Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Christmas Carol

Alright, so I can’t completely avoid the proper holiday here, particularly not when my mom keeps getting as many family films as she can fit under her coat. Still, in choosing today’s movie I reasoned that if anything could snap me out of the holiday spirit, it would be Disney’s new version of A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge and the various ghosts, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has made the curious career decision to stop making any more movies except those that he can film as live action and then cover up with frankly creepy animation (his previous two films, of course, being Beowulf and The Polar Express, and whose next film is another animated effort in the form of a remake of Yellow Submarine, in which the Beatles will no doubt be played by your childhood nightmares).

Of course, that being said, part of what makes Charles Dickens’ novella such a classic is its perfect blend of sentimentality and creeping darkness, so Zemeckis’ new directing style surprisingly works incredibly well with the material. The story, I would hope, is already familiar to everyone: a horrid old miser in 19th century England is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, repents of his wicked ways and becomes a wacky, beloved socialist, and Tiny Tim has God bless us, everyone. Zemeckis adds a few flourishes, such as shrinking Scrooge down to rodent-sized and having him ride an icicle across a rooftop, but these flourishes largely seem less like natural outgrowths of the story and more like an attempt to keep any children in the audience from getting bored by throwing in a few mindless action scenes here and there.

Despite that, the film works surprisingly well, though I doubt it’s the sort of movie children raised on Dreamworks cartoons will enjoy. It’s slow-paced, dark and foreboding; in short, it’s the exact opposite of drivel like Madagascar or Chicken Little (yes, I know that was a Disney movie). It’s also a complete feast for the eyes: the benefit of doing this as animation instead of keeping it in live action, aside from providing a more seamless blend between the actors and the effects, is that each ghost brings with it a new visual style. Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman) glows bright blue and green, looking as though he wouldn’t be out of place in the next Ghostbusters movie, while the Ghost of Christmas Present flings about so much multicolored lights that his segment rather resembles a Skittles commercial, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come gives us more of a Sleepy Hollow-ish nightmare scenario. It’s the rare film that actually makes me feel a little disappointed that I didn’t see it in IMAX 3-D.

One thing that was a little surprising, after Polar Express, was in how hidden Carrey was in the film. While with Polar Express Zemeckis made the animated characters all look like Tom Hanks (he did most of the voices, this wasn’t some crazed Being John Malkovich-type scenario), here Scrooge looks nothing at all like Carrey, aside from a possibly over expressive mouth. With Carrey toning himself down (aside from the ending, at least) heavily while affecting a British accent, it doesn’t even sound like him, to the point where if you took his name off the credits I doubt any of his fans would recognize him. Actually, does Carrey still have fans, at least to anywhere near the extent that he did in the 90s? It seems like the last movie he did that has any kind of following is Eternal Sunshine, and that movie’s fan base mostly showed up years after it died in theaters. I‘m digressing here.

While this may not be quite the Christmas film people would want, I daresay it’s the Christmas film they all need. After all, the original story is largely responsible for Christmas becoming a major holiday again when it was first published (Go Wiki it if you don’t believe me), so it’s only right that it keep getting remade to frighten and delight us all (elsewhere on this blog I also reviewed one from the 1950s with Alistair Sim as Scrooge, though I have to say I prefer this version). This one has the makings of becoming a new permanent holiday fixture.

Rating: *** ½

No comments: