In Theaters: Disney's A Christmas Carol
You know who would have hated Disney's A Christmas Carol? Walt Disney. Because what Disney knew -- and any animator worth his salt knows -- is that the language of animation is "the language of caricature," as he put it. Realer, in other words, isn't necessarily better, and detail, it follows, doesn't trump simplicity. As a surface display of cutting-edge technical wizardry, the endeavor succeeds. But at its core, this Carol is soulless.
Director Robert Zemeckis's goal, as best as I can understand it, is to achieve the illusion of photo-realistic performances using a combination of live actors, sensors and computers, which he can then manipulate freely within a digital world limited only by his own imagination. The technique winds up working against him at every turn, as the citizens of this computer-rendered, 19th Century London seem dulled and synthetic, going against the very spirit of Charles Dickens' source material. Even the ghosts seem dead.
Jim Carrey plays the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge at every age, as well as the phantom apparitions assigned with turning him from villain to hero over the course of three field trips. This Scrooge is conceived as an ugly thing -- hooked nose, arched spine, stringy white hair -- but grotesque, protrusive features rendered in 3-D alone don't cut it, and within minutes, he begins to recede from the screen.
The glacial pacing doesn't help, nor do Zemeckis's curious choices on where to adhere or diverge from the source material. The entire sequence of Scrooge as a young man -- the part of the story that is meant to ingratiate and humanize him -- is relayed robotically, and mostly glossed over, that we might have more time for one of many swoopy sequences in which he rockets through the air via ghost-powered candle-snuffer. The entire Ghost of Christmas Present section, meanwhile, is anything but a Christmas present; the 8-foot-tall, robed apparition with Carrey's face and a beard the consistency of wet spaghetti suffers from a severe case of ghostly manic depression, one moment guffawing at nothing in particular, then bellowing angrily about Protestant clergy or something. (Like Scrooge, some of these faithful passages flew right over my head.)
A technical gripe: The 3-D glasses you need to wear to enjoy the "enhancements" to this time-tested tale (we're flying through a wreath!) render everything on the screen several shades darker. Unfortunately, Zemeckis chose to bathe most of his scenes in the faintest simulated candlelight. So you're basically staring at thousands of man hours and millions of dollars, stingily lit and through sunglasses. It's a recipe for a nap, and will send you searching for the nearest grog outlet the moment you escape back into the non-captured world.