Craggus’ Christmas Countdown Day 15: A Christmas Carol (2009)

1112 A Christmas CarolRobert Zemeckis returns to Christmas animation with his take on another popular festive tale. Thankfully, unlike “The Polar Express”, with “A Christmas Carol” he doesn’t feel the need to add a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t in the book to pad it out. It doesn’t stop him taking a “written for the screen” credit however, which is a bit rich given you’ll be hard pushed to detect anything he’s written. Storyboarded? Maybe. Written? No.

The real puzzle here is that despite the advanced filmmaking technology at his disposal and no limits on the visuals, Zemeckis has absolutely nothing new to add to the well-worn tale. There is absolutely nothing new here, no insight or clever twist to the plot, the characters or the moral of the story. Conspicuously haunted by the ghosts of adaptations past, Zemeckis ends up delivering one of the straightest, most pedestrian versions of “A Christmas Carol” there has been.

A straight adaptation can be a fine thing, however, provided you have an appealing and accomplished performer playing Scrooge himself. Unfortunately, it would seem that in all the notes Zemeckis may have given Jim Carrey during the making of the film, the word ‘subtlety’ was not amongst them. Carrey plays scrooge as a curious hybrid of Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh and Victor Meldrew. Gary Oldman and Colin Firth are wasted in the supporting roles and any skill and performance they bring to their respective roles is undermined by the motion capture techniques used to transpose them to the screen.

Taking his already flawed animation approach from “The Polar Express”, Zemeckis’ improvements this time around are to add wrinkles, warts and rosy cheeks but try as he might, he still can’t escape the uncanny valley. When performance capture technology has given us Golem in the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy or the characters in “Avatar”, there’s no excuse for the terrible quality of the visuals on offer here. Every character lacks authenticity or even a shred of humanity and mired as they are in a deeply clichéd cock-er-nee pastiche of Victorian London, the whole thing ends up looking more like an expensive but lifeless CGI version of Spitting Image. Aside from the horrible character design and chocolate box version of London, many of the characters have accents which are so widely travelled that they would make even Dick Van Dyke pause for thought.

There are at least half a dozen straight adaptations of Dickens’ classic tale which capture everything here and do it better. A waste of time, effort and creativity, this is a Christmas Carol which is badly out of tune.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. You left out the hyperfrenetic action sequences, and the part where Scrooge shrinks down to the size of two inches. But, for what it’s worth, here is the way I see Zemekis and motion capture technology… there is nothing wrong with a director going off and following some insane, ambitious muse, as long as he doesn’t get so lost along the way that he never returns. Zemekis HAS returned; he spent some time in his own private uncanny valley, but now he’s back in the real world, and for his comeback he chose a terrific drama with a consummate actor in the lead. Obviously I don’t want EVERY film to be a weird experiment, but, taken once in a while, a film like Polar Express can be fascinating. If an artist is genuinely talented, we should indulge him every now and again as he gets his crazy obsessions out of his system.


    1. quaiacom says:

      I still like Zemeckis as a director and was very glad to see him leave animation behind. After Beowulf, The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, hopefully it’s out of his system now!


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