Robert Zemeckis directs Jim Carey and Gary Oldman in this animated spin on the Charles Dickens classic
The third ‘performance capture’ animation from writer-director Robert Zemeckis – following ‘The Polar Express’ and ‘Beowulf’ – takes Dickens’s cautionary and sentimental 1840s novella and delivers a visually arresting but surprisingly ghoulish and family-unfriendly ghost ride.
Not unlike the latest ‘Harry Potter’, it opens with a fantastic, technically superb aerial swoop over the teeming streets of London but, from there on, seems uncomfortable on the ground. To an extent, this ‘Christmas Carol’ is a case of style – and stylisation – overwhelming substance. The technology’s developing competence in delivering texture and vertiginous line and scale deny any sense of intimacy in the film’s settings, from the oceanic swathes of planked floorboard that Scrooge paces in his lending-house, to the restlessly changing angles from which poor, trusting Bob Cratchit’s (Gary Oldman) festive table is viewed in his cold, humble dwelling.
Likewise, despite staying true to Dickens’s dialogue, the characterisations are opaque, as facial expressions and people’s eyes are often creepily indistinct. How can we judge, for instance, Jim Carrey’s acting when he has provided a database of performances in his six incarnations? He plays Ebenezer Scrooge as a lonely schoolboy, heedless young lover and elderly curmudgeon and is also the ghosts of past, present and future – which means that possible pathos and sympathy is trumped by the surreal and impersonal spectacle of endless metamorphoses.
That said, cinematographer Robert Presley and the design team provide many instances of graphical triumph, influenced by silent cinema, the spirit of Tim Burton and – in Scrooge’s moment of torment in the dockside murk and mist – David Lean. What the film suffers from is a want of common comfort, despite its nominally redemptive, happy ending.