Friday, December 4, 2015

Christmas Favorites: A Christmas Carol (Robert Zemeckis version)

It's perhaps the greatest Christmas story of all time. (Other than, you know, the ACTUAL Christmas story.) It's been done and redone dozens if not hundreds of times. Some versions are good. Some, not so good. A few stand out to me as being noteworthy, though. And so, I will attempt to review my favorite versions of the Dicken's classic tale, A Christmas Carol.

I won't bother to rehash the plot because pretty much everyone knows this story. However, since each version puts its own twist on the tale, I will include spoiler warnings for individual points.

The first version I will review is, perhaps, the most recent. I'm talking of course about the Walt Disney/Robert Zemeckis version.

I originally got to see this film in all its IMAX glory, and two words came to mind: mildly impressed.

First, the "impressed":

Very true to the book. You'll be hard pressed to find one with more book-accurate dialogue. Animation was fantastic. The 3-D effects helped draw you into the story, not just play it up for the "ooh, aah" factor, and I found it all very sophisticated and clean-cut. During the screening, kids in front of me were reaching up to grab animated snowflakes, it was that realistic.

The acting was unparalleled. The emotion displayed by the characters (both in voice and by the animators) was believable, if not entirely true-to-life. My biggest fear when I first heard about this version was Jim Carrey playing not one, not two, but three roles. Technically four if you count the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but as that character has no lines, I'm sticking with three. I was worried that rubber-faced Carrey would totally goofball his way through the film as some sort of slapstick caricature. Imagine my surprise to discover that Carrey managed to tone down the goofy factor just enough in the serious moments and bring them out when appropriate (such as after Scrooge's "conversion" or as the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present). His Scrooge is very believable, without being cheesy. The rest of the actors do a superb job. A lot of A-listers are in the film, which usually isn't a huge selling point for me. But in this case, it soars. The motion capture animation has a LOT to do with that, I think. because you're not limited to just seeing a drawn character and hearing a voice that doesn't quite fit it. The characters are animated to have similar features to the actors' own, so it just fits. Gary Oldman's Bob Cratchit blows all the others away. I don't think I'll ever find a better one (well, a better human one, but more on that in another post).

A slight warning for those of you planning on seeing this with the kiddos: after the screening I attended, some parents were shocked that the movie would be so dark and scary, but I felt it was necessary. This is, after all, a ghost story. If we're going to be drawn into the story with Scrooge being frightened out of his wits, what's a little creepy factor for us, the viewers? Several jump scares and spooky spirits might frighten your youngest viewers, so just keep that in mind.

And now, the caveats. The parts of the movie that left me only "mildly" impressed.

I have but two gripes. And this is where those pesky spoilers come into play, so ye be warned!

1. The sequence in which Marley's jaw pops loose during his big "beware your fate" speech detracts from the solemnness of the moment. I thought it an unnecessary addition that did nothing to advance the story line or add any understanding of the character. It just felt so out of place.

2. The big "chase" sequence during the visit of the third ghost. A lot of shoe leather, in my opinion. The several minutes dedicated to it would have been better served focusing on other parts of the story that actually helped support the main point. Expanding some of the things Ebenezer saw with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come would have fit the story better than a rowdy chase scene through the streets of London that overstayed its welcome.

In all, I'd say it was well performed, well animated, and (my favorite part) accurate to the original. There was also a careful preserving of the "Christ" part of Christmas. Not as blatant as I would have liked it to have been. Certainly not as strong as it is in the book. But these days, to find any mention of God not being used as a profanity in a major motion picture is refreshing. Had I been grading it, I might have said A-. I definitely recommend picking up a copy.

It could have been better, there's no doubt about that. But I think Walt Disney himself, were he still alive, would be as I am:

Mildly impressed.


  1. I've never watched this version because I figured it would be screwbally due to Jim Carrey. I think I'll rent it this year though.

    1. It's what worried me most as well. In all honesty, I like Jim as an actor when he's more reserved. One of my favorite movies of his is The Truman Show, which had some screwy moments, but also spent a lot of time asking serious existential questions. If he could act like that in every movie, I'd probably like him more.

      His performance in this film isn't flawless. But it's definitely worth seeing.