Disney’s A Christmas Carol

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Posted November 5, 2009 in Film

Remember this: Though we’ve seen umpteen films of the Scrooge saga, Charles Dickens wrote the book 50 years before movies even existed. He wrote for the imagination. And movies haven’t been able to measure up—we’ve never had the technology for the true Ghost of Christmas Past, a talking candle. Until now. Which, curiously, makes this splashy Jim Carrey blockbuster the truest adaption yet; it’s able to capture the musty Victorianism of the Alastair Sim classics (the go-to for stalwarts) and the wild thrills Dickens intended. After all, this isn’t just a parable—it’s a ghost story. When Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman) haunts Scrooge, writer/director Robert Zemeckis takes notes from horror films by zooming the viewer up to the ceiling and holding his breath as we hear Markey’s chains slowly stomp down the outside hallway. (And when the chains burst through the bedroom door in 3D, expect to hear a few kids yelp.) Restraint is as much Zemeckis’ aesthetic as eye-popping motion capture visuals—and he’s willing to sacrifice good looks for atmosphere, with scene after scene lit by sparse, authentic candle light. His one indulgence, a rollicking chase sequence, clashes with the film’s measured sense of purpose. Carrey is quite solid in his eight roles (including all of the spirits)—in some scenes, he’s playing three characters at once: old Scrooge, young Scrooge and a ghost. With no need for costumes or makeup (the after-effects layered on their digital markers take care of that), the cast filmed their scenes like a theater exercise, shifting in and out of their multiple characters with just a slant to the spine or a heaviness to the face. And Zemeckis respects Dickens’ attack on capitalism as Tiny Tim is kept to a judicious sprinkle that can’t sugar up the prevailing Social Darwinism. Make room in the canon: this is A Christmas Carol to sing about.

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