- Year: 2009
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth
This is a weird pairing. I’m not going to give some big introduction or set-up, except that this is a weird pairing—Robert Zemeckis directing Jim Carrey in an adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
Robert Zemeckis is one of the most innovative and talented directors in Hollywood. When he blended traditional animation with the real world in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it was breathtaking. When he digitally edited Tom Hanks into historical footage in Forrest Gump, it was completely believable. His innovation of the 2000s was motion capture, which mixed the actors’ appearances and expressions with the animators’ drawings.
Jim Carrey is well, Jim Carrey. He has a very specific brand of over-the-top comedy that some people love and others are not so big on. However, he has also proven himself to be a very talented dramatic actor in movies like The Truman Show and especially Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I have to say that while I’m not really a fan of his comedies, he’s very underrated as a dramatic actor. This version of A Christmas Carol tries to play with both his dramatic and comedic talents.
I’m going to try, for the most part, not to base my review on my feelings towards motion capture animation, because that’s not really the big picture here. I would personally prefer traditional animation or just a live-action film, because unfortunately the combination leads to some awkward designs, like this one of Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman).
That said, the design of Scrooge is pretty good. They don’t just try to make him look like Jim Carrey (except for the younger version of himself), and it’s a pretty committed performance. Unfortunately, the performance it reminds me of most is Albert Finney’s. In the early scenes, it feels almost like a parody of Ebenezer Scrooge. How about the first scene where he pockets the coins covering up Marley’s dead eyes? I get that they’re trying to establish he’s stingy, but come on.
Jim Carrey also portrays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
So, simply put, a lot of this movie is Jim Carrey talking to Jim Carrey, and in the past scenes showing him Jim Carrey. It appears that the film is trying to depict the ghosts fairly…
Some people just won’t go away. As I was saying, It appears that the film is trying to depict the ghosts fairly close to their book descriptions. Since this is an animated film, Christmas Past can change his appearance like the book says he does, and his design is actually pretty interesting.
The ghost always talks about giving off light, so showing him with a candle-like design is very cool… and his voice is terrible. Carrey voices him with a very slow whisper and something of an Irish accent, and it is just unbearably grating to listen to.
All three of the ghosts here have an incredibly stupid way of leaving the scene. As in Dickens’ text, Scrooge snuffs out Christmas Past with the ghost’s cap, but in a completely useless addition, the cap catapults him into space and over the moon as he holds on for dear life.
This should by all means be the worst ghost exit, but somehow it isn’t. In Christmas Present’s final scene, he takes Scrooge to the inside of a clock tower (Okay Zemeckis, we get it, you made Back to the Future.) and shows him the children Ignorance and Want. The clock rings twelve and the ghost begins to die.
He doesn’t just disappear, but rather seemingly has a heart attack… or what a medically unsound movie would depict a heart attack as. Ignorance and Want suddenly grow up and taunt Scrooge (I’m a little confused why the boy named Ignorance is paying Scrooge any attention, but hey whatever).
This movie has some weird obsession with dead bodies. I mean, we see Marley’s dead body at the beginning, the Ghost of Christmas Future’s skeleton here, Tiny Tim’s dead body later, and finally Scrooge falling into his coffin. What, was there some kind of corpse quota Disney forced this movie to follow?
As I said, the Christmas Future scenes end with Scrooge falling into his own fiery grave. You know, five of the ten versions have had some variation on this, so maybe a lot of people like it. For me, it just feels unnecessary to show. If seeing his own grave isn’t going to change him, why is throwing him into it going to do any good? It takes away any poignancy and subtlety this scene could and should have. It really only exists to scare the audience.
There are plenty of scenes that exist mainly to show off the visual effects and animation, and some of them work. Christmas Past flies Scrooge everywhere, leading to scenes that both look good and advance the plot. Christmas Present shows Scrooge a birds-eye view of everyone celebrating Christmas in their own way, which plays out over a gorgeous rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” This is a wonderful scene that keeps in the spirit of the book, resembling how Scrooge is shown countless people celebrating on Christmas Day.
Alright, let’s get it over with and talk about the dumbest part in the movie. Yeah, there’s something worse than space travel and ghost skeletons. During a completely pointless slapstick chase through the streets of future London, Scrooge is shrunk down to the size of a mouse, and this is how he views the scene where Mrs. Dilber sells Old Joe his things.
Was Disney regretful about their casting choices in Mickey’s Christmas Carol, deciding it was finally time for Scrooge to be a mouse? Did they think that kids would lose interest in a scene where Scrooge’s items are being sold? If that’s the case, I can’t imagine Disney thinking kids would enjoy the scene where Christmas Present discourses about why bakeries and other businesses should be closed on Christmas and Sundays.
There are lot of silly and pointless things that happen in this movie, but A Christmas Carol 2009 is still a very unique film experience. Atmosphere is built wonderfully, and Zemeckis is never afraid to just let you take in all the Christmas cheer. We feel all the joy of Fezziwig’s (Bob Hoskins) party, and the romance between Belle and Scrooge feels completely real.
One thing that is guaranteed to be great in any Robert Zemeckis film is the music. Alan Silvestri has composed the score of every Zemeckis film since 1984, and he always leaves an impression. Come on, you know your humming the Back to the Future theme right now. His score here is marvelous, mixing in bits and pieces of existing Christmas Carols with his own original compositions. Without the score being so great, the grand scenes would not really feel all that grand.
The supporting cast sounds impressive—Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, (and I’ve withheld all Princess Bride jokes, somehow.) With the exception of Hoskins, whose good as Old Joe and great as Fezziwig, none of them really add much. Here I think it is fair to blame motion capture technology somewhat, as the actors are both trying to emote with their faces, but not getting too carried away so the animators can do their job. I don’t know, maybe it’s not related to the technology at all, but when Gary Oldman’s performance isn’t memorable, something else is probably the issue.
The best scenes in the movie are actually the scenes after Scrooge wakes up. Okay, I’m not talking about the scene immediately after Scrooge wakes up, because it’s as over-the-top as usual. After that though, Jim Carrey really comes through on the performance. While the Scrooge of the rest of the movie felt like a parody, it finally feels like we’re seeing a real character. The scene where Scrooge joins in with a group of carolers he had shunned the day before could be goofy, but it’s surprisingly heartwarming.
Scrooge is simply taking in Christmas, just like we the audience got to in previous scenes . He gets to Fred’s house eventually, but I love these scenes of him walking the streets, wishing people a Merry Christmas.
Jim Carrey reminds us how great of a dramatic actor he is with the very small scene at Fred’s party. Just the way he says “I’ve come to dinner” says so much about his character. If only he had gotten more moments like this throughout the movie, this could have been a really great performance.
A Christmas Carol 2009 would have been an immensely better movie without the slapstick. It really drags the movie down. When Marley on the doorknocker scares Scrooge off his feet, it kills a good moment. The movie felt like it was trying to both me the most comedic version ever made and also the most dark, and blending those two elements created a very uneven product. Let’s see what the final score is on our final Christmas Carol.
Story (19/30 Points)
It’s given room to breathe at certain points, but a lot of scenes, like Fred’s party or the break-up with Belle come and go very quickly. The slapstick sequences, and especially the long chase through future London take up way too much run time.
Scrooge (14/30 Points)
The voice is really annoying, and it reminds me a lot of Albert Finney’s portrayal of Scrooge. The post-transformation scenes are wonderful, though, and make up for a lot of flaws from the rest of the film.
Ghosts (2/10 Points)
Gary Oldman plays Jacob Marley, and unfortunately he’s not memorable. Like most, he’s just way too hammy. Christmas Past has such an annoying voice that I can’t focus on the scenes playing out. Christmas Present is very much like the book’s description, but his face looks too much like Jim Carrey, and it’s distracting. Christmas Future is mostly just a shadow, with a finger that sometimes points out, and that works well enough.
Bob Cratchit (5/10 Points)
I’ve mentioned before that sometimes Cratchit comes off as unintelligent, and unfortunately this is one of those times. I don’t know, wouldn’t it make more sense to have cast Bob Hoskins as Cratchit? Eh, he was probably too old. It’s probably not all Oldman’s fault though.
Supporting Characters (5/10 Points)
Everyone does just fine, but with a cast like this, wouldn’t you be expecting more?
Experience (8/10 Points)
Yeah, it’s completely style over substance. The style, bad comedy aside, is really done well. I wish the attention that was poured into the aerial scenes had been poured into the other aspects of the film.
Final Score: 53%
This movie definitely involves you in the visuals, but not much in the characters and story. That’s a shame, because A Christmas Carol is really all about the change of one character. This one at points feels more like A Christmas Carol: The Ride.
Check back here tomorrow where I’m going to give some final thoughts on A Christmas Carol and declare the winners of Movie Match-Up.