After Robert Zemeckis offered child-friendly Christmas entertainment with The Polar Express, his animated version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is quite a different beast to watch on the second day of Christmas.
A Christmas Carol
(USA 2009, director: Robert Zemeckis)
Miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the three ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future that show him the way of kindness and good spirit.
Dickens’ story has been brought to the big and small screen for countless times, because it’s simply a wonderful story that, despite its contemporary Victorian criticism on the poor houses, has lost none of its importance today. It’s the prototype of sentimental storytelling, especially in the case of Tiny Tim of the Cratchit family the father of which works under very bad conditions for Scrooge. Seeing him on crutches but still good-spirited and full of hope will either tear at people’s heart strings or make them roll their eyes how Dickens brings home his message of social injustice. Even if the novel is remembered for all the happiness and good feelings of Christmas, it remains a dark story about ignorance and egoism which have to be fought. So it’s only understandable to mix jolly with dark scenes, which hasn’t been done better than in Zemeckis’ version.
Unlike The Polar Express which used the same animation technology, the characters look perfect, which might have to do with Dickens’ exaggerated descriptions of them that were put in the drawings accompanying his writings. But they still look human enough without distracting from the experience, and of course one can see and hear all the actors like Gary Oldman or Jim Carrey in each expression of the multiple characters they play (and they do it perfectly). There isn’t much else to say about the animation except that it’s flawless. Of course the question one asks when discussing a movie that adapts a book is how faithful it is, and one can easily say that this is one of the best adaptations until the last ghost shows up. Seeing Marley’s ghost (the deceased business partner of Scrooge) is already a frightening sight to behold, but when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears, the movie quickly falls into the horror genre, which isn’t such a bad thing, as the ghost remains one of the most frightening visions for Scrooge, but Zemeckis exaggerates with his special effects and includes a nonsensical sequence when Scrooge is miniaturized and is chased by a big black carriage. Seeing the distorted faces of all sorts of characters speaking Scrooge’s egoistic lines might also be a tack too much, but it somehow fits the psychological horror and the miser’s inner struggle to become compassionate again.
All in all, this is certainly no children’s movie, but one if not THE best adaptation of Dicken’s work. Some might argue that the 1984 version and all kinds of older adaptations are more enjoyable, but except for the Muppets version and of course Scrooged I always found them rather boring, playing it safe with their family-friendly attitude and less special-effects heavy presentation. Let’s be honest, the costumes as well as the acting haven’t aged well, so I’d choose Robert Zemeckis’ darker re-imagination of the source material any day.
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