According to Wikipedia, this is at least the twentieth film based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (and that’s not including its lengthy list of television adaptations). An IMDb search for “A Christmas Carol” comes back with 38 results. So I think it’s safe to say that we all know the story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and of how one Christmas Eve he was haunted by three ghosts who forever changed his life. It’s a literally timeless story; as I sat back watching Robert Zemeckis’ new 3D motion-capture version, I realized that underneath all of the state-of-the-art CG effects, the appeal of Dickens’ tale remains enormous. I can’t ever imagine a time when it won’t prove popular or relevant.
By now, dwelling on the specifics of the story is unnecessary, and besides that, Zemeckis’ screenplay is lovingly faithful (and when it’s not, you can tell). What makes the film work is that Zemeckis approaches the material with gusto and inventiveness. This is his third motion-capture film, after 2004’s The Polar Express and 2007’s Beowulf. Say what you will about either of them, but they were both exhilarating experiences, even if Beowulf was at times barely coherent. A Christmas Carol represents another technological step forward, as the characters’ eyes now look fully alive, and the scope of the motion-capture world is more impressive than it's ever been.
Since he doesn’t take many liberties with Dickens’ text, Zemeckis has a field day conjuring its visuals. The film presents the hustle and bustle of London circa 1843 in all of its glory, flying through the city and past its colorful inhabitants like no movie has before. There’s a level of detail and fluidity in the small movements of street urchins and salesmen that is astonishing. In The Polar Express and Beowulf, you could mostly tell who the actors were, but here the character designs cleverly disguise who’s playing who. You can see Jim Carrey in Scrooge and all three ghosts, but each one is markedly different. If Colin Firth as Scrooge’s nephew Fred and Bob Hoskins as Mr. Fezziwig and Old Joe are fairly obvious, Gary Oldman is hardly recognizable in any of his three roles (I’ll leave it to you to figure out who he is).