As the remake train continues its seemingly never-ending journey through Hollywood, we’ve become used to such phrases, when describing these remakes, as “… something you’ve never seen before,” or something along those lines. Often, that phrase leads to empty promises of stuff we in fact have seen before, but maybe shown through a different angle or other such movie trickery. With Disney’s A Christmas Carol, it is basically the same story we have seen over and over again, but said movie trickery just happens to be rather astounding here.
I’d like to be able to draw comparisons to previous filmed versions of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale, but it’s been far too long since I’ve seen any previous version, but it didn’t really seem to me like they made any radical changes to the story. Of course, I could be wrong, since I’m 32 and the last time I saw any version was probably 15 years ago… and that’s being generous. Still, I must say I did get a chill up my spine during the classic opening scene where we hear the Ghost of Christmas Past’s heavy chains clanking up the stairs. However, to call this a straight-up remake would almost seem unfair, since most remakes modernize/tweak the story so it will jive with a contemporary audience, but this one really doesn’t. Although the story is fairly intact (to the best of my memory), the big tweak here is the visual effects, and this version in spectacular Disney Digital 3D is quite a sight to behold, tweaked by visual visionary Robert Zemeckis.
Zemeckis has been at the forefront of this 3D motion-capture business for quite some time now, and it seems like each outing improves exponentially with each try. While The Polar Express was somewhat effective, it was a fairly bizarre experience to watch because it was like playing a high-end video game with amazing visuals… on an 8-bit system. Beowulf was leaps and bounds above Polar Express, but there was still somewhat of a disconnect between the actors that performed the actions in motion-capture and the visuals they layered onto the actors in post. With Disney’s A Christmas Carol, everything is so streamlined to the point where you sometimes have to remind yourself that these are actually computerized images you’re watching, because they just look so amazingly real. Zemeckis’ work here is actually quite revolutionary because while you are watching, essentially, a live action performance and a CGI performance simultaneously, they flow so incredibly well together that you almost aren’t consciously aware of either the live-action aspect or the CGI aspect and all you get are cohesive, compelling characters that you just can’t take your eyes off of. Aside from the characters themselves, Zemeckis really draws you in as well with the 3D here, that isn’t overly gimmicky and does what every good special effect is supposed to do: it enhances the story. There are scenes when one of the Ghost’s of Christmas Whatever are flying Scrooge around in his pajamas through the winter night, and with this magical new 3D format, it actually does feel like you’re flying with them, because the snowflakes come flying your way as they go on, and while some might perceive that as gimmicky, I just think it’s a beautiful, subtle way to display the magnitude of this new technology.
What’s funny, though, is their search for authenticity leads to most of my few beefs about the film. For one, Jim Carrey – who pulls an Eddie Murphy here, voicing not only the crotchety Ebeneezer Scrooge, but the four other versions of Scrooge (as a boy, teenager, young man and middle-aged man) and also the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (could’ve swore it was “Future”…) as well. What’s great is, besides from the cranky old Scrooge, I really couldn’t tell that Carey performed all those other voices also – well, except for the Ghost of Christmas Present, because his identifiable voice comes out in a few parts there. Still, it was quite impressive for Carey to tackle a vast array of voices and also manage to keep each voice distinct from the next… especially with a voice that we’ve all known for years. However, Carey did delve into various different British and Irish dialects for his various characters – as did the rest of the voice actors – and this film isn’t the easiest to discern what’s being said, with the attention being paid to these intricate dialects. It doesn’t happen throughout the whole film, mind you, but it happens enough to be rather bothersome since several exchanges just sound like British gibberish instead of coherent dialogue. Carey doesn’t do every voice in the film, though, as we have a talented array of supporting voices like Gary Oldman as the loveable Bob Cratchit and also Marley and Tiny Tim, Bob Hoskins as Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s employer when he was a lad, Colin Firth as Scrooge’s nephew Fred and Cary Elwes as a number of minor voices.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol gives us the same timeless holiday classic we knew growing up, but with a 21st Century spin on the visuals, not the story. It’s a visual marvel that begs to be seen in theaters, and it’s one remake that truly does deliver “something you’ve never seen before” with this marvelous new 3D film.
Disney's a Christmas Carol is out November 4, 2009.