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Movie Review: A Christmas Carol (2009) – When Effects and Story Work

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The Charles Dickens Christmas classic has been made into yet another film incarnation. With a large cast of famous actors, the age-old tale of Scrooge's self-redemption comes to life with the style of CGI animation we have seen in films like The Polar Express. Usually when I hear a movie is being remade with a method such as this, I proceed with caution. Fortunately in this 2009 remake, there is no need for caution — it works on many levels. It's an instant classic that children and adults will find value in watching. This is especially true during the holiday season.

It was directed by Rober Zemeckis, known for so many films with brilliant special effects, but the most relevant ones being The Polar Express, Beowulf, and Monster House. He also wrote the screenplay here. He did a more than respectful job; it shares all the the excitement and human moments of the classic book.

Jim Carrey does a knock-out job with his voice portrayal of Scrooge. Note: he doesn't stop there. Carrey does the voices of Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge as a Young Boy, Scrooge as a Teenage Boy, Scrooge as a Young Man, Scrooge as a Middle-Aged Man, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Along with Carrey, many other actors such as Gary Oldman do the voice acting for multiple roles. This gives the characters a continuity that adds to the ethereal and familiar look of the movie. I should note it has been released in regular format as well as 3D. I did not see the 3D version.

Ebenezer Scrooge utters classic lines one after the other. A memorable one is: "If I could have my way, every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!"

Through ghastly and serio-comic visits by ghosts throughout the night, Scrooge learns that he is thankful to have more time to give to others. He does so through monetary means as well as through showing up at events where he is always invited but never goes. As is customary with Scrooge, he is most funny in the end scenes.

Gary Oldman is interesting as Bob Cratchit. It was odd seeing him short in stature, since I've never imagined the actor to be short. Still, his face lent itself well to the character's expressions. It's not surprising that box office stats are high. This is very much a movie that families can feel good taking their kids to. The ghosts are often scary, however, so make sure you have the conversation with your kids beforehand about why the ghosts are so deliberately scary. After all, it works in changing Scrooge at the end. After watching it might be a fun conversation topic at dinner why the ghosts were so scary to Scrooge.

Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins have roles in the movie as Fred and Fezziwig. You can tell which voices are behind the characters easier in this type of animation than you can in traditional style because the actors wear a digitizing suit that makes the character move as they do. It mimics their idiosyncrasies. At the same time, all the faces are crafted after the actors to varied degrees.

I feel this movie is tons better for kids than, say for example, Where the Wild Things Are. It tells a clear, identifiable story that has a valuable life lesson. Where the Wild Things Are relies too much on the reputation of the book and the CGI effects. In the end, it is always the story that makes a movie great or mediocre. Go see A Christmas Carol and get your reminder to give all you can to those around you while you are still around to do so.

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