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November 11, 2009 > Movie Preview: A holiday favorite returns

Movie Preview: A holiday favorite returns

Disney's "A Christmas Carol"

By Shavon Walker

Disney's latest version of "A Christmas Carol", directed by Robert Zemeckis, is like eating banana and peanut butter pancakes. It's familiar, but definitely different from anything you've ever seen before. What makes this film stand out from other versions (in particular, Disney's own) is not only its uncanny fidelity to the book, but the amazing 3D special effects, and how both bring the story to life. Jim Carrey, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright Penn are the stars of this movie, and all play multiple parts. This is Elwes' and Penn's first film together since "The Princess Bride."

Most people know the general plot of "A Christmas Carol": Ebenezer Scrooge, a Victorian era miser, is paid a visit by the dead ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley. He is then taken on a journey of self redemption by three ghosts, Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet To Come. By the end of the movie, he has realized that the spirit of Christmas is a time for generosity and love, not misanthropy and stinginess.

The 3D effects were put to good use in this film. In one scene, Bob Cratchit is slowly ascending the stairs after Tiny Tim's death. He pauses right in front of an invisible Scrooge,who is sitting on the stairs. The scene shows Cratchit's face from Scrooge's perspective; his red eyes and nose and the tear tracks on his cheeks look almost real because of the 3D effect. For a moment, the viewer may forget that they are watching an animated character. Another scene shows Jacob Marley's dead face glowing over the doorknocker on Scrooge's front door. As Scrooge gingerly reaches out to touch it, the eyes and mouth suddenly pop open, and a few teeth even fly out toward the audience. This not only startles Scrooge, but many viewers as well.

The orchestral music definitely puts the audience in a Christmasy mood, but the way in which Christmas songs are played enhances the settings and theme. Bright, cheerful music plays as Bob Cratchit laughingly skids down the street on his way home after work. In contrast, young Scrooge mournfully sings the chorus to "Adeste Fidelis"(O Come All Ye Faithful) as he sits alone in the school classroom during Christmas break. He is so sad at being left behind that he is unable to finish the song. Zemeckis chose to have Carrey sing without music, which was an excellent decision. The result is stunningly beautiful, yet heartbreaking.

What many don't realize is that Dickens included a lot of social commentary in his original novel. Since most of the dialogue is lifted directly from the book, his criticism is brought to life on the screen. This is illustrated in many key scenes; one example is when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the two children under his robe. The dialog is identical to the book: "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want...but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

In the movie, as the ghost speaks, the two children suddenly grow older; Ignorance now wields a knife, while Want turns into a prostitute, then a woman in a straitjacket. Zemeckis' addition reminds the audience that then, as now, ignorance can turn into violence, while Want (or Need) can become desperation, and it can render the victim completely helpless. Zemeckis includes the followup scene; when Scrooge asks if the children have any resources, he is horrified to hear his own words - in his own voice - quoted back to him: "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" Using Scrooge's voice instead of the ghost's brings home the idea that ignorance goes both ways; the rich and miserly may not realize how their actions affect the poor.

"A Christmas Carol" is a wonderful family movie. Parents will have a great opportunity to talk to their children about social ills, and how to avoid being like Scrooge. Junior high and high school students who have to read the book for class will definitely want to see this first; it isn't a substitute, but it will make the text a lot clearer. However, young children may not understand the plot and may be frightened by the scenes with the ghosts.

If you want to see one of the most faithful renditions of this story, if you enjoy 3D storytelling, if you have a taste for social commentary or if you just like Christmas, see this movie. I'll be one of the first in line... again.

Rated: PG for scary sequences and images.
Runtime: 96 min

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