There were two problems up front with A Christmas Carol. First, what we have here is a favourite of mine that’s constantly getting butchered by people who think they are so much more clever than Charles Dickens. Second, was the fact that director Robert Zemeckis was putting the movie through the same 3-D motion capture process that he made The Polar Express and Beowulf with, a process that trades wildly between too realistic and too fake-looking. Strangely enough it seems my concerns were largely unfounded on both parts. The end result is a highly faithful adaptation as done by an animation process that does seem to be getting better with age.
The story of A Christmas Carol, however, was perfection to begin with and Zemeckis seems to know that. The visual demands of the 3-D have mixed impact on the story though as flights around Victorian London, on the one hand, are wonderful to behold, we get an unnecessary action sequence where in Scrooge is pursued by a ghostly carriage and then shrunk for some zany miniature adventures. But Carol isn’t an action story, and for the most part Zemeckis plays things for how they’re supposed to be: scary. Aside from the CG, there’s really no gimmick: it’s a straight-up, very faithful adaptation with all the shadows remaining.
But this means that this is one of those animated movies that really isn’t designed to be viewed by young kids. The Ghost of Jacob Marley for instance has more in common with The Judge from Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (which was produced by Zemeckis) than Michael Hordern as Marley in the 1951 Scrooge starring Alastair Sim. His shrieks dislocate his jaw in cringe-worthy fashion as his eyes seem to only focus on his former business partner when he’s being particularly impudent. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears as nothing else than a shadow, cast by other people and objects but reshaped to classic, reaper form. One of the more disturbing portions comes from when the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals the children Ignorance and Want. Ignorance, the boy, appears as a ghoulish, almost Gollum-like creature that tries to bite and scratch at Scrooge.
I was actually fairly impressed with a lot of what Zemeckis brought to the story; it was like he was answering every critique I’ve had with 99 per cent of the adaptations of this story. It’s scary. It’s supposed to be scary. Scrooge is a bastard and that point is made glaringly and painful obvious in the first scene when after giving two coins as tip to the undertaker, he takes the two coins from dead Marley’s eyes. Jim Carrey did a decent job playing the miser, as well as the numerous other roles that he played including all three of the Christmas spirits. But I’ve always believed that one of the key ways in making this type of animation work was for the actor to disappear into the part, but the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present seemed particularly Carrey-like to me.
On the other hand it sometimes works so well it’s scary. You could swear at times (squinting of course) that what you’re looking at is Colin Firth as Scrooge’s nephew Fred. As for Bob Cratchit, it almost seems as if Gary Oldman was shrunk and given rosy cheeks to play Scrooge’s put-upon clerk. Unfortunately though, I found Cratchit largely missing from the story, which left the balance of the story feeling a little out of whack. It always seemed to me that half the story was Cratchit’s as the possible (probable) death of Tiny Tim seems to have the most pronounced effect on Scrooge.