Visually stunning "A Christmas Carol" too intense for kids
There have been countless versions of Charles Dickens classic story "A Christmas Carol," everyone from Mickey Mouse to the Muppets to George C. Scott have been featured in both musical and non-musical forms of the novel, but none has been seen like the new Robert Zemeckis 3D motion capture version. This is definitely not your mother's version of "A Christmas Carol”: all the stops have been pulled out to make a visually stunning and entertaining, but overly intense movie that isn't recommended for those younger than age 10.
Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump," "Back to the Future") and company bring to life Charles Dickens' timeless, familiar tale of a crusty old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey) who must face Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come (all played by Carrey as well), as they help to bring kindness to his otherwise cold heart. The Ghosts remind him of the man he used to be, the hard truth of the world today, and what will happen if he doesn't improve his ways. Set around Christmas, the most joyous day of the year, Scrooge realizes the need to change after seeing the impact he's had on people around him.
This version of "A Christmas Carol,” told through motion capture animation, is astonishingly realistic and evident there have been advances in that technology in the last 5 years, since Zemeckis first made "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf" just two years ago. The clean, crisp CG and the attention to detail from snowflakes to the wrinkles on Scrooge's face are sublime and the well-placed 3D enhances the visuals. On top of that is the fact (as many literary purists will note) this is a remarkably faithful Dickensian adaptation – quotes and scenes are lifted directly from the book - which both helps and hurts the film. While that's a fresh approach given Hollywood's typical Cliffs notes version to filmmaking, Dickens story is a little too dark for children.
With this in mind, Zemeckis can’t quite even out the story - it’s clear he wants to be faithful to the source while appealing to the younger set – and it begins to falter in its darkest final act; some scary, ghoulish elements make it too frightful and creepy ("The Polar Express," as cheerful as it wanted to be, had an underlying creepy tone to it) for smaller ones. Zemeckis is most faithful to Dickens' novel in the portrayal of the ghosts, and his touches here make it bizarre, off-kilter fun (especially the odd Ghost of Christmas Past) considering other milder adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" and unsurprising given Carrey's ubiquitous presence in the film.
The talented, malleable comedian does an admirable but overdone job playing multiple roles in "A Christmas Carol" and it doesn't seem as good a idea as in “Polar Express”; whether you're a fan of Carrey's or not, his usual hammy, manic energy may wear you out. Other well-known, distinguished actors also do multiple parts, including Robin Wright-Penn (she was also in "Beowulf"), Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes, and Colin Firth, but all have considerably less footage and impact than Carrey. However, the versatile Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon of the new "Batman" films) is a memorably tender Bob Crachit and a nice addition to the movie.
Disney obviously has a lot riding on this, given its expensive $175 million price tag will be difficult to earn back (something that "The Polar Express" eventually did with multiple re-releases) and that its scary plot difficult to market to young children. "A Christmas Carol" is an enjoyable crowd-pleaser and certainly worth seeing for the stunning, often amazing animation, but just know that, in spite of what Disney wants you to believe, this is not a film for young children.