| The timeless holiday classic written in 1843 by Charles Dickens becomes the third motion-capture animated film for Academy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis ("The Polar Express" and "Beowulf").
The transformative story of repentance and character development are buried under an avalanche of visual imagery, computerized special effects and other technological gadgets.
After a holiday postcard opening complete with a burning candle, Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced and performed by Jim Carrey) signs the death certificate of his former business partner Jacob Marley. He displays his cold heart and miserly ways. Falling snow appears in a street scene in Victorian era London. The glorious score by composer Alan Silvestri kicks in with traditional Christmas music.
The action resumes on Christmas Eve seven years later. Scrooge reluctantly grants his only employee, Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman), a full day off with pay for Christmas. Scrooge gets an invitation for dinner from his cheery nephew Fred (Colin Firth). He utters his familiar catchphrase "Bah, humbug!"
Things get ominous and eerie when he arrives home. He is visited in his bedroom by Marley's frightening ghost bound in the chains of his own greed. He alerts Scrooge that haunting and spooky apparitions representing the past, present and future will cross his path next and take him on a journey of self-redemption.
Everything centers on Scrooge and Carrey plays him as a young boy, a teenager, a young man, a middle-aged man and an old man. The audience revisits biographical snippets of his life that include his first employer Mr. Fezziwig (Bob Hoskins) and his fiancee Belle (Robin Wright Penn).
It turns into a dry, emotionless account because we get to spend very little time with the Cratchit family. Tiny Tim is reduced to window dressing as a bit player. He gets to deliver his famous line "God bless us, everyone!" It rings hollow and lacks the empathy and infusion of the holiday spirit.
The movie plays out like a ghost story with Scrooge operating like a pinball in an arcade game. He flies through the air, tumbles down a hole in the Earth and is chased by a horse-drawn carriage of death.
The movie frequently drags and seems much longer than the 96-minute running time. The distinctive British accents make some of the dialogue difficult to understand. The movie cleverly employs depth perception trickery which allows Scrooge to see things from a unique out-of-body perspective.
Scrooge's ultimate transformation to kindness and charity comes too late and is given little screen time. Carrey never gets a chance to be the funny comedian that has endeared him to his legion of fans. The movie could use more humor to offset the dark and dreary atmosphere. Nevertheless, this is a technological triumph in cinematography, production design, animation and visual effects for Zemeckis, whose love affair with the motion-capture technique continues.
The boo-hoo elements should make parents of children under age 10 wary. The movie tends to be on the more adult-oriented end of the appeal scale for Walt Disney Pictures, whose specialty is trademarked family fare. This movie is available in standard 2D format, but the preferred ways to view it are in either Disney Digital 3D or IMAX 3D.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"