Technology Shackles the Heart of Disney's A Christmas Carol
- Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2009 11 Nov
DVD Release Date: November 16, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: November 6, 2009
Rating: PG (for scary images and sequences)
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Christmas
Run Time: 96 min.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Actors/Voices: Jim Carrey, Steve Valentine, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, Gary Oldman Sage Ryan, Daryl Sabara, Ryan Ochoa, Bobbi Page, Sammi Hanratty
No doubt about it, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a timeless story with plenty of relevance, particularly in light of our nation's still-fragile economic situation where many people have been forced to reevaluate what's really important in life.
And for those who haven't had to give that reality much thought, well, a plea for soul-searching and generosity always gets a better response at Christmas, right? Hence the power of the story of Scrooge and his eventual transformation from miserly curmudgeon to a caring member of the community…
But considering that the familiar tale has even made its way into a Matthew McConaughey rom-com this year, namely Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, there needed to be something, anything that made A Christmas Carol worth revisiting yet again—classic or not—because it's really all been done before.
However, with the casting of rubber-faced comedian Jim Carrey, not to mention the innovative technological wizardry that director Robert Zemeckis brought to The Polar Express and Beowulf, there was definitely a glimmer of promise. Surely, with a funny guy like Carrey on board to play Scrooge (not to mention seven other characters, including all three ghosts), there was the potential for an alternate take, whether it was satirical or something new altogether.
Unfortunately, that glimmer quickly flickers out as Carrey is stripped of all his charm and usual hair-brained antics. By forcing him to play it straight, it doesn't do the film any favors, no matter how hard Carrey tries. Simply put, it's a mostly humorless affair that fails to stir up those Christmasy feelings of family, hope and nostalgia that are essential for a flick like this to have staying power for years to come.
Instead, all viewers are left with is a familiar story with little discernable heartbeat. See, it seems any shred of inventiveness was saved exclusively for the visuals, which are gloriously thrilling at moments and as impersonal as an action sequence from your average video game the next.
While's it's quickly apparent that Zemeckis' favorite technological gimmick, the art of motion capture, has rendered the characters more lifelike than his previous efforts, the aesthetic still doesn't do much to support the actual storyline. Sure, it may look cool on occasion, but that's where its effectiveness ends.
In fact, some essential characters like Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) or Scrooge's nephew Fred (Colin Firth) are still hampered by the fact that they aren't living, breathing humans. As the eternal optimist who is key in helping awaken his uncle's conscience, Fred is not entirely convincing because he looks like nothing more than a glorified mannequin. Devoid of any actual human qualities, it's hard to believe that he had much effect on Ebenezer Scrooge at all.
Another major flaw for families, the very group that Disney is probably counting on for ticket sales, is the downright scariness of it all. Much like Where the Wild Things Are or Coraline, there are certain scenes that aren't going to sit well with the younger set.
More appropriate for adults and older kids than youngsters, there are several disturbing moments filled with fright, death and decaying corpses that left a sextet of eight-year-old girls next to me with their hands covering their eyes for most of the duration. Meanwhile, other parents were forced to leave with their kids once Marley arrived on the scene, which happened only a few minutes after the movie began.
And if all that wasn't already bad-enough news for the ho-hum A Christmas Carol, the redemptive ending that we already know is on the way doesn't really deliver the goods either.
Yes, we're told that Scrooge has changed, and he certainly is less ham-fisted with his finances and goodwill in the movie's last few minutes. But we never really feel the change based on everything we've been shown, which doesn't exactly leave the viewer with anything to ruminate on later.
Instead, the audience is taken on a wild ride with no rhyme or reason and is hardly entertained in the process. I mean, even the 1966 cartoon version of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" is far more sophisticated in comparison (and probably made for far less money). Not only does it tell essentially the same story (without the annoying ghosts, mind you), but it packs more of an emotional wallop in a far more entertaining fashion—with none of the fancy technology to boot.
If anything, watching A Christmas Carol proves yet again that substance should always prevails over style in filmmaking, otherwise it's nothing more than a flat movie that'll have you saying "Bah Humbug!" before the holiday season even officially begins.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Wine is consumed with the Christmas meal.
- Language/Profanity: The word "a—" is used twice in reference to Scrooge, also a couple of instances of "Oh my G—!,
- Sex/Nudity: A couple of the women where cleavage-revealing dresses.
- Scary Images: The movie has a very eerie and creepy tone to it, one that scared the dickens out of several kids who left only a few scenes into the film. Not only does Marley's ghostly arrival in chains frighten Scrooge, but pretty much everyone else in the audience, too. Same goes for the three ghosts who ultimately show up. Another visual of Marley, lying dead in his coffin, is equally unsettling.
- Thematic Material: Death, not to mention coming to terms with one's own wasted life are themes that dominate the story.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.