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Disney's A Christmas Carol
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From Walt Disney Pictures comes the magical retelling of Charles Dickens’ beloved tale — Disney’s A Christmas Carol, the high-flying, heartwarming adventure for the whole family, starring Jim Carrey. When three ghosts take penny-pinching Scrooge on an eye-opening journey, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas -- but he must act on it before it’s too late. Complete with spirited bonus features, this exhilarating and touching Disney classic is destined to be part of your holiday tradition, adding sparkle and heart to all your Christmases yet to come.
• On Set With Sammi
• Deleted Scenes
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The title sequence displays Zemeckis' eye for detail. He quite effectively evokes the Dickensian London: dirty, mean, teeming with life and social inequity. This is no idealized, picturesque Christmas town, but a city in the midst of an Industrial Revolution. Once the dialogue ensued, I was pleased to see the script was not watered-down for younger viewers, but borrows liberal chunks of Dickens' prose. Nuances in the text left out of other versions are presented here. We also see, for instance, Bob Cratchit "[go] down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys... in honour of its being Christmas Eve" and how "the fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of [Scrooge's] house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold."
The performance capture cinematography itself can be quite stunning. Zemeckis' intention seems to have been to bring to life the classic illustrations of John Leech and Arthur Rackham as opposed to straight realism. The result is somewhat uneven. While some of the character designs seem strikingly realistic, others (like Scrooge himself) are exaggerated caricatures. It takes some time to adjust to this half-realistic, half-illustration approach. Jim Carrey's performance (as Scrooge and all three ghosts) is impressive in its range and ability to convey subtext. At points I feel he's let down by his age (or lack of it) when his voice doesn't quite convey the gravitas of years of loneliness. At other points, elements of his shtick poke through in Scrooge's face and mannerism. Although such moments break up the heaviness of much of the film, it sometimes seems anachronistic. Overall, however, he lends genuine depth and pathos to Scrooge and mirth with a slight undertone of grim seriousness to the Ghost of Christmas Present.
One misstep in the design is Jacob Marley's Ghost, which I found more hokey than frightening. Gary Oldman's voice performance is certainly no patch on the hair-raising portrayals of Michael Hordern (1951) or Frank Finlay (opposite George C. Scott in the brilliant 1984 television version). But the three Spirits of Christmas are imaginatively done. This may just be the first time the Ghost of Christmas Past has been depicted as Dickens described him, dunce cap and all. The Ghost of Christmas Present's aging is quite effective, evoking elements of symbolism lacking in other versions. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come gets an interesting treatment, emerging out of Scrooge's own shadow. Also of special note is the musical score by Alan Silvestri which incorporates traditional Christmas carols at key moments. At points, the music can be a little overwrought, insisting too emphatically that the audience notice aspects of the unfolding drama that might be better accompanied by silence, but generally Silvestri alternates between festive buoyancy and ghostly suspense quite effectively.
All that said, the film unfortunately wastes a lot of time on gratuitous scenes that do nothing to advance Dickens' story and exist solely to justify the 3D experience for moviegoers. I wouldn't have a problem with this (the scenes are thrilling enough on my moderately large HDTV; I can imagine they'd be amazing on the big screen in 3D), except that these scenes often come at the expense of narrative. As faithful as the screenplay is in places, a lot of good material is sacrificed for scenes in which Scrooge is flying, falling, or fleeing for no apparent reason. The most conspicuous is one other reviewers have mentioned: a large chunk of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come sequence is devoted to a scene in which Scrooge is chased by a black hearse. On one hand, this underscores the fact that Scrooge does not have many Christmases left. On the other hand, the scene was several minutes long and wastes valuable time that could have been spent on a touching moment from the book in which Bob Cratchit mentions having met Scrooge's nephew Fred at Tiny Tim's grave site. The result? The characterization loses out much of the time to the visuals. The scenes depicting Ebenezer's past and fall into his present miserly loneliness and those featuring the Cratchit family at home, for instance, feel much less developed than in other versions. Tiny Tim himself, the subject of much anxiety and affection in the original novella, gets almost no treatment here at all beyond his obligatory "God bless us, everyone."
This lack of characterization is what prevents this version and Carrey's Scrooge, impressive and insightful as it is, from becoming as iconic as Sim or Scott or Patrick Stewart in his one-man audio version or even Michael Caine in the surprisingly faithful Muppet version. With all the attention paid to the stunning 3D effects, Carrey's Scrooge doesn't get the opportunity to be fleshed out into all of its three dimensions. Less time devoted to scenes extraneous to the action and more devoted to the preliminary damning and ultimate reclamation of his soul (the terms in which Dickens described this story), and we could had something more substantial. It's definitely not a lost opportunity. What's here is engaging and often gripping, but I didn't get the sense of catharsis I had with more dialogue-driven (as opposed to visual-driven) versions of the work. If Amazon would let me, I'd rate it 3.5 stars.
I am somewhat of an aficionado of the Carol so I really looked forward to Disney's release. I went to the first showing of the first day of release (November 6,2009)and settled down to enjoy myself.
I had really hoped that Robert Zemeckis would work his magic but, unfortunately, like most adapters of the Carol he felt the need to "improve" it. What he ended up doing was somehow removing most of the warmth and humanity from Dickens' well-loved story.
I will admit that Mr. Zemeckis uses much of the original dialogue from the book throughout this movie but most of the action is heavily modified or totally new, and is, to anyone who is familiar with the book, intrusive and irritating. For example, in the book the door knocker changes into Marley's face and then disappears. Here it not only appears but also screams in Scrooge's face causing him to fall down the front steps. When Marley enters the room he doesn't just enter the room, he throws several of the heavy boxes he is chained to through the door first.
When the ghost of Christmas Past appears he looks like a candle and his head is, in fact, a candle flame floating above his body. At the end of this session Scrooge jams the candle-snuffer over the ghost's head just as in the book. Unlike the book he holds on to the snuffer and it suddenly blasts off like a rocket taking him high into the sky, then disintegrating and leaving him flying. He sails past the face of the moon in a scene reminiscent of E.T.s famous scene then falls seemingly miles toward the ground before waking up on the floor beside his bed. The whole segment is gratuitous and, quite frankly, childish.
When the Ghost of Christmas Present appears the ceiling in Scrooge's room is suddenly about 50 feet high. The Ghost looks exactly like Jim Carrey with the beard and his expressions are the same smirking expressions that Carrey usually displays making the Ghost, at least to me, very unpleasant. One of the things that made this segment so important in the book was that the Ghost took Scrooge around London and let him mingle with the people (albeit invisibly) to get a feel of the holiday spirit. Here, the Ghost apparently lifts the upper story from Scrooge's house and they fly around the city in it. Part of the floor becomes transparent and Scrooge observes everything as if on a television screen. Yes, he sees what's going on but, he does not mingle and there is no feeling of his gaining humanity. At the end of this segment the Ghost says that he only lives for one season and abruptly ages, dies (while still laughing Ho, Ho, Ho) rots and turns into a skeleton, then disintegrates into dust and blows away.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come segment is, quite frankly, very frightening. Unlike most versions of the Carol the Ghost is mostly shown only in the shadow and becomes solid only rarely. There is a long segment which I found to be not only frightening to a younger child but totally outside the spirit of the book, gratuitous, and frankly stupid. The Phantom Hearse, mentioned only briefly in the book, chases a terrified Scrooge for what seems like miles. For some unexplained reason Scrooge suddenly shrinks until he is smaller than a mouse, he slides along a rooftop smashing into icicles, then falls off the roof and lands in the bag of the charwoman, Mrs. Dilber, who is taking Scrooge's belongings to sell. Scrooge witnesses her total lack of feeling for him and is aghast at how easily she stole things from him, still not realizing that in this future he is dead.
In the graveyard scene Scrooge, who is now again full size, is understandably terrified and, as in several other versions, he falls into his own open grave and he, and the audience, realizes that it ends in Hell. He is, of course, saved and reformed in the end but the feeling is not that he was reformed so much because of what he learned as that he is frightened into it.
Throughout the movie Scrooge is thrown, launched, battered and generally physically abused for no apparent purpose and with no apparent damage. The ghosts, up to and including Marley, do not seem to be the friendly, helpful and caring spirits of the book but seem, instead, to be enjoying making Scrooge suffer rather than helping him to learn. Overall I found the movie to be cold, depressing and one of the least satisfying versions of A Christmas Carol that I have ever seen. I own more than 20 different versions of this story on tape and DVD. This version will NOT be part of my collection.