Every few years, there’s another adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and sometimes it’s by a company that has done one before. Another animated version from Disney was put out in 2009, this time using Jim Carrey instead of Mickey Mouse. Robert Zemeckis directed the film, and on a strictly technical level, the animation is terrific. However, anybody who had a problem with the way people looked in The Polar Express is going to have the same problem here. While the characters in this film don’t suffer from “too perfect” syndrome — they have irregular features just as real people do — they nevertheless don’t quite look human.
It’s the familiar problem of the “Uncanny Valley”; at a certain point, animation looks realistic enough that instead of looking human, it merely highlights the inhuman nature of the characters.
Scrooge is only supposed to be metaphorically inhuman.
The film is mostly faithful to Dickens’ novella, using both the story — including oft-neglected scenes — and the dialogue. While it does deviate on occasion, it is usually to add something, and — aside from a strange sequence where Scrooge is chased through the streets of London by Christmas Future — it is to add a dash of humor to the story. Well, it does star Jim Carrey, after all; while it’s mostly serious, it would be surprising if it didn’t have the occasional laugh.
Speaking of Carrey, he does a phenomenal job as a voice actor, much better than would be expected. Many times when a major actor decides to do voice work, it’s still very clear that it’s that actor reading the lines. For example, although Colin Firth has a natural delivery as nephew Fred, it’s always obvious that it’s Colin Firth. Sometimes this still works fine; nobody really cares if Fred sounds like Colin Firth, because there’s really no reason he shouldn’t. But Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly Englishman, should not sound like Jim Carrey, a Canadian on the early side of middle age. And, remarkably, he doesn’t. He sounds like Ebenezer Scrooge. If I hadn’t known ahead of time that Carrey was playing Scrooge, I might not have been able to guess it was him. Indeed, it wasn’t until I looked at the film’s IMDb page that I learned that he also voiced all three of the Ghosts of Christmas. They all sound different, and none sound like Jim Carrey just playing himself. Similarly skilled is the performance of Gary Oldman, who plays Bob Cratchit, his son Tiny Tim, and Jacob Marley. Again, all three characters are voiced distinctively from each other, and the only one where someone might blindly guess it was Oldman is Marley — and this is largely because if you mentioned to most people that Gary Oldman was in A Christmas Carol they would immediately leap to Marley as the most natural role for him.
Other roles are filled out by Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, and Bob Hoskins. They’re minor parts — the flotsam and jetsam of Scrooge’s old life before he cut himself off from humanity — but it’s still nice to hear these actors at work.
The visual weirdness of the characters is the only significant flaw in the film. Everything else is a real treat to look at, and the voice acting is unusually solid for an animated film that’s heavy on live-action film stars. And it’s a respectful, if occasionally odd, treatment of the story. It’s worth checking out.