Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Disney’s A Christmas Carol

posted by Nell Minow
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for scary sequences and images
Profanity:None
Nudity/Sex:None
Alcohol/Drugs:Social drinking
Violence/Scariness:Some very gruesome images, characters in peril, sad and spooky deaths
Diversity Issues:Class issues
Movie Release Date:November 6, 2009
DVD Release Date:November 16, 2010

Writer-director Robert Zemeckis wisely chose the most unquenchable of stories for his technological marvel. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, already filmed with everyone from Michael Caine to Patrick Stewart, George C. Scott, Vanessa Williams, and Mr. Magoo in the role of the skinflint who learns to give, can hold its own even surrounded by the most dazzling of special effects.

I actually gasped at one moment as the camera flew over London. It was not just that the Victorian setting was so meticulously created, though I plan to go back just to revel in the details. It was that I had never before seen a camera move so fluidly through so many different vantage points in the midst of a convincingly immersive 3D experience. It evokes a visceral sense of buoyant jubilation and freedom that immediately connects us to the movie’s setting, making us feel completely present in the story as it unfolds.

We meet Ebeneezer Scrooge (voice of Jim Carrey) as he is bidding farewell to his partner, Jacob Marley, now laid out in his coffin. Scrooge literally removes the coins from Marley’s eyes. It may be a custom, but money is money. Seven years later, Scrooge is well into his bah, humbug mode, turning down a Christmas dinner offer from his nephew Fred (voice of Colin Firth), turning down a charitable donation, and grudgingly agreeing to allow his poor clerk Bob Cratchit (voice of Gary Oldman) a day off to celebrate with his family. Scrooge goes home to eat his gruel by himself when, in one of the film’s most thrilling effects, Marley’s flickering greenish ghost appears, heaving the heavy weights he bears through the door ahead of him. As we all well know, he is there to announced that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits who will teach him about Christmas past, present, and yet to come.

Our familiarity with the story is an anchor in the sea of new visual stimuli, and it keeps our focus on what is happening to the characters, even when the technology goes slightly askew. Zemeckis said that the good news about making a motion capture film is that you can do anything. Whatever you imagine can be realized. But, he added, the bad news is that you have to do everything. The blank screen is there and every single detail, every button on every coat, every log in every fire, every reflection, shadow, and snowflake have to be separately created in three dimensions and designed to interact with every other element we see. Some of the figures are more solidly created while others seem a bit stiff and rubbery. Firth’s Fred is particularly awkward. Some of the scenes are hyper-realistic while others, like a dance at the Fezziwig’s Christmas party, play with space and weight, not always in aid of the story. It gets too frantic, especially during a non-Dickensian insert of a chase scene that has Scrooge shrinking like Alice in Wonderland. The decision to double up on voices (Carrey plays all three spirits, Oldman plays Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and Marley and Robin Wright Penn plays both Scrooge’s sister and his girlfriend) is distracting and occasionally confusing.

But oh, there is a visual sumptuousness here to rival even the merriest Christmas celebration. Scrooge’s flights through time, the glorious bounty of the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Victorian streets, the costumes, the warmth of the fire, the magic of Scrooge’s first dance with Belle — make this an instantly indispensable classic. It’s all there, Scrooge’s bitter loneliness to his thrilling giddy-as-a-schoolboy realization that he can change, and that the power of giving is greater than any power of having. And for the people who gave us this great gift, God bless them everyone.



  • Mike

    I was waiting for this review to pass on to some friends with kids to see what was the grade level appropriateness. I saw a few kids at the screening Mon. night under the age of 5, and I knew within 20 minutes that this isn’t for kids. Middle school, I agree with that. They will be able to follow it, and not get scared. The movie itself, the 3-D was a nice touch, and I thought Carrey did a good acting job. You can’t really change a story that has been done over and over again, so it relies on who is playing what.

  • ADG

    Jim Carrey is full of surprises and the entire movie is a theatrical outburst of his talent, under the brilliant direction of Robert Zemeckis. Brilliant because it manages to make take the Dickens story and walk us through all its dimensions, without fear of sadness and, in the same time, he has the cold blood to use the magic wand for a happy end. I wasn’t a big 3D fan until this movie, maybe because I didn’t see any possibility to enrich the classical format, perfect as it became with the years… ‘A Christmas Carol’ gains a lot from 3D being a sensorial experience enhanced by IMAX technology.
    All in all, it’s not a story for kids, because it’s rather disturbing and contemplative. Gary Oldman’s pointing finger will stay with you for a while… It’s an enchanting story and I encourage you to go and see it.

  • Dave

    I’m looking forward to seeing this version of A Christmas Carol. Disney had its fingers somewhat in my current favorite version of the telling, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and I love that Michael Caine was the first person you listed as having played Scrooge – many may prefer Alister Sims or George C. Scott, but for me, Michael Caine reigns king in the role, but I look forward to see if Jim Carey can de-throne him. And Henson’s people were so good at making it seem like talking pigs and frogs and singing chickens actually belonged in Victorian London. I’m excited to see if Disney can bring that same magic from the Muppet version to this somewhat more traditional telling.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Dave, I’m not surprised you share my affection for the Muppet version! This one is not as endearing, but I liked it and am looking forward to your reaction.

  • http://www.carolerford.com/ Carole Ford

    Looking forward to seeing it! I’m always up for a new version of A Christmas Carol

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    I’m with you, Carole! I love every version of the story, one of my very favorites.

  • Nancy

    Nell, this might have been the first time I went to see a movie with my 12 yr old daughter without consulting you first. Haha. I did not know ANYTHING about the movie, except of course, the plot…and that Jim Carrey was Scrooge. I did not know he played everyone else. I couldn’t figure out which voices belonged to whom so I just thought to myself “ah, just watch the credits!” My daughter had the inside track from watching the promos on the disney channel.
    I loved this movie. The effects were breath taking and I actually thought for some of the outdoor scenes, they had to have “cheated” and used a real camera and filmed it. Of course that was my suspended disbelief talking. I kept checking in with my daughter to make sure she wasn’t too scared, especially of Marley ghost. We were both stunned and wide-eyed by the beautiful transformation of the room of christmas present–and the way he saw things through the floor. (i have to say i thought the candle ghost was a bit distracting with that thing he was doing with his head) i could go on and on!!
    but it was marvelously well done–it is amazing the technology we have now–and the 3d effects alone are enough reason to see it again. and i enjoyed your review–even after the fact. thanks

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Nancy! I’m glad you and your daughter enjoyed this wonderful film. Sounds like we had the same reaction to it!

  • Dave

    I just finished seeing A Christmas Carol and I am pleasantly impressed by it. I don’t think it will top the Muppets for my favorite telling of the story, in fact, Bill Murray in Scrooged topped it in my book. But it’s an impressive feat, and Disney did try to stay very true to the Charles Dickens story, I thought.
    I’m torn on the animation. Granted, the detail in the faces and in Victorian London are mind blowing in many points. I definitely loved the way the animators used the art to get viewpoints, especially like some of the scenes where the audience gets taken flying over the rooftops, to capture moments that I doubt could be done with live-action film. And I was impressed by the fun the animators seemed to have with looking through windows; one moment really struck me when Scrooge is having a discussion with his fiancée, and in the background is a bay window – and a man goes walking by the window on the outside, almost unseen with the snow. It was just a neat “attention to detail” sort of moment. And the film is loaded with those.
    But there’s a lot of points where the characters may have looked realistic, but they didn’t feel realistic, and seemed to float more than move. That’s great for the spirits, but not so great when it’s Fezziwig. It was the exact opposite of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, who was very believable as a flesh-and-blood being on the screen right along with his human actors. Also, there were some elements, like a fire blazing in a fireplace or the strands of Scrooge’s hair, that I’ve seen straight CGI capture more effectively. Basically, I was left with the impression that the technology still has a lot of polishing to do.
    I did love the 3D though, and I think the movie needs to be seen in 3D to be fully savored. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a 3D movie, and I was glad there weren’t a lot of moments where stuff went flying off the screen in order to startle the audience. Instead, I spent more time being engulfed in the falling snowflakes, and thinking to myself how much more that added depth brought to the moments.
    I was disappointed by Jim Carrey, though. He gave a decent enough performance, and I give him credit for attempting something more serious, rather than his usual screwball antics. But he pails compared to the likes of Michael Caine, Alister Sims or George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. Granted, he’s got some big shoes to fill, considering there’s been a bevy of fine actors who have put in powerhouse performances before him.
    In the end, my favorite remains the Muppets. They brought a lightness to the telling that somehow manages to add rather than detract from the story. This is definitely a different telling, very grim and serious, much more traditional even if the medium used is very modern. I was also surprised by just how scary some of the imagery is, given that this is a Disney film; It’s not terribly graphic and no one is really harmed, but Ebenezer finds himself in peril quite frequently, and it might be much for really young kids. For them, I’d recommend the Muppets version – it still has the heart of the story, but takes a much lighter approach to telling it.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks so much, Dave! A very astute and thoughtful comment that will be really helpful to people trying to decide whether to see this film.

  • Dave in WNY

    Very impressive movie, saw it at the IMAX in Williamsville, NY today and I agree with virtually everything said in this review. It takes courage to stick so closely to the book, including the “Old English” that is a bit tough to follow but helps to enrich what is already a very detailed, accurate rendering of the visuals, particularly in the astonishing detail of the major characters, although the minor characters, those that are only on-screen for a few seconds, still look rubber-faced. Like the reviewer, I was dumb-struck at the total experience and couldn’t believe how fast the movie was over.
    If I had to single out one character that moved me more than the rest, I would say it was the Ghost of Christmas Past; there was such a childlike happiness to that character and the embodiment of the desires to return to long-deferred memories of the past. The movie slowed down and took its time when there were good reasons to do so. This movie was well-crafted, by people who really cared about what they were doing and I found it pleasantly refreshing. If you’re looking for Scrooge McDuck and comedy, you definitely won’t find it here, but if you are looking for a courageous, fresh look at the original book, this adaptation is a definite must-see.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks, Dave! A great comment. I hope to see it on IMAX, too!

  • Mom to 2 little boys

    I wish I would have realized that the audience for this movie was “middle school” . I took my 9 and 6 y/o boys to see the movie and they both wanted to leave through out the movie. It was too scary, loud, and dark for them. In addition the dialogue was difficult for them to follow. While the animation was cool, the movie did not hold their interest and in fact we left after 1 hour and 15 minutes… I kept saying “maybe it will get better in the next 5 minutes”.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/moviemom/ Nell Minow

    Thanks so much, Mom to 2 little boys — I am sorry you had a bad experience, but your comment will be very helpful to parents who are trying to decide what is best for their families. I am glad you agree with my recommendation that this movie is for middle school-adult.

  • jestrfyl

    I have looked all over but have seen no reference to either of the Hildebrand brothers as being involved or or even inspiration for the artwork in this film (even after reading all through the IMDB credits list). However, I recognize a clear and obvious comparison to the ilklustrations they did for their Illustrated Christmas Carol, especially in the ghost of Christmas Past and a few other scenes. So you know if either or both Hildebrands had anything to do with this project?

  • Dawn

    I thought the Ghost of Christmas Past was just weird and unwelcoming. What was that snake-like hiss all about? The Chase scene was way too long and had no business in the movie to begin with. Why was he shrunken down to mouse-size? The Fezziwigs defied gravity. The Ghost of Christmas Present had a maniacal laugh, not a laugh that you would want to join in on.
    … I could go on.
    I think they were more concerned with 3D Technology than presenting a good story. Don’t mess with a classic, and if you do, give it justice.
    There were things i enjoyed about it. But overall, it was just weird.

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