Friday, November 6, 2009

No humbug about it, ‘Disney’s A Christmas Carol’ is fun Carrey-fest

By Steve Crum

How can you appreciate it when an entire movie is a spoiler unto itself? That is the dilemma of Disney’s A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ holiday chestnut. Tis a chestnut that’s been roasted on the 17 versions I’ve seen via film, TV and stage. Spoilers? Nope, the whole movie is deja vu. Most of us know the beginning, middle, and uplifting end. However, the hook this time is a trifecta: 3-D, digital imagery, and Jim Carrey. That hook makes this Christmas Carol worth seeing.

If possible, see it in either IMAX 3-D or conventional 3-D. However, you won’t miss the movie’s charm and cleverness just seeing it in flat 2-D. Carol is at various theaters in all three formats. If you do not catch a 3-D version, you will miss the repeated effect of snowflakes falling over the audience. Another in-your-face 3-D’er is the ghost of Jacob Marley’s spittle. Try not reaching for a tissue to wipe your face as he spews. Also, there is a great tracking shot, opening sequence over the rooftops of old London which is enhanced by 3-D.

Soon we are introduced to the story’s central character, Ebeneezer Scrooge, perfectly realized by Jim Carrey. Director-Writer Robert Zemeckis again morphs his actors via “motion capture,” a process he successfully used in The Polar Express (2004). Actors are first filmed performing their lines, and then “skinned” as their bodies are digitally transformed into cartoon-like visuals. Skeptics of The Polar Express criticized its characters’ lifeless eyes; they appear more lifelike in A Christmas Carol.

Zemeckis reportedly looked forward to making Carol, essentially a time-travel movie, having scored big time with his time trilogy, Back to the Future.

Casting Carrey as Scrooge is anything but a humbug. Rather, Carrey brilliantly handles skinflint Scrooge (at five ages, no less) plus the three Christmas ghosts: Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come. That means Carrey literally dominates key scenes that involve Scrooge being visited by each ghost. He uses his body language and voice tricks to play off of himself to credible effect. Four separate actors could not have done better. It is a testament to Carrey’s talent as well as Zemeckis’ vision.

Before this review is whisked away by the movie history ghost, here is the plot synopsis for the three out of 50 million who have neither seen any stage, TV or film version nor read Dickens’ story: In 19th Century London, old Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the specter of his late partner, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman), who warns Scrooge that due to his miserly ways and bad temperament, he will be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Earlier that day, Scrooge had again shown his hateful attitude toward his employee, Bob Cratchit (Oldman, in another role), his nephew Fred (Colin Firth), and two charity collectors. As Scrooge is physically taken to his past, present and dim future by each spirit, he secretly observes the Cratchit Family’s poverty along with the extreme needs of the young, crippled Tiny Tim (Oldman, voicing even again), and the disdain others have for him due to his heartlessness. This includes his one love, Belle (Robin Wright Penn). In the end, Scrooge is transformed, and at last shows--and feels--good tidings for his fellow man.

A Disney touch is to make the Ghost of Christmas Past as a lit candle, coincidentally (?) resembling the Lumiere candle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The ghost candle’s dunce-like cap is what Scrooge is riding on in the movie poster ads. To keep Disney’s A Christmas Carol looking Disneyish, there is also a horse from hell featured during the Christmas Yet-to-Come portion that resembles the nag from the key scene in Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Thankfully, Mickey and Goofy are absent in A Christmas Carol, even though Jim Carrey could easily have channeled them.
On an A to F Grade Scale: A-
Don’t be a humbug! Enjoy this Disney’s A Christmas Carol trailer:

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