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Movie Reviews

Special effects overrun ‘Disney’s A Christmas Carol’


Special effects overrun ‘Disney’s A Christmas Carol’


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Neil Pond
American Profile
November 24, 2009
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Disney’s A Christmas Carol / PG

Jim Carrey plays multiple roles in this big-budget Disney take on the familiar fable of miserly Ebineezer Scrooge and his classic Christmas day of reckoning.

Through a process called “motion capture,” where sensors combine actors’ real movements and expressions with all sorts of computer-animated wizardry, Carrey is Scrooge old and young, as well as all three ghosts that visit him that fateful Christmas Eve.

Director Robert Zemeckis marries his hi-tech, modern-age embellishment to the authentic Victorian roots of the tale. Characters speak many lines verbatim from the 1843 Charles Dickens classic.

The tale has been told and re-told many times on TV and in the movies, in versions starring everyone from Lionel Barrymore to Mr. Magoo: Scrooge, a penny-pinching grouch, is transformed after being shown the error of his greedy, selfish ways by ghosts of Christmases past, present and future.

Dickens’ tale is best remembered for its God-bless-us-everyone Christmas coziness. But it’s also a supernatural parable of terrifying, chain-rattling spirits and mind-warping time travel, with a theme of social responsibility that extends far beyond seasonal cheer. In one chilling scene, Scrooge is confronted with the specters of two cowering, feral children representing “ignorance” and “want.” Before his horrified eyes, they transform into a knife-wielding criminal and a shrieking woman in a straightjacket. Today, as in Victorian England, it’s a pointed, politically charged warning: A society that ignores its disadvantaged risks a descent into chaos.

The whole movie looks terrific. The ghostly visits are things of eye-popping wonder, with the computer animation allowing for all sorts of fantastic manipulations of bodies, faces and settings that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

But director Zemeckis lets the special effects run wild in the last half, and all the razzle-dazzle overshadows much of the evergreen emotional resonance at the core of Dickens’ story. Scrooge’s transformation from miser to merrymaker seems more a result of being harassed, mortified and worn down than due to an uplift of life-altering goodwill.

And for a movie starring funnyman Jim Carrey, one that puts him in a variety of roles calling on his gifts for broad comedic physicality, it’s surprisingly humorless. The meager laughs come from a barrage of special-effect slapstick.

Young children will be frightened, if not downright freaked, by some of the harrowing sights encountered by Scrooge, like the nightmarish cemetery finale in which Ebineezer falls, headfirst and screaming, into a seemingly bottomless grave.

Everyone knows Scrooge is going to be scared straight. But most people will probably see “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” expecting something with a little more heart and a bit more humor.
 


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