A Christmas Carol (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey) is an old man who holds onto his money so tightly, he eventually gets a reputation of being a parsimonious grouch around town. Christmas disgusts him because the very idea of people sharing food, exchanging good words, and being easy with money seem so foolish and false. Recognizing that Scrooge needs to change, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman), Ebenezer’s deceased business partner, pays him a visit and announces that three ghosts— The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future—are going to show him why he needs to change his outlook on life and the way he treats others.
Directed and written for the screen by Robert Zemeckis, “A Christmas Carol” is a lively animated film that proudly takes some liberty in diverting from Charles Dickens’ classic novel. While others might criticize or dismiss the style of animation as “creepy” due to the characters’ blank and bug-like eyes, I enjoyed its artistry and level of detail.
I liked seeing the many wrinkles on Scrooge’s hand and face. By highlighting his physicality, the minutiae force us to look a little bit closer, especially on his facial expressions when another character says, does, or shows him something that pushes him to become emotional. It gives us a chance to look closely at the protagonist prior to his inevitable change of heart. For the record, I did not care if the animated humans looked convincing. (I did not they think were.) What matters is how well the story is interpreted, if its strengths overshadow its weaknesses, and if it entertains.
The film takes risks when it comes to embracing the scarier elements. For example, prior to Marley’s appearance, Scrooge is shown cowering in his chair when he hears strange noises in the other room. There is a dance between silence and a suspenseful score. I enjoyed the way the film takes its time to milk every emotion that Scrooge experiences: uncertainty, curiosity, and fear. When he hears creaking noises, he does not simply rush to the door and slam it close. His stubborn personality dominates even when his instinct urges him that something is very wrong.
Furthermore, there are some exciting and beautifully rendered chase sequences between The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a shadow in the shape of the Grim Reaper, and Scrooge. While the scarier elements can potentially force younger kids to want to look away or leave the room, they are effective and necessary because the main character’s intractability needs to be shaken out of him.
However, the picture’s enthusiasm in featuring what it can do with its style of animation is not always for the better. There are a handful of scenes when it takes on a little too much like when Marley leaves and Scrooge sees a lot of suffering translucent green ghosts outside his window. Marley’s appearance and exit are executed just right but adding other ghosts just because they are pretty feels like an overindulgence. This problem persists in scenes where Scrooge must interact with the three ghosts. Instead of following a formula that works sans flashiness, the picture occasionally goes off on tangents in terms of its visual effects and I wondered when it was going to get back to simply telling a story.
“A Christmas Carol” is an optimistic exercise of an evolving technology. Since it offers some good humor, the more sensitive moments are believable. It just needs to pull back when necessary so the magic it wishes to show does not lose its power.