Sunday, November 28, 2010

Movie Review--Disney's A Christmas Carol

The story is one familiar to all of us.  Cold hearted miser Ebeneezer Scrooge wants nothing to do with happiness, charity, good will, and least of all Christmas.  One Christmas Eve, an encounter with his long dead business partner Jacob Marley changes his life.  Marley's Ghost tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost Of Christmas Present, and The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come.  These encounters produce such a profound change in Mr. Ebeneezer Scrooge that I once declared him the fictional character I most wanted to be like

This Disney version is only the most recent in a long line of movies and TV shows chronicling Scrooge's ghostly encounters, and his subsequent change.  It features the voice talents of Jim Carrey as Scrooge, and Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, and Cary Elwes -- who each voice several characters in the film.

Let me start off by saying that the computer animation is simply stunning. Instead of being cartoony, many of the characters --especially the background characters-- were so lifelike that in a few scenes, I thought I was looking at a composite between computer animation and live action.  And the level of detail is much greater than one would expect in a movie thought to be made for children--especially for children accustomed to Japanese anime.

That being said, I have a love/hate relationship with this movie.  It started off really good.  I liked the beginning, the scene showing them opening a copy of the book, and the story proceeding from there.  As the story progressed, I thought, "This is really good.  I'm going to love this movie."   However, I was soon to be disappointed.

When the movie sticks to Dickens' original story, it is really, really good.  But when it strays, it is really, really bad.  There are some moments that will probably be too frightening for younger viewers, and other moments that will be too --well, dumb-- for older viewers.  Let's discuss a few of them.

First off, Marley's ghost.  It starts off good when the door knocker appears as Jacob's face, but then it does this weird, ghoulish jumping out at you thing which will likely send small children into a screaming panic.  Then, a few minutes later, when he is delivering the "chance and hope I got for you" speech, the ghost throws in some lighthearted, almost slapstick humor which is totally inappropriate for the scene and the character.  It left me rolling my eyes and thinking, "oh, good grief."  It was actually pretty funny, just not right for this scene.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is portrayed as a candle, which is a pretty big departure from the original story, in which it is described as an androgynous, ageless, human like being.  As if that weren't bad enough, it's not obvious that this is what the ghost is.  I didn't realize that, "Hey, that's supposed to be a candle"  until just this morning, when I was looking at the cover of the DVD box.  While watching the movie, it just looked like a weird blob with a disembodied, floating, flaming head.   I found this to be a very disturbing image, and am not sure I'd want a small child to see it.

Towards the end of the movie, The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come reveals his face, which never happens in the book.  I've seen this done in other movies, showing him to have a skull like face.  This is done for shock value, I think, so I don't really have a problem with it.  However, in this movie, he looks more like Darth Vader than The Grim Reaper.

On the other hand, The Ghost of Christmas Present was simply stunning in his beauty and simplicity.   He's always been my favorite, and this movie is no exception.

Other than this, the biggest problem I have with this movie is some of the transition scenes.  At the end of the first ghost's visit, Scrooge has seen enough.  He tells the ghost to take him home, then grabs the cap and forces it down over the spirit's head, snuffing out the light he gives.  At this point, the movie takes a serious departure from the book, in that the cap turns into a rocket, blasting Scrooge up and into outer space.  Weird.  And he goes up and up and up and up and up and up and up.....And just when you are thinking, "when will this end?", it does.  But then you have to watch him fall, and fall, and fall, and fall for just as long, until he finally lands on his bedroom floor.  This entire scene was utterly ridiculous, and could have been completely eliminated.

But this one wasn't the worst.  During the third spirit's visit, there is actually a chase scene!  Between the scene in which Scrooge sees his own deceased body lying on his bed, and the scene in Old Joe's shop, Scrooge is chased through the streets of London by a ghostly hearse drawn by two glowing-eyed demon horses.

And the demon horses chase him through the streets, and he slides down icy sewers as if they were waterslides, and belly whops across the snowy roofs of London, and it just goes on and on interminably until I was thinking, "Good Lord, this is the awfullest thing I've ever seen!"  But finally, mercifully, it does end, and the movie goes on.

There are a couple of other scenes that were held a bit too long, but these two were the worst.  They could have shortened or eliminated these, and included some of the wonderful Dickensian prose that they left out.  The movie would have been stronger if they had. 

Now, the end of the movie left me with a warm glow, and thinking, "Boy that was good!", but I think this has more to do with the strength of Charles Dickens' masterful story, than anything this movie had to offer.   If you're looking for a version to introduce your children to this wonderful story, you're better off going with The Muppet Christmas Carol--still one of my favorites. 

Overall, this movie was a disappointment, and if I'd watched it first, I probably wouldn't have bought it.


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