A Christmas Carol review by Jackass Tom

So what keeps bringing us back to A Christmas Carol year after year, December after December? Dickens wrote several Christmas stories during his lifetime but it's A Christmas Carol that is not only remembered but watched in many different versions. The reason for its popularity has to do with how it reflects what we feel is an ideal Christmas theme. At the core of A Christmas Carol is the idea that even someone with a twisted rotten heart is human, can be redeemed, and might share what ever extra he might have to those who need it for the holidays. All it takes is the right perspective to change his mind and let him see the light. This is a theme that should be front and center as part of any Christmas Carol film and in nearly every case is at the heart of every recreation.

Now with that in mind, what I remember about the theatrical release of Disney CGI version of A Chistmas Carol is the following TV spot being run over and over on various channels. Parts of this spot were seen in other spots and trailers so it’s a fairly accurate representation and the most repeated one from my perspective. If I had no prior knowledge of A Christmas Carol I would interpret the message of this commercial to be ‘how much abuse can we dish out on one old man in a nightgown?.’ I’m going to give Ebenezer Scrooge the benefit of the doubt and say he is 60 years old; erring on the younger side. After what happens in that 32 second teaser, old Scrooge (if not completely dead) will need to be treated for a concussion, have all of his teeth replaced, get his nose re-set, get skin grafts on his hands, and various other injuries attributed from falls and multiple bludgeonings. I don’t ever remember so much action and violence in a Christmas Carol. Its not that the violence is graphic in nature but that it’s completely unnecessary and no where part of the original story. Such acts are not even hinted at in any other version aside from maybe a cartoon incarnation here and there. And that is why I avoided the movie when it hit theaters in 2009.

Now in 2010 I had a new opportunity to watch the film and understand why Robert Zemeckis’ trailer looked the way it did. His (or Disney’s) ImageMovers studio allows him to create the illusion of long takes with a constantly moving, sweeping, ducking, panning camera. The types of long takes he executes are impossible or near impossible with a real camera. The best example of how this works in A Christmas Carol is the beautiful intro that takes us on a tour of 19th century London. The animation takes us on a journey through the streets and rooftops, circling through a reef and giving us a peek into various activities that may have happened on the street before Christmas in the late 1800s. Due to the setting the types of moves the camera makes and the coordination of actors this would be an expensive shot, but with CGI it’s all a matter of animators’ creativity. It’s a real gem, and sadly it’s also the highlight of the film.

Sadly though this trick becomes the goal of Zemeckis for the rest of the film. He takes Scrooge on these nightmarish journeys and flying adventures to the point where the film becomes Dickens on HGH. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has a chariot of horses chase a shrinking Scrooge through dark streets and into a sewer. Scrooge tries to extinguish the Ghost of Christmas Past with his candle snuff but instead gets shot up into the atmosphere like Wiley Coyote strapping himself to a rocket. The movie is no longer about what makes the story great and it becomes another Disney roller coaster ride at the expense of an elderly man.

Obviously there is something to be said about CGI being the next generation of cartoon so I could see an argument being said that, “This is a cartoon and certain actions that happen should be taken as such.” For example, if a cartoon character slips on the ice and falls down five steps he shakes it off and moves on. But what sets CGI apart from animated drawings IS the strive for realism. In some movies (Ratatouille for example) the CGI is meant to be more exaggerated and cartoon like. But obviously in Carol there is an attempt at realism with characters who look and are modeled off of true human beings. So with that in mind I don’t expect any falling anvils.

The overuse long moving shots isn’t the only issue. Jim Carrey voices Ebenezer Scrooge and it just never works. He provides no plausible English accent which isn’t completely necessary, but his voice also sounds rubbery and flimsy instead of crackly and agitated like the George C. Scott. Carrey comes off as more comic and goobery than old and crotchety… I’m just not buying it and after a while his presence is distracting.

The use of computer animation gives affords the filmmakers plenty of possibility to take A Christmas Carol to new heights. No longer is there the issue of cost associated with creating period sets. But unfortunately they got greedy and tried to show off the new car’s speed when it only needed to pace itself and look good.

3 out of 10 Jackasses
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