emoticons   Indifferent

I can see why some of it would be impractical, what with all the fantasy sequences involved and all the huge sets that they would need to build in order to recreate 19th century London in the scale that Zemeckis had envisioned. However, I wonder if it would be better to have smaller dreams, but make them completely achievable. And more emotional, less technical.

Because, for all its vaunted wizardry and technical know-how, the film feels flat on an emotional, human level. The filmmakers were so busy pulling all the tricks of the trade to wow its audience (and they do marvelous job of it! Zemeckis was on FIRE with this one: the photography and camera work is absolutely awe-inspiring! love0010 Free Emoticons   Love) that they forgot the key element: heart.

The final scene is the perfect example of what’s wrong with the picture: as Scrooge walks down the street, the camera slowly focuses on Tiny Tim and we watch his elastic body bobbing about on Jim Carrey’s motion-captured shoulder like a balloon, not fully real. It was meant to be an emotional moment, but… how is anyone supposed to connect with what is so clearly artificial? indifferent0004 Free Emoticons   Indifferent

Despite its message, ‘A Christmas Carol (2009)’ is slightly vacant emotionally. It feels like a giant video game with one or two real characters thrown in for the sake of posterity. Throughout, I was thoroughly amazed by (some of) what my eyes were perceiving. And yet, I simply couldn’t be engaged by the story and its characters.

It was a pretty cold experience. As cold as Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart. sad0038 Free Sad Emoticons

2 responses to “A Christmas Carol (2009)

  1. Why oh why is this horrible version of the most beautiful Christmas story still on show. My 8 year old niece was terrified of this film. I was not impressed with this ghastly version. Please bring back the lovely version put out by Walt Disney with Donald Duck for the young kids. Its Christmas after all. In a world of harsh ugly reality give a little beauty to a beautiful story. Get rid of this ghastly 2009 version it frightens the kids.

    • I think that the original story was meant to have scary aspects to it; this is what shakes Ebenezer out of his callousness, after all.

      You should see the 1951 version with Alastair Sim: when Morley appears to him he wails in a really disturbing way and clunks around these cacophonic chains – it’s dramatic enough that some of the adults in the room with me reacted to it!

      I can totally see that it might frighten younger children, but it doesn’t mean that we should sanitize it. I think it’s just a question of choosing viewing material that’s apprpriate for the audience, is all.

      If the Donald Duck version works best for you, well that’s totally cool too. In fact, I wish that I could go watch it now – it’s been a while, and I’d love to get reacquainted with it 🙂

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