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The Last of All, Hopefully

MOVIE REVIEW
Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

045-ACC-2009_Sep09_1290FF
ImageMovers Digital

If there’s one definitive conclusion to be drawn from “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” it’s this: Motion-capture animation, as practiced by Robert Zemeckis, doesn’t work. This is the third film in the director’s continuing experiment with the technology and — five years after “The Polar Express” — he and his team still haven’t figured out how to preserve the human qualities of the actors beneath the deadened mannequin demeanor forced upon them by the technology.

Mr. Zemeckis’s struggles with the proper blend of special effects displays and quiet, subtler moments continue as well. Too often, Charles Dickens’s reflective, universal story becomes fodder for a technological thrill ride starring a rough approximation of Jim Carrey. His Ebenezer Scrooge is sent through an endless series of elaborately conceived, shifting settings. The camera swoops, soars and tracks the action as Scrooge shoots to the skies, tumbles through floors and gets caught up in a swirl of golden lights. The soundtrack swells and visual flourishes pop and sparkle.

The film could, therefore, more accurately be titled “A Christmas Carol: The Ride.” It’s been rendered with such reverence for the technology, with such commitment to taking full advantage of the opportunities for spectacle afforded by the 3-D, that with few adjustments it could easily be transformed into one of those virtual-reality attractions that are so popular at Universal Studios and the like. The ghostly apparitions, warm brick homes, snow capped landscapes and Scrooge’s candlelit, angular drawing room collectively comprise a fantastical, mollified Victorian vision that’s virtually indistinguishable from, say, Disney’s famous “Haunted Mansion” ride.

From an eye candy standpoint, one couldn’t ask for much more. Every cent of the budget can be seen on screen. Audience members who pony up for the outrageous Imax 3-D admission prices are sure to be thrilled — if not a bit exhausted — by the time Scrooge famously awakens to the meaning of Christmas. Those who value the true meaning of “A Christmas Carol,” those who treasure its optimistic regard for the kind spirit buried within even the surliest of curmudgeons, will have a tough time finding it here: “Disney's A Christmas Carol” indeed.

DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Opens on Nov. 6 in the United States and in Britain.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Mr. Zemeckis, based on the story by Charles Dickens; director of photography, Robert Presley; edited by Jeremiah O’Driscoll; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Doug Chiang; animation supervisor, Jenn Emberly; visual effects supervisor, George Murphy; produced by Steve Starkey, Mr. Zemeckis and Jack Rapke; released by Walt Disney Pictures and ImageMovers Digital. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated PG.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Jim Carrey (Scrooge/Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come), Cary Elwes (Dick Wilkins/Mad Fiddler), Colin Firth (Fred), Gary Oldman (Bob Cratchit/Young Marley/Marley’s Ghost/Tiny Tim), Bob Hoskins (Fezziwig/Old Joe), Robin Wright Penn (Belle/Fan) and Fionnula Flanagan (Mrs. Dilber).

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