Disney / Buena Vista | 2009 | 98 min | PG

Published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted novellas in literary history. Filmed numerous times for film and television, adapted for the stage repeatedly, It’s seems that anyone who’s anybody in the annals of pop culture has had a go at the story. Disney already told the story of Ebenezer Scrooge with Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but in 2009 they released a motion capture/animated version of the film directed by Robert Zemeckis. A fairly faithful telling of the story, a handful of actors are transformed into the innumerable characters needed for the narrative.

Disney’s A Christmas CarolThe story is familiar: Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey), has allowed his heart to harden over the years, shutting out all affection, even those of his nephew, Fred (Colin Firth), and making life difficult for his employee, Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman). To help mend his miserable ways, the spirit of old business partner Jacob Marley (Oldman) warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts: Christmas Past (Carrey), Christmas Present (Carrey), and Christmas Yet to Come. Sweeping Scrooge up into the sky, the spirits show the nasty man the error of his ways, detailing a life of misery if he continues down a path of bitterness.

Robert Zemeckis adapted the screenplay, and aside from some small changes and a few brief comedic moments, things are very recognizable. The motion capture animation seems to bring things to life in a strange and fascinating manner. Carrey as Scrooge talks to Carrey as the ghosts and Oldman as both Cratchit and his crippled son Tiny Tim enables the actors to display versatility through their changes of voice and nuance. The cinematography is excellent. There are breathtaking shots of 19th century London. Story-wise, though, Scrooge monopolizes this version even more than in most others: the scenes with Belle are shortchanged so the breakup doesn’t land with great distress to the present-day miser, and the Cratchit family gets its requisite couple of scenes, but they aren’t milked for the maximum poignancy and seem a little lacking in emotional heft. However, all-in-all, this streamlined story plays extremely well.

As one might expect, Jim Carrey clearly enjoys playing various characters. His interpretation of Scrooge is excellent (second only to Alastair Sim in 1951), and he allows flashes of his comedic skills to come through on his portrayal of the ghosts. Unfortunately though, Carrey dominates the film in a way that means the other actors don’t really get a chance to shine. As always, Bob Hoskins is wonderful as Fezziwig, Scrooge’s old employer, but his part is very brief. Gary Oldman does a fine Bob Cratchit, if not particularly memorable; though his Jacob Marley is noteworthy, aided by  CGI effects. Likewise Colin Firth’s Fred gets the job done but not in any exemplary way. Robin Wright Penn plays both Scrooge’s sister Fan and love interest Belle in brief appearances, and Cary Elwes takes on five curtailed roles without making much of an impression.

Rated PG, Disney’s A Christmas Carol would make a fine addition to any film fans Christmas collection.

The film’s widescreen 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Obviously, great care has been taken to give the animated renderings of humans great detail in facial wrinkles and in the clothes they wear. Certain colors pop off the screen though much of the film remains darker and more muted, though the HD transfer has no trouble at all rendering this without macroblocking or banding of any kind. Black levels are deep and impressive.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix begins in an average manner, but within minutes, the screen in alive with all manner of immersive effects, and Alan Silvestri’s music and his adaptation of traditional Christmas carols fill the surrounds in a satisfactory way. There’s impressive use of the LFE channel with explosive bass that’s very effective. Dialogue is well recorded and most placed in the center channel though there are even some instances of directionalized dialogue which mix beautifully with the rest of the audio encode.

The picture-in-picture interactive commentary track is a good one which runs the full length but concentrates on the motion-capture technology and filming. One nice feature is that you can click on a button to have the mo-cap picture-in-picture (which is tiny, in the bottom right corner, fill the whole screen while you listen to the optional commentary, and at any time you can also turn the commentary off.

The other main 1080p bonus feature is an interactive calendar that’s basically a virtual Advent Calendar with a different treat to be “opened” each day before Christmas.

After these two, the Blu-ray has duplicates of the DVD bonus feature content: Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling, On Set with Sammi, Deleted scenes, and three info-promos (on Blu-ray, Digital Copy). Sammi is Sammi Hanratty, who plays a Cratchit girl. We see her in mo-cap make-up, decked out in her uniform, and working on-set while she narrates the entire way–“entire” meaning just under two minutes. Three deleted scenes are preceded by an optional Zemeckis intro telling why each (Hearse, Belle’s Family, Clothesline) didn’t make the cut. The big bonus feature (14:42) is a standard making-of feature narrated by Jacquie Barnbrook, the actress who plays Mrs. Fezziwig. Zemeckis says he took on the challenge because he thought the technology had finally reached the point where it could do justice to the novel and bring Dickens’ imagination to life. It’s interesting listening to everyone talk at how easy it was to stay faithful to the book.

We also get a copy of the standard DVD.

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