Disney // 2009 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 14th, 2010
Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy, Cast Away, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) is one of the pioneering leaders for motion capture technology. What started with the perennial favorite The Polar Express, now comes full circle (or linear line, I guess) with an updating of the classic Charles Dickens holiday story "A Christmas Carol." Finally arriving on hi-def a full year after its original theatrical release, Walt Disney's A Christmas Carol is here to teach you that if you're not a nice person by the time you're an AARP member, ghosts from beyond the grave will come to get you on the birthday of God's son. Boo!
What? Really? No, I mean...really? If you don't know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and ghosts of Christmas past, present and future by this point, I honestly haven't got a clue as to how you got yourself on the internet to begin with. Clearly you have no business owning a Blu-ray player. Go to the library. Start small by reading the Bible and a few Golden Books, then work your way up to this movie. See you in a decade.
Okay, now that we're through with that guy, for the rest of you...
Full disclosure: man oh man do I dislike almost every Jim Carrey movie I've ever seen. Few mysteries haunt my soul as harshly as the reason why Mr. Carrey has become a household superstar of the first order. One of my most vivid film going memories is seeing Ace Venture: Pet Detective in theaters my senior year of high school on a triple date. As the credits rolled we all walked out of the movie and five -- count 'em, FIVE -- of us were ecstatically beaming about how gut-bustingly funny the movie was. A lone dissenter scowled angrily -- not only had he disliked the movie, he'd found it to be almost a raping of almost all five of his senses. No kewpie doll for guessing who that miserly moviegoer was (hint: me). The years have passed and I have seen more than my fair share of Jim Carrey films (Batman Forever, Liar Liar, Me, Myself and Irene) and with the exception of one (the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon) have abhorred almost all of them.
So, you can imagine my apprehensions going into this new Jim Carrey movie. I braced for the worst. I am happy to report, then, that Disney's A Christmas Carol is one of the best Jim Carrey movies ever and has even shot to the top of my list as one of the most memorable Christmas films in ages. The movie is filled with whimsy, humor, darkness, despair, revelation and redemption. For the first time I really got into director Robert Zemeckis's motion capture filmmaking (the closest I've come to this is his 2007 animated feature Beowulf). Zemeckis has done a fantastic job of making A Christmas Carol not only convincing but also (mostly) realistic in its portrayal of Charles Dickens's universe. The atmosphere at times feels grimy and dirty, especially the opening sequence involving the body of Ebenezer's old business associate, Jacob Marley, and Ebenezer's desire to collect Marley's 'final' two cents.
When I first went into A Christmas Carol I feared the looming Walt Disney title would translate into a watered down, syrupy-sweet version of what is often a very dark story. Thankfully this wasn't the case, save for a few brief moments of eye-rolling levity (i.e., Jacob Marley's goofy stuffed face after he resets his broken jaw). It appears the suits at Disney have not impeded on Zemeckis and his vision -- there are moments here where the scares are as bombastic as the holiday delights. The PG rating is easily justified (for some scary sequences), although nothing here will scar young children or make them go running for the hills. The film sometimes pushes the sentimental envelope a little harder than needed (Ebenezer's redemptive arc feels slightly cut short) but never feels too sentimental or too dark.
I give praise where praise is due as Jim Carrey's Ebenezer Scrooge is a wonderfully knotted and twisted caricature of Dickens's anti-hero. Carrey works overtime giving Scrooge his own voice and rarely slips into the mannerisms that have driven me to swear off most of his work. Carrey is also the voice (and face, to a certain extent) behind the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. I wholly enjoyed each version of these classic characters, especially the silly candle-headed ghost of Christmas past. Other character actors -- namely Robin Wright Penn, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins -- are wonderful in their roles as staple characters like Bob Cratchet, Tiny Tim and Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. The motion capture technology does just a fine enough job of making their on-screen versions a slight variant of the actor's original, real life features. There were moments where I could truly see Gary Oldman in Bob Cratchet's face and that made the performances all the more endearing.
To Robert Zemeckis, I say 'bravo' for making one of the best versions of A Christmas Carol I've ever seen (though I still prefer Bill Murray's clunkier but funnier Scrooged). While this kind of animation is not a personal favorite, I applaud you for raising the bar on the levels of sights, sounds and story. I'm hoping someday you may journey back to the land of live action filmmaking. Until that glorious day please keep making movies like A Christmas Carol. And God bless you, Spielberg and all!
As a side note, Walt Disney's A Christmas Carol was originally presented in 3D in theaters. I saw it during its initial run and the 3D worked fine. That being said, you won't be missing anything by seeing it in normal 2D at home in high-definition.
By all stretches of the imagination, Disney has done a fantastic job on this film's transfer. A Christmas Carol is presented in 2.40:1 1080p and looks absolutely amazing. I have to be honest, if there is a flaw in this picture I cannot spot it. The colors are enormously bright and vibrant and the black levels look fantastic. The detail here is so good that you can practically see Scrooge's liver spots jumping off his hands. It doesn't matter if you loved the movie or hated it, the fact is there's no arguing that this is a great looking transfer.
The soundtrack is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio in English, English 2.0 DVS (also in French), and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is an amazing track that truly immerses the viewer in this film's atmosphere. The surround speakers are used generously, especially when the three ghosts show up and pull Ebenezer into their world. Disney has produced a sound mix that is a delight to the ears (especially composer Alan Silvestri's celebratory music score). Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Although Disney's A Christmas Carol isn't packed full of extra features, there are still a few holiday goodies for fans to chew on. The best is "Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling," a sometimes fluffy promo piece that features a lot of talking head interviews (Carrey, Zemeckis, stunt coordinators, etc.), but also includes some nice behind-the-scenes footage of the actors working with the motion capture camera. This piece is playful and interesting for those who want to know more about how the film was made. "Countdown to Christmas" is an interactive calendar that is kind of like one of those calendars you buy for kids that has a piece of candy in it for each day of December (it's not really something grownups will care about). Finally, there is a short "On the Set with Sammi" featurette, a few deleted scenes, some typical Disney promotional spots and a bonus DVD version of the film which probably looks like cow dung in comparison to this beautiful Blu-ray image.
A Christmas Carol is a joy of a film and a worthwhile recommendation for families. There are some scary parts but nothing that won't be scrubbed away by the cheery, life affirming ending. Disney has gone to a lot of work on this transfer and audio mix and it is well worth a viewing (and even purchase) on Blu-ray.
A Christmas Carol is free to spread its Christmas cheer!
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Interactive Calendar
* DVD Copy