Could someone please keep Jim Carrey and director Robert Zemeckis away from cherished holiday classics? We’ve already had to endure Carrey mugging it up as the Grinch while Zemeckis turned “The Polar Express” into a bloated and freaky-looking theme park attraction, and now these two have gone and put the stink on Charles Dickens’ beloved “A Christmas Carol.”
While Zemeckis’ brand of ooh-cool-it’s-3-D filmmaking added zest to “Beowulf,” here it just gets in the way. Remember how completely superfluous that runaway-train segment was in “Polar Express”? Multiply that by numerous flying-over-London and scary-carriage-on-the-rampage sequences this time around.
Carrey, at least, doesn’t go over the top; whatever hamminess he brings to the role is at least appropriate for portraying Ebenezer Scrooge, a character who starts the piece at one extreme of human behavior and ends it on another. In this version, the first scene shows us a Scrooge so skinflint that he removes the pennies from the eyes of his dead partner, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman); “Tuppence is tuppence,” he mutters as the undertaker gapes in horror.
Thanks to the motion-capture technology Zemeckis apparently loves so — again, it worked in “Beowulf,” but here and in “Polar Express,” everyone just looks rubbery and creepy — the lead actors get to play multiple roles. Carrey acts opposite himself as all three Spirits of Christmas (the Ghost of Christmas Past’s accent wobbles between Scottish and Liverpudlian) while Oldman pops up again as a gnomish Bob Cratchit and a Tiny Tim that’ll make your skin crawl.
Bob Hoskins looks just right as kind old Mr. Fezziwig, but that may be more of a testament to the actor’s physiognomy than to the motion-capture process, which makes most of the film’s cast look like they just sauntered out of Madame Tussauds.
Zemeckis’ screenplay is a rather odd patchwork — at times, he’s exceedingly faithful to the original text, down to the part where Ignorance and Want huddle beneath the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. But surely Dickens never intended to have a tiny Scrooge running through drainpipes while being pursued by a demonic coach-and-six, no matter how much the chase pops out of the screen.
“A Christmas Carol” has resonated with readers for more than a century because it so brilliantly captures the themes of redemption, generosity, family love and community that the Yuletide, at its best, summons in all of us. It can even be argued that the story’s impact can be felt in subsequent holiday favorites like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Home Alone” — both are about characters who, like Scrooge, are given a Christmastime glimpse of an alternate reality that makes them reevaluate their lives.
All of which is to say that, if you’re going to create yet another version of “A Christmas Carol” — IMDB lists 60 other film and television adaptations — you’ve got to bring something besides over-the-top special effects and unsettling animation to the table.
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