A Christmas Carol: Casting Jim Carrey As Scrooge Really Required Lateral Thinking
Everybody always wants to take a crack at Charles Dickens' classic novel, and here is another try, "A Christmas Carol" (2009). Bill Murray did well with it in Scrooged, and it seems like someone else tries it in one form or another each year. Robert Zemeckis of ImageMovers Digital/Walt Disney Pictures is no stranger to Christmas animation films (The Polar Express), so he signed on Jim Carrey and went for it. Zemeckis, of course, is as close to a living Hollywood animation legend as you can get these days - besides "Polar Express," he directed "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which heralded the return of animation to the big time back in 1988. In any event, here the 3-D animation results are delightful and very faithful to the book.
|Scrooge confronting a spirit|
Ebeneezer Scrooge (Carrey) is a bitter old moneylender who hates Christmas. He is a mean man in general, and won't celebrate it in any way. Not only that, but he won't let his employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) take the day off unless he makes a special request that he approves. As far as Christmas is concerned, his attitude is "Bah, humbug."
|Young Scrooge waiting for his father|
On Christmas Eve night, he goes home as usual but has a vision. It is his old business partner, Jacob Marley (Oldman), who died seven years before. He has come to warn Scrooge that things haven't turned out well for him in the afterlife because of his greedy days working with Scrooge: he must walk around with heavy chains as penance. He tells Scrooge that three other spirits will come to visit and he had better heed them; then, he leaves.
|Cratchit and Tiny Tim|
Scrooge soon sees the first spirit: the Ghost of Christmas Past (Carrey). The spirit shows Scrooge that he became the way he is because his father neglected him during the holidays, while he only was brought home from boarding school by his sweet sister Fan (Robin Wright). Later, he was engaged to a woman named Belle (Wright), but she left him because of his money-grubbing ways. Scrooge dismisses the spirit by extinguishing him with his candle snuffer.
A little later, the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, arrives. He shows Scrooge that his nephew, Fred, jokes about Scrooge's tight ways, while Cratchit is barely able to make ends meet with the pittance paid by Scrooge. Cratchit also, unknown to Scrooge, has a young son named Tiny Tim (Oldman) who is sickly and may not live much longer. The spirit also shows Scrooge two children who become insanely violent criminals because they were neglected every Christmas.
|Marley warning Scrooge|
The third spirit then shows up, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Carrey). He frightens Scrooge and chases him through London, then shows him his own future: when Scrooge passes away, Fred welcomes only his inheritance from Scrooge and dishonors his memory; his maid robs him for petty proceeds; nobody wants to attend his funeral except to get free food; and Tiny Tim dies through lack of expensive care. Scrooge himself, the spirit strongly implies, will wind up burning in the fires of Hell, then departs. The next morning, Scrooge is a changed man and shows it to everyone he meets.
|Scrooge up close|
The film was a smash hit both in the US and the UK, topping the box office in both places. It is a treat for the eyes, with striking imagery emphasized by the half-real visual style. Dialog is lifted straight out of book, which enhances the points made and keeps the film-makers from making their own points instead of those intended by Dickens. The score by Alan Silvestri blends wonderfully with the on-screen action, and you get bits of traditional holiday tunes which help keep you in the holiday spirit. The opening title sequence, when the camera flies through the air giving us a view of Victorian London, is breathtaking, especially in 3-D.
|There are great visuals throughout|
The film, though, isn't perfect. The early scenes drag, and Carrey - well-intentioned, I'm sure, and a classic physical comedian - really isn't the ideal choice to add depth to a very serious story told in thick period British accents. A scene where a miniature Scrooge is chased by a carriage just hits the wrong notes, fun as it is on screen (some would say the sequence is the highlight of the film), one that Carrey the comedian could handle with ease, but hamstrings Carrey the dramatic actor. It is quite difficult - and vital - to get the tone right in an adaptation like this, where everyone knows the story and is looking for execution over plot. The personal nature of the story can only be conveyed by raw human expressions of true emotion - something that animation, for all its tremendous virtues, is not well-crafted to convey, and Carrey especially is not the right messenger. In animation in any event, it is difficult to convey raw human vulnerability, and this story, like no other, requires that sensation to succeed. Unfortunately, that aspect is lacking, though many will be quite satisfied without that sort of depth.
|Scrooge - will he learn his lesson?|
This is a dark version of the story, which, to be truthful, is the only way to be faithful to the book. Dickens was a great author, but he was surrounded by the horrors of the burgeoning industrial age. Child workers, dangerous factory jobs seven days a week from dawn to dusk, poor people thrown into ghastly, disease-ridden jails - he saw it all. When he wrote that Scrooge was destined for Hell, he wasn't thinking of some cartoony aren't-those-cool-flames kind of place like you might see in, oh, not to pick on anybody in particular ((cough cough) Southpark (cough cough)). The ending is a little too Carrey-the-comedian, not "Thank the sweet baby Jesus I might yet escape that burning pit of damnation for all eternity."
|Scrooge having a little fun|
Along those lines, this really is a difficult film for children. Marley's ghost has a flapping jaw that is pretty gruesome, and some other scenes are edgy. The film is rated PG, and is not the cutesy Mickey Mouse tale (though that is a wonderful version, too!). This is best for adults, perhaps families, but certainly not for toddlers or even every tween.
|Special Amtrak "A Christmas Carol" exhibition train in 2009|
Overall, it is a worthy addition to the Christmas catalog, but only for the right audience. If you fit into that category, this could become an annual treat every December. Just try to watch it in 3-D, it makes a difference.
Below is the official trailer.