My family has a Thanksgiving tradition where in the evening, while everyone else is chowing down, we head to the movies. We’d do our turkey thing in the early afternoon, and once everyone was good and recovered, we’d head out for an early evening show. It’s a lot of fun–in contrast with the day following, the mall is empty and dark, and the only thing open is the movie theater. You can get into any movie you want without worrying about a sell out. It’s a tradition we’ve kept alive since at least Home Alone (1990).
This year’s film was the newest adaption of A Christmas Carol, featuring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge as well as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Other well regarded actors, including Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, and Cary Elwes played multiple roles in Robert Zemeckis’s computer-animated adventure. Now I’m a fan of the A Christmas Carol story, particularly of an earlier Disney adaptation, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a half-hour cartoon adaptation featuring Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer, Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, and Goofy as the ghost of Jacob Marley. I don’t think the newest adaptation of Dickens’s classic stands as tall as some of the earlier interpretations, but it’s still an enjoyable film. Carrey does a fine job as Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present (I found his Ghost of Christmas Past annoying). Oldman is great as Bob Cratchit. Though he looks kind of like a Lord of the Rings character, he brings the necessary warmth to Cratchit, who must take care of Tiny Tim, and still has the heart to say a prayer of thanks for Scrooge’s meager salary and what it has provided his family on Christmas day. I appreciated the inclusion of some of the classic dialogue, such as Scrooge, when he first sees Marley’s ghost: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato…” The film takes full advantage of its Digital 3D origins to make several sweeping shots of London and the English countryside, though not always to the film’s benefit.
When watching this film, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be simply too much for kids, say, 5 and under. Or even for older kids who weren’t familiar with the original story. The introduction of Jacob Marley’s ghost, for example, was genuinely scary. It’s a long sequence—Hitchcock would have loved it—that pays off with a creepy ghoul. And the bit with Marley’s jaw (I won’t spoil it) was supposed to have been played for laughs, I think, but felt too macabre or Tim Burtonesque to work. And then when Marley left by the window and we see hundreds of other tortured souls working off their lifetime sins, I was startled myself.
And this says nothing of the whole Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence. From the disturbing death of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Santa Claus) on to Scrooge’s morning awakening, the film takes on a frenetic pace. Scrooge is involved in an overly long, “that only happens in CGI” chase scene with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Death) and his black horses that simply overwhelms at points. Yes, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is supposed to be scary–he’s even scary in the Mickey Mouse version–but his scariness is in his silence, like with Scrooge at the graveyard, not in how fast his horses can chase you down. There are emotional touch tones in this act, such as when Scrooge figures out why no one mourns him the way the Cratchits mourn Tiny Tim, but they’re nearly drowned out by moments like Scrooge surfing down a London rooftop on an icicle. Maybe today’s youth appreciate an old man getting thrown through several “only in CGI” scenarios more than they do, say, his horror at discovering his maid hated him so much she stole his bed curtains after his death, but I would have appreciated Zemeckis turning the freneticism in this act down a bit.
This newest A Christmas Carol gets 3 of 5 stars for being a beautifully rendered, faithful retelling of the classic Christmas tale, but one marred by darkness and CGI overload.