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The Nightmare Before a Christmas Carol

Movie Title: Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this 2009 remake of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a 3-D animated picture that will not fail to make lasting impressions. Whether those impressions will be positive or negative is a toss-up, but that no expense was spared in creating a 96-minute phenomenally sophisticated and visually stunning work of animation is well beyond dispute.

Although the presentation of the actors is the product of a well-nuanced work of computer imagery, there are several notable voice performances. An always competent Jim Carrey voices Ebenezer Scrooge (in all stages of his life) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Gary Oldman voices Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley, and Tiny Tim.

Great efforts are taken to keep the story loyal to Dickens’ original work with that faithfulness being sidestepped in one long chase segment wherein Scrooge finds himself running from a spirit hearse sent from the Ghost of Christmas Future. It didn’t work well, but for some reason was thought necessary as a measure of adding yet more terror to an already terror-laden film that seemed to be in pathological competition with something of the Tim Burton persuasion.

What hurts the film most is that it tries to be frightening, and it is hard to understand why. I would ask if children should be scared into seeing the meaning of Christmas, but that isn’t a question because the film cannot be said to be for kids. Viewers will be dazzled by the animation as Scrooge takes to the clouds at supersonic speeds, falls off of cliffs, and takes falls that would break a hip. The three visiting spirits are more mysterious than your normal ghosts—one of whom is a splendorous being with a face of light and another is big and bizarrely dies like humans. Much of that is symbolic. Much of that is also weird, as though managed by someone who hasn’t finished toying with the special affects.

Seeing a terrified scrooge being assaulted by these forces from the netherworld is nothing like witnessing the excruciation of Marley as he visits Scrooge (easily the most disturbing part of the film). The characters are either too shrill or too bubbly, too happy or too sad, too good or too bad. Some of the lead characters go to the extreme in some capacity, making the story feel like the contrived moral lesson we know it to be. The rest are lifeless images that operate in or near the background like sketchy NPCs from an old-school videogame.

No harm is done in stories with moral lessons, provided the presentation is tailored to the audience. A Christmas Carol is done best when tailored for the young. The best I’ve seen it done is with Goofy and Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse in the delightfully memorable Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)—a short but superior and age-appropriate film.

Director Zemeckis does have an obligation to be faithful to the original story, and he was, which is why it was so frightening. This was the vision of a nineteenth-century English writer with a passion for delving into Victorian-era themes. Dickens was an Anglican Christian, and so it should not at all surprise us to see produced such a wrathful, fear-based “conversion” of the Scrooge character. A Christmas Carol was one of Dickens’ best works, which was not to become a classic at some later date. It was a hit from the beginning because this was where people’s minds were centered at the time.

That this fictional story with an endearing message could ever take off in its own time offers no amazement. What should amaze us is, barring solely nostalgic value, that anyone today could embrace such a wicked, vengeful, atrocious, and terrible delivery of a message. Minds of today are not centered where they once were.

The story of Scrooge is a nightmarish tale about a man who is visited by three spirits and given a chance to change his ways while his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, was never given the same chance, but was sent back to warn his still-alive friend Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his ways, he will be forced to wear chains for all eternity without the hope of rest or ever again knowing peace. This story is played over and over every Christmas season, and not many seem to be bothered by this realization. I suppose if you believe in God, a judgment, and a Hell, it shouldn’t bother you at all.

Let the redeemed Scrooge think about the fact that as he dines happily with family and makes merry, his old friend is enduring the discomfort of eternal retribution as found in the Bible. The idea of everlasting torment, bathed in the eternal hate that can only be created by a God of the Abrahamic religions, is something that belongs in the dark ages, with its thumbscrews and heretic burnings.

This chesty recreation of A Christmas Carol hits every high mark except the important ones. It succeeds in making a lasting impression, but it fails to be lovable or attractive while it strikes few authentic chords of joy even after Scrooge’s redemption has taken place. Should I reward this movie with a positive review and a high grade for missing the mark of making yuletide merriment? I can’t in good conscience do so.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Summary: An animated retelling of Charles Dickens classic novel about a Victorian-era miser taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions.
Starring: Jim Carrey “Scrooge / Ghost of Christmas Past / Scrooge as a Young Boy / Scrooge as a Teenage Boy / Scrooge as a Young Man / Scrooge as a Middle-Aged Man / Ghost of Christmas Present / Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” (voice), Julian Holloway “Fat Cook / Portly Gentleman #2 / Business Man #3” (voice), Gary Oldman “Bob Cratchit / Marley / Tiny Tim” (voice), Robin Wright Penn “Fan / Belle” (voice)
Genre: Animation / Drama / Family / Fantasy
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