November 12, 2009

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Disney’s A Christmas Carol (PG)
Director and 3-D-animation maestro Robert Zemeckis brings Charles Dickens’ tale of holiday redemption to life in Disney’s A Christmas Carol, which, depending on how you look at it, is either a beloved holiday classic or a horrifying ghost story that just happens to feature a Christmas goose.

Jim Carrey is the voice of Mr. Bah Humbug here, as well as the voice of the trio of Scrooge-soul-searching Ghosts. Gary Oldman does Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. Nephew Fred is Colin Firth; the Belle-who-got-away is Robin Wright Penn. Bob Hoskins brings the cheer as Mr. Fezziwig.

The movie hews very close to the book — this isn’t Scrooge McDuck or Susan Lucci in Ebbie. There is very little of the adaptation levity you would expect when you hear the words “Jim Carrey” and “voice of Scrooge.” The cartoonness of the movie, the “Disney presents” and the option of seeing it in 3-D make the film a tempting family holiday event, a gather-all-the-young’uns-and-splurge-on-some-popcorn moment. Tempting, but not wholly appropriate.

Because while this is Disney’s A Christmas Carol, remember that it is also Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which is just as much “are there no prisons, are there no workhouses” as it is “God bless us everyone.” This Carol is, frequently, terrifying. When the ghoulish Scrooge isn’t reliving past loneliness, he’s having the massive Viking-like Ghost of Christmas Present show him the Gollum-ish children who are Want and Ignorance. When he isn’t being chased down the streets by a fire-breathing demon horse, Scrooge is being shoved into his own grave by the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come.

Fa la la la la la la la nightmares.

So maybe this isn’t the way to introduce your preschooler to Dickens (though perhaps if you’re looking for a way to discourage them from becoming an English major…). It is, though, a good way of introducing someone with a better sense of what’s real and what’s just really good animation to the Dickens tale — specifically, some of the darker parts of the Dickens tale. (And, not that I would ever recommend such a thing, but a viewing of this movie is probably at least as good as the CliffsNotes.) As shown here, Scrooge’s transformation isn’t just about his own heart growing three sizes that day. It’s about the perilous state of life in Victorian-era London. In the “future” Scrooge’s housekeeper steals the shirt off his body to sell to a second-hand clothes dealer — how awful does life have to be for the shirt off a dead guy to be a valuable commodity?

For all that its fidelity to the source material and its startling recreation of London is interesting, Disney’s A Christmas Carol isn’t particularly enjoyable. I was wowed without being moved or amused or particularly entertained. It’s a very good painting that I don’t want in my living room, a priceless first edition of a book I have no interest in reading (A Tale of Two Cities perhaps). And I’m not sure who exactly is in the market for an animated movie that is based on a mid-19th-century novel and is capable of scaring the wits out of young children. Maybe Zemeckis should market his movie as an alternative to just reading the A Christmas Carol Wikipedia page. B-

Rated PG for scary sequences and images. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis (from the Charles Dickens novel), Disney’s A Christmas Carol is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Disney.