Review

A Christmas Carol

Director    Robert Zemeckis
Starring    Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright-Penn, Cary Elwes
Release    6 NOV (US) 4 NOV (UK)    Certificate PG
3 stars

Rob

16th November 2009

A Christmas Carol is one of the most well-known and much-loved stories of all time - a story that's been adapted so many times that it's hard to get particularly excited about a fresh take. So, when it was announced that Robert Zemeckis was going to make yet another version, using the same motion-capture technology he used with The Polar Express and Beowulf, it registered with a tremendous meh. A Christmas Carol without the Muppets just doesn't seem right.

A Christmas Carol, for the uneducated lot, is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey), a tight-fisted old coot who's not the biggest admirer of Santa Claus' handiwork. But on one Christmas Eve, he's visited by the spirit of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Oldman), who tells him he is to be visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come, who will show the miserable Scrooge the error of his ways.

[gallery]Robert Zemeckis, returning to camp Disney 21 years after his last visit with the groundbreaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit, isn't a man to shy away from new technology. Having not made a live-action film for almost a decade (Cast Away), Zemeckis is a pioneer of motion-capture, turning his back on conventional filmmaking and paving the way for the future of movie-making. So he thinks, anyway. A Christmas Carol is his third dabble into the world of mo-cap and it's fair to say he seems to be taking it in his stride - A Christmas Carol certainly improves on the dead-eyed animation of The Polar Express and the curiously hollow Beowulf.

Zemeckis and his crack team of animators key-framed facial expressions by hand rather than mo-cap -enhancing the actors' animation. The result; beautiful, detailed, human-like animation that's as close to live-action as, y'know, using a proper camera. And it's in 3D, so expect various objects flung at the audience throughout.

Despite being such a well-known story, Zemeckis'retelling of A Christmas Carol feels fresh, thanks largely to the stunning visuals and the talented voice-cast. Colin Firth does a bang-up job as Scrooge's only living relative - his joyous, Christmas-loving nephew, Fred. Bob Hoskins does what's needed of him as Fezziwig, Scrooge's old boss, whilst Gary Oldman, obviously getting into the Christmas spirit, does a wonderful job as the shackled spirit of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's poor, overworked and underpaid Clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his ailing son, Tiny Tim.

It's Jim Carrey though who really put the hours in at the sound booth, testing his voice talents as Scrooge (at all ages, no less), a slightly dodgy and unexplained Irish Ghost of Christmas Past (who's a candle with Jim Carrey's face) and a jovial Brian Blessed-looking, Ringo Starr-sounding Ghost of Christmas Present.

Yes, A Christmas Carol is a story that has been adapted to death. Will there be more versions of it in the future? Probably, but Zemeckis' faithful adaptation will be the benchmark all other filmmakers will aim for.

It might be a bit scary for some children, the shackled spirit of Jacob and the Death-like Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come for example, and it may have been released a month too early, but Zemeckis has given us another reason to love Dickens other than Muppets dressed as Victorians being yelled at by Michael Caine.

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