Don't let the "Disney's
" in Disney's A Christmas Carol
fool you. This is definitely Charles Dickens'
classic Christmas tale come to life on the big screen for the umpteenth time. Granted, it's told with performance capture technology for the very first time, but this A Christmas Carol
is still Dickens' not Disney's.
Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis remains faithful to the source material throughout the 96 minute film, though I can't remember Dickens ever making Scrooge take a trip down the rabbit hole to emerge a miniature man with a high squeaky voice. I also don't remember Scrooge riding an icicle all over London, skidding down rooftops while trying to evade the Ghost of Christmas Future. But for the most part, Zemeckis delivers a faithful interpretation of Dickens' work in this PG-rated holiday tale. What he misses out on capturing is the spirit of Dickens' story.
Robert Zemeckis is the leading advocate of performance capture technology, a form of filmmaking he first put forth in another Christmas story, The Polar Express. That film, released back in 2004, polarized audiences. You either admired what Zemeckis was able to do with actors wearing suits covered with hundreds of dots or you disliked the flat, emotionless results. 2007's Beowulf showed the technology had advanced by leaps and bounds, with the characters looking less plastic. But now in 2009 performance capture seems to have taken a major step backwards. The characters' eyes are once again eerily vacant, the skin looks like a store mannequin's, and with the exception of a few pivotal scenes, the production is soulless.
A scene from 'Disney's A Christmas Carol.'© Walt Disney Pictures/ ImageMovers Digital LLC
Of course, an argument can be made for performance capture as an art form. I can't imagine Gollum in The Lord of the Rings
trilogy springing to life any other way. Andy Serkis' performance shined through and his Gollum is still the best use of the technology to date, at least in my book. But after sitting through A Christmas Carol
, I'm left wondering why it had to be done this way and if this was, in fact, the best use of the technology. The 3-D in Disney's A Christmas Carol
is stunning, the scenery is gorgeous, and the score is pitch-perfect, but the focus of the film, the humans at the heart of the story, come across as flat as cardboard cut-outs.
Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman tackle multiple roles, and along with Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, and Bob Hoskins, take on the familiar characters of Dickens' classic story. You can see them in each character, especially Firth and Wright Penn, and their performances are solid. It's just too bad the style of the film overwhelms their work.
If you're not already a fan of performance capture, then Disney's A Christmas Carol isn't likely to win you over. Until the technology advances to the point where emotions can be conveyed convincingly and the eyes don't come across as lifeless orbs, then performance capture is going to fail in comparison with live-action movies or Pixar's CG animated films.
And a word of warning: Disney's A Christmas Carol
is rated PG for scary sequences and images, and they're not kidding. A PG-13 rating may have been more appropriate. One critic mentioned to me on the way out of the screening that she found A Christmas Carol
more frightening than Paranormal Activity
. The ghosts and creepy-looking humans may give some viewers (including a fair share of adults) nightmares.
Jim Carrey as Scrooge and Gary Oldman as Tiny Tim.© Walt Disney Pictures/ ImageMovers Digital LLC
Disney's A Christmas Carol was directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Theatrical Release Date: November 6, 2009