There is a warmth within Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” that has made it a beloved holiday story for 166 years. Successful adaptations of the book have tapped into this sincerity and honored Dickens’s original work of spiritual redemption. Unfortunately, this season’s animated theatrical spin on “A Christmas Carol” is entirely devoid of the heart present in other, better versions of the story. As a result, its wildly impressive CGI visuals and a spirited digital performance from Jim Carrey are powerless to accentuate the narrative.
“A Christmas Carol”
At Quality 16 and Showcase
This version of “Carol” does not diverge from its traditional plotline. Mean old Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted by three ghosts of Christmas, who lead him on a journey through time and space to educate the covetous old sinner of the Christmas spirit he has summarily humbugged for so many years. Those ghosts, along with the central role of Scrooge, are the tireless work of actor Jim Carrey, who portrays all his characters on-screen through the magic of motion-capture technology. Though Carrey’s Scrooge is appropriately grumpy, his constant screaming in fear of the ghosts’ roller-coaster actions grow rapidly thin.
Carrey’s ghosts, meanwhile, introduce a new but woefully vague twist to the story. Traditionally, a different actor plays each of the three ghosts. If director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) is trying to suggest the ghosts are a manifestation of Scrooge’s mind, or that the true meaning of Christmas has lived inside of Scrooge all along, Zemeckis needed to take more action than a mere pre-production casting decision.
Instead, he places Carrey in all four roles, ostensibly for the actor’s physical comedy, but doesn’t employ that decision thematically. Each ghost bears an obvious resemblance to Scrooge, yet the characters address each other completely ignorant to their similarities. The audience is left wondering what conclusions are meant to be drawn from Carrey’s quadruple role.
Zemeckis has made emotionally charged films before; he’s clearly capable of delivering a challenging and heartfelt story, and Dickens’s tale of rediscovering love and familial attachment lends itself to such a film. But Zemeckis’s film is depressingly cold. It insists upon a bombardment of dazzling visual spectacles in place of showing the gradual change in Scrooge’s emotional state.
Those visuals are so finely crafted and detailed that the viewer can’t help but acquire unrealistic expectations for an emotional output from the digital characters — one that’s simply not technologically possible within the boundaries of the CGI presentation. “A Christmas Carol” is a dance in premature celebration of realism, as if Pinocchio never actually became human but obliviously laughed and cheered as though he had, and the result is altogether uncomfortable to watch. We see individual little hairs sprouting out of the pores on Scrooge’s beaky nose, yet his cartoon eyes are eerily dead even as his heart is supposed to be breaking for the fate of Tiny Tim. That the audience cannot discern change in Scrooge’s heart is a fatal flaw.
That’s not to say the visuals aren’t impressive on a purely aesthetic level. Scrooge’s flight though moonlit London is spectacular, despite his continuous and tiresome shrieking. The character animations are liquid smooth, apart from those of Scrooge, whose age precludes him from moving with much grace. And Gary Oldman’s brief turn as the remorseful specter of Scrooge’s former partner Jacob Marley is genuinely spooky.
Robert Zemeckis has proven in the past that he can compose a film driven by heart. A successful adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” requires such an emotional investment, but sadly, the creepy and lifeless characters in Zemeckis’s version simply don’t achieve the level of sincerity that preceding versions of the story have. Don’t be surprised if you see “A Christmas Carol: The Ride” opening at Disney World sometime soon.