All style and no substance, Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” is a yawn inducing retread of a tired fable. The latest motion capture spectacle from techno-wizard director Robert Zemeckis almost put me to sleep in the third act. The issue is familiarity with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the fact that these special effects, 3D and all; are no longer the cutting edge. What’s worse is the total waste of Jim Carrey, who is pretty much playing it straight the entire time. His interpretation of Scrooge is no different than any other performance we’ve seen so far. Confounding when you have such a gifted physical comedian in a film medium where literally anything can be done.
The story should be familiar to everyone in the western world. In Victorian London, Jacob Marley dies, leaving his partner – Ebenezer Scrooge in charge of the business. A miserly cheapskate, Scrooge scowls at the very thought of Christmas. He hoards every penny, ignoring any kindness from his nephew (Colin Firth) and dutiful assistant, Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman). Scrooge’s curmudgeonly ways are tested when he his visited by the shackled ghost of Jacob Marley; who has been doomed to an eternity of penance for his misdeeds. He informs Scrooge that he will be visited that night by three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. They will show Scrooge the true meaning of Christmas, and give him one last chance to save his soul from Marley’s fate.
Robert Zemeckis has pioneered motion capture, 3D animation. He’s got three under his belt – The Polar Express, Beowulf, and now, A Christmas Carol. All of these movies are technically superb, unquestionably so, but fail as a whole. Why? Because they are poorly acted, have weak plots, and are generally unremarkable beyond the visual effects. This is very disappointing, especially from the director that gave us Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Back to the Future. Zemeckis has become too enamored with the technology. Filmmaking is about storytelling. He is a master storyteller and needs to get back to his roots.
I am an unabashed fan of Jim Carrey. He is the Jerry Louis of our day, a genius actor who is always overlooked for greatness. I expected A Christmas Carol to be the perfect vehicle for his comedic talent. Playing Scrooge, the ghosts, hilarity ensues! Not really, not even close. Carrey in this film is as rote as we’ve ever seen him. Unremarkable in every way, any actor could have played these parts as Carrey does. And I don’t mean the bumbling Ace Ventura-esque Carrey; I’m talking about the distinct comedic flavor that Carrey can add to a role - as in Liar, Liar or the vastly underappreciated Yes Man.
Special effects in the twenty-first century have become so good; I can watch this film and not be impressed at all. I’ve just seen so many films like this in the past few years. Compared to Jim Cameron’s “Avatar”, A Christmas Carol looks like old news. I appreciate that motion capture allows versatility to explore the imagination, but cartoons have been doing this from the very beginning. The 3D aspect should be impressive in the IMAX format. That’s the only way I would see this film in theater.
Disney's a Christmas Carol is out November 4, 2009.