Disney’s A Christmas Carol
by Barry Meyer
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Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is easily one of the most beloved stories in the English language, if not (arguably) the most beloved. And why not? It’s a tale of love and hope and humanity and goodness and redemption. It’s simply one of the most pure stories you can imagine, with not an ounce of cynicism in it – outside the despair in the heart of its own protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge. I would even hesitate to call this a tale of optimism, but rather a tale of truth. Change your heart, and you will change the world – it’s as simple as that.
So, what is it, in this yuletide yarn, that would or could ever be enhanced by 3D?
Leave it to Disney to find a way. With the help of Robert Zemeckis, Dickens’ lovable 19th Century tale has been turned into a roller coaster ride of sweeping “camera” moves, slapstick humor, eye-popping ghastlies, and (what!) even a chase scenes through the seedy streets of London. Wow! Ebenezer Scrooge – action hero. Can’t wait to see the ride!! I’ve always sort of expected a Disney adaptation of A Christmas Carol— the child-friendly themes seemed tailor made for the studio. But I was imaging maybe grand musical numbers, good humor and frivolity — not Scrooge flying over the London skyline, screaming and flailing like a lame bird, and then taking massive amounts of icicles to the crotch, while sliding precariously across rooftops. Never in my wildest dreams…
All of this, of course, has less to do with Christmas cheer than with —ahem — Scrooge-ing the audiences of their money. It’s a dream project for Zemeckis, who needed to redeem himself after the lashing he took for the they-look-like-zombies Polar Express. He promised that he and his crew would work at making the Christmas Carol characters look more lifelike, losing the infamous “dead-eyes” that creeped all the kids out in Express. His worked paid off. The character’s eyes certainly do seem much more lifelike. Only problem is, he sucked the life out of the warm and cheerful story.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol is really just a showcase of tricks. Zemeckis assumes that the audience has seen or has heard the story of Scrooge before, so he merely uses it as the basis of a (tenuous) premise to get Scrooge flying and mugging about. The script barely touches on the message that Dickens’ intended, with his tale. Sure, Scrooge is a bad boy, we already know that. And yeah, he turns into a very good boy at the end. But gone are the subtleties of his change. There’s barely any time given to Bob Cratchit and his poor family during the all important visits from the Ghosts of Christmases Past and Yet to Come. In Dickens’ tale Scrooge is moved to find his stinginess has not sorrowed their spirit, but it has put their good health in danger – as seen with the dying Tiny Tim (who barley gets any screen time!!). But, in Zemeckis’ world these scenes are deflated as he involves Scrooge in screwball antics with the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Where Cratchit and his family are an outward example of Scrooge’s impact on the world around him, his nephew Fred is the countenance of Scrooge’s inner turmoil. The old miser has never forgiven his only remaining family member for the death of his beloved sister during childbirth. The boy has always been a bitter reminder of, not just his sister, but of his own childhood pain, having bared the same badge of shame from his own father, who blamed Scrooge for the death of his mother while bringing him life. Fred is the constant reminder of the alternative path that Scrooge could have taken – one with a life full of forgiveness, charity, and good cheer. But, again, Zemeckis squanders away this message, instead making Fred out to be a frustrated young man, at his wit’s end with his Uncle, and trading in his screen time for – of all things – a mind-numbing chase scene with the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come and his evil ghost horses!
Disney’s A Christmas Carol may be a fun treat for the eyes, but there is little in this movie that reflects any of the good Christmas cheer that Dickens’ intended for his tale of ghostly visits. Like a Disney ride, the audience is whisked around, catching glimpses of neat things – a soaring glimpse of the busy London streets, the bakers, the shoppers, the inside of a grave, and the tops of roofs – and then an animatronics performance pops up, here and there, to try and fill everyone in on the basic “story.” All in all, it’s a Disney ride that wouldn’t be worth the price of admission.
Barry Meyer Barry Meyer was born to the world as the first scientifically produced Cathode Tube baby. He’s a film critic, videographer, editor, and writer, residing in Jamestown, NY.
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