Screenwriters: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes, Fionnula Flanagan
Running Time: 96 mins
A curious union between star and filmmaker, Disney's A Christmas Carol brings together box office juggernaut Jim Carrey and director Robert Zemeckis for a 3D performance capture animated retelling of Charles Dickens's beloved tale. The story is a familiar one - a grumpy old penny-pinching coot called Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts and learns to embrace love and goodwill after a whistlestop tour through his life - which works for and against this Carrey/Zemeckis incarnation. Dickens's work has been reconfigured, retold and parodied in so many different ways, it's hard to make it feel original.
Alastair Sim, Bill Murray and Michael Caine have previously inhabited the role of Scrooge, and Carrey acquits himself well in the part, shackling himself in as his old miser scoffs and snarls his way through the festivities. It's in his roles as the Ghost Of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come that Carrey lets loose the showman. The right balance is struck between the zanily surreal and gloomy backstreets of Victorian London as Zemeckis unleashes state-of-the-art technology to give this seasonal yarn a makeover. Since Back To The Future, Zemeckis has been a filmmaker who's tried to find a happy middle-ground between storytelling and special effects. Whether it's Roger Rabbit cavorting with Bob Hoskins or Tom Hanks's Forrest Gump telling JFK he needs the bathroom, the filmmaker has strived to push technical boundaries. In recent years, story has been overtaken by his love of the latest digital moviemaking tools, but with Dickens's source material as a backbone it's less of an issue here.
The impressive cast includes Gary Oldman in the roles of Scrooge's ex-partner Joseph Marley, downtrodden clerk Bob Cratchet and his son Tiny Tim; Colin Firth as Scrooge's glass-half-full nephew Fred; Bob Hoskins doubling up as Fezziwig and Old Joe; and Robin Wright Penn as Scrooge's sister Fan and Bella, the girl he lost to money. Their mannerisms often push through the pixels, lending their characters expressiveness and, in Scrooge's case, pathos. The detail on the computer renderings is often remarkable - you can spot the individual hairs on the tip of Scrooge's nose and glide over and around the streets of 19th century London. Despite the incredible images, there's still one big flaw in CG performance capture. In close-up the characters carry a glazed over expression, giving them a "nothing-going-on-upstairs" look that makes Orlando Bloom seem an alive and alert screen presence. Presented in this form, the eyes - supposedly the windows to the soul - just don't have it.
A Christmas Carol's target audience, young children who may not have been saturated with this timeless story of redemption, will lap up the film. There's a spooky atmosphere and entertaining portrayals of the Ghost Of Christmas Past (Carrey plays it as a fey-talking Irish candle) and Present (a rotund Yorkshireman who laughs like Brian Blessed), though purists will surely squirm at Zemeckis's very un-Dickens-like action set pieces - in one Scrooge is almost rocketed into space, another sees him miniaturised and scrambling across London to escape galloping horses. For the rest of us, the whizzing pyrotechnics aren't quite enough to make this a Christmas classic.
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