Bah? Humdinger!

A Christmas Carol

“A Christmas movie that opened the first week of November? I only have one thing to say to that …”

“A Christmas movie that opened the first week of November? I only have one thing to say to that …”

Rated 4.0

Shame on me, for I allowed my expectations for Robert Zemeckis’ animated A Christmas Carol to be clouded by Disney’s lousy marketing campaign for the film. This looked like it was going to be some sort of loud, silly, wannabe thrill ride that featured the famed Ebenezer Scrooge flying about and screaming a lot.

In truth, Scrooge does fly about and scream a lot, but he also does so much more. This is a surprisingly faithful, sometimes dark and creepy, adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic, with a little 3-D whiz-bang thrown in for good measure. The frantic sequences, squished together in a short preview trailer, are just annoying. Within the presentation of the film, spread apart quite effectively, the sequences become exhilarating.

And while these moments have visual pop, it’s the core story about miserly, miserable Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey) experiencing a spiritual awakening that makes this movie a true winner. Zemeckis hits all the right notes.

Carrey is already a bit of a cartoon, so it’s not so much the leap for his image to cross over into CGI animation, motion capture land. His likeness can be seen in the pointy, twisted face of Scrooge, the wispy, mystical ghost of Christmas Past, and the Santa-like Ghost of Christmas Present. He has tremendous vocal fun with the experience, and his physical acting prowess is evident in Scrooge’s more lively and frantic moments. I can’t wait for the DVD bonus features and the sight of Carrey dancing around in one of those motion capture suits.

Much of the story is told slowly and deliberately, as if the action is being observed by one of Dickens’ ghosts floating over the action. Scrooge’s office is a dark, dank place where frost puffs from the mouth of his loyal assistant, Bob Cratchit. Gary Oldman lends his voice and likeness to Cratchit, as well as Marley’s Ghost, and even Tiny Tim. His performances in the film are perhaps the movie’s most heartwarming. Well, excepting for his turn as Marley’s Ghost. He’s scary as all heck in that role.

Zemeckis isn’t afraid to address the gloomy aspects of the original story. Cratchit’s abode is a dark place, barely lit by a few candles and light coming off the fireplace. One truly gets the sense that this man is underpaid by his boss. And the aforementioned Marley moment is a chiller, replete with the ghost’s jaw nearly falling off. Proceed with caution if your child is under 10.

I was not a fan of Zemeckis’ first motion capture release, the unintentionally spooky The Polar Express. However, by the time Beowulf hit screens a couple of years ago, I’d warmed to the format. The technology is catching up to the idea, and Carol looks great. Maybe the format would still be strange in some contexts, but it’s quite suitable for ghostly tales.

Some might think releasing A Christmas Carol early in November is a strange move, but it is a 3-D movie, and a little flick called Avatar is on the way to 3-D and IMAX screens in mid-December. There still aren’t enough 3-D facilities out there to support two big releases at the same time, so it makes sense that Disney got a head start although its opening weekend was somewhat less than remarkable.

So, if you’re looking to get into a holiday mood nice and early, go see this one and be prepared for a surprisingly good time. If you think the idea of an authentic Scrooge blasting through the cosmos on a ghost rocket, or a mini-Scrooge scampering around with a rat on the floor sounds stupid, think again. It’s actually quite cool, and the overall movie, thanks to Zemeckis and Carrey, is enchanting fun.