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Movie Review: A Christmas Carol (PG)

Chesapeake Family presents family-friendly movie reviews every week. This week: Disney’s A Christmas Carol.

Song Sung Sweetly

3-D Effects Bolster and Hinder A Good Retelling of a Holiday Classic.

By Roxana Hadadi

Even though it’s only the first week of November, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – and you can thank Jim Carrey for that.

In his first Disney role, Carrey stars in A Christmas Carol as the crotchety, misanthropic Scrooge who can’t bear to spend a dime or spread some happiness. And thankfully (and somewhat surprisingly, given that this is the same Disney that made Pocahontas fall in love with Englishman John Smith, when she really married another Englishman, John Rolfe, instead), the movie sticks straight to Charles Dickens’s classic novel, presenting Scrooge’s initially dreadful personality, encounters with the three ghosts and eventual change-of-heart in a believable, charming way.

But while the film is being marketed as family-friendly, don’t brush off its PG rating – Disney also includes the originally creepy, impactful scenes Dickens wrote in his book, which means that Jacob Marley’s chains-plagued ghost and the emaciated children of “Ignorance” and “Want” are certainly scary. For kids older than 10 or so, the images should be no biggie – but younger ones and toddlers will certainly be caught off-guard if the only experience they’ve had so far is Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

If you can see the film in 3-D, though, certainly spring for that option. While some scenes last longer than they should to benefit special effects, that slight annoyance doesn’t detract from the film’s heart-warming feel, and the film uses numerous other slight touches to help its characters and content jump off the screen.

Things start off as Dickens described: Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey, who, along with the rest of the actors, is unrecognizabl,e thanks to the film’s performance capture technique) declares that his business partner, Jacob Marley, is “quite dead as a doornail,” and scares all those around him with his lack of emotion and social decorum. He snatches the coins off of Marley’s closed eyes – which are supposed to be his fee to pass the river that connects the world of the living with the world of the dead – and slumps off to his office, scowling at children and carolers along the way.

Seven years later (a time span which is shown through peeling paint and crooked letters, an intriguing 3-D effect), Scrooge is even more wrinkled and bitter, accosting his nephew Fred (Colin Firth ) for his love of the holiday season, proclaiming that the poor should die to “decrease the surplus population” and complaining about how his clerk, Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman ), is taking Christmas off. But when he finally ends up at his derelict, dilapidated home, things start getting a little weird: His doorknocker turns into a glowing green ghost’s head, his empty manor seems to be creaking and groaning a bit more than usual and, lo and behold, Marley’s macabre ghost shows up. As Marley warns Scrooge that he “wears the chains [he] forged in life,” he also tells him of the three ghosts – of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and of Christmas Yet to Come – who will be visiting him in the next few nights to show him the error of his miserly ways.

With that, the film continues along Dickens’s tale, as Scrooge remembers how much he loved Christmas as a child, laments over how his love of money pushed his friends and his fiancée, Belle (Robin Wright Penn) away and realizes how his stinginess is hurting Cratchet’s family and his young, disabled son, Tiny Tim (also Firth). It’s during these scenes when Carrey truly shines, both as the embarrassed, shameful Scrooge and as the all-knowing, commanding ghosts – though it’s off-putting to see Carrey’s own face when he’s the blazing Ghost of Christmas Past, he’s fantastic as the part-jolly, part-imposing Ghost of Christmas Present.

And during the third act of the play, Carrey uses his physical comedy skills to his (and the audience’s) best advantage. Little things, like straightening the hunch of his back, walking with a springier step and even opening his eyes wider than just a squint, allow Scrooge’s character to develop and for audience-members to truly recognize his transformation. Plus, scenes when he starts sliding down stairways and dancing in the streets are definitely worth a laugh.

That’s not to say the film is entirely flawless, however. Though the 3-D is certainly eye-catching during inclement weather – like softly falling snow or rain – its over-used both during a scene where Scrooge flies on top of the Ghost of Christmas Past and falls back to earth and when he’s running away from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The scenes drag on as a result, and just seem like action-fillers. And graphic images of the ghosts and the Grim Reaper are also somewhat unsuitable for children, such as when Marley’s ghost unsnaps his jaw and looks particularly grotesque, and the Grim Reaper’s horses chase down Scrooge and tries to drag him to his death.

Yet overall, the film’s 96 minutes pass briskly, and it’s an effective adaptation of Dickens’s classic for a family audience. For those who are already putting up trees or stockings and decorating their houses with twinkling lights, A Christmas Carol should be a fine addition to your holiday collection – and for those who prefer to wait until December to get into the festive spirit (and may want to rent this on DVD instead), no worries. Although you’ll be missing out on the whole 3-D-in-theaters thing, Carrey and Co.’s film will be just as good in a month or so.


Roxana Hadadi last reviewed Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.



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