For anyone unfamiliar with Charles Dickens’ perennial yuletide favourite, A Christmas Carol is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey), an elderly and miserable fellow, who has successfully alienated his family, friends and co-workers thanks to his miserly and miserable disposition. One Christmas Eve Scrooge is visited by the spectre of former business partner Jacob Marley, who forewarns him that tonight he will be held accountable for his life of selfishness and avarice. Before morning, Scrooge is haunted by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come, who each show him the ramifications of his actions, particularly in relation to his nephew Fred (Colin Firth) and the family of his long-suffering subordinate, Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman).
Utilising the motion capture technique of computer animation seen in The Polar Express, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, director Robert Zemeckis is able to place captivating performances from real-life actors into impossible situations to create a spectacular visual experience. Scrooge is repeatedly hurtled out of his bedroom window by his ghostly visitors and whisked across the rooftops of London. Zemeckis fully milks the 3D effects for all they are worth, producing a dizzying and occasionally nauseating ride. Jim Carrey is pitch perfect as literature’s favourite curmudgeon, clearly relishing the opportunity to explore his full acting range, from cartoonish villainy to near delirious elation as Scrooge is put through the wringer by the three Christmas spirits (also performed by Carrey).
It should be noted that while A Christmas Carol is most certainly festive fun for the whole family, some sequences might prove too frightening for younger viewers. Lest we forget this is the story of a man literally scared into changing his ways by torturous ghouls from beyond the grave. At one stage Scrooge is skyrocketed high into the atmosphere, only to be allowed to plummet back to Earth unassisted. In another nerve-jangling sequence, a shrunken Scrooge is pursued through the cobbled streets by a demonic horse and carriage.
With the exception of Scrooge, who is marvelously realised down to the tiny hairs on the end of his nose, some of the other human characters do look somewhat doughy and unrealistic, a problem that has been a perpetual bane of animators since the artform began. While Fred and Cratchit clearly resemble their real-life performers, they still lack a degree of authenticity that is so painstakingly achieved almost everywhere else in the film.
But these quibbles and criticisms are minor. Zemeckis’ adaptation fully captures the true spirit of Dickens’ tale and in doing so can’t help but bring a warming sense of Christmas cheer to all. A fantastic blend of visual wizardry, state-of-the-art animation, top-drawer performances and one of the most heart-warming and life-affirming stories of all time, permit this version to stand proud as one of the very best adaptations of the story available.