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A Christmas Carol (3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray/Digital Copy) review

REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS

Dickens' festive vision comes to life with clarity and fidelity unsurpassed in all the myriad takes on the tale...

Disney's A Christmas Carol - Blu-ray

‘There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are…’

So says Ebenezer Scrooge, miser, malcontent and Christmas miseryguts, when faced with the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner. At first terrified by the ghostly spectre before him, Scrooge soon reasons the apparition is merely an ‘undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese,’ even ‘a fragment of underdone potato’. But as Marley warns him, a bit of spoiled food is the least of Scrooge’s worries this Christmas…

The scene, one of the earliest in Disney’s A Christmas Carol, is notable for its faithful depiction of the same scene, as told by the story’s original scribe, Charles Dickens. Suffice to say, the same holds true for the rest of the film. As adaptations of this classic Christmas tale go, this version has to be the most faithful, and realises Dickens’ vision more than any other.

"There is something terribly eerie and genuinely frightening lurking in the shadows of this Disney outing"

Of course, realising Dickens’ vision means telling the story as it is and how it was intended. Although a Christmas tale through and through, with all the festive trimmings and messages of goodwill we’ve come to expect, A Christmas Carol is also a ghost story, and a bloody scary one at that. Previous incarnations have addressed this aspect, but none quite as authentically as this, and kudos to director Robert Zemeckis for doing so. There is something terribly eerie and genuinely frightening lurking in the shadows of this Disney outing. Whether it’s the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future, or Scrooge’s own fear of dying a lonely, bitter, old miser, there is a sinister and supernatural feel to this interpretation of the story.

These feelings of dread and regret, and, eventually, hope, are given added weight by the effective and, at times, incredible performances by the cast. Jim Carrey especially ups his game to a level not seen before, and reminds everyone just how talented he really is. Apart from voicing Scrooge himself, Carrey goes all-out by voicing each of the ghosts who pay the miser a visit, showing incredible range and an ability for accents rarely utilised in his other movies. It’s the latter character, the ghost of Christmas future, and Scrooge’s reaction to him that provide some of the film’s scariest moments, and Carrey deserves high praise for the performances delivered here.

The same holds true for Gary Oldman, with the actor providing his usual fantastic turn by voicing Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the ghost of Jacob Marley. Each character is a delight and is convincingly played by Oldman, not that we would expect anything less from him. Joining him and Carrey on screen are film favourites Bob Hoskins, Cary Elwes, Colin Firth and Robin Wright Penn – all turn in worthwhile performances and bring a bit of added magic to the screen.

That being said, actors are only as effective as the direction they’re given, and who better to give that direction than Robert Zemeckis? A Christmas Carol marks the third offering by Zemeckis as a director of motion-capture CGI and animation - his previous outings beings Beowulf and Polar Express. This is his best and boldest effort yet, and he delivers… to an extent. Through no fault of his own, Zemeckis’ vision for this technology, and how it can convey the stories he wants to tell, is bigger than the technology itself. Yes, the animation is incredible, and yes, the attention to detail delivered by the motion capture is better than ever, but it’s still not perfect. Fluidity of motion and character realism are almost there, but just fall short of suspending total disbelief.

This is a small irk, though, with the film itself proving a worthy contender for the best take on A Christmas Carol to date. Frightening though it may be (and its PG rating is well deserved), the film is also a lot of fun and does Dickens justice by faithfully retelling his story of Christmas spirit and goodwill to all men. Deserving of the success it achieved at the box office, it’s fair to say that this Blu-ray/DVD release will do its makers just as proud.

Cleverly marketed for release during the holiday season, Disney’s A Christmas Carol first swept into our lives this time last year, just in time to reap the box office rewards of a cinema-going audience, eager for festive fun and wintertime wonder. Realising they’ll make good a second time round, Disney have held onto this DVD/Blu-ray release until Christmas 2010, knowing the same audience will be eager for a repeat performance in front of their HD televisions on Christmas Day. ‘Tuppence is tuppence,’ as Scrooge would say.

And why not? It’s good business sense for a guaranteed sell. And rightly so. A Christmas Carol is the most fully-realised version of the classic tale, and the most faithful. More than that, it’s good fun, if more than a little dark, and gives new life to a story that has been regurgitated ad nauseam. The performances are of a quality usually reserved for Pixar outings, with Carrey and Oldman proving particularly exceptional. The animation and motion capture CGI are near perfect, though flaws still exist, with Zemeckis still having a ways to go before he realises the photorealism he’s so intent on achieving.

All in all though, this is good, clean Christmas fun.

4 stars

EXTRAS

Despite a worthwhile and worthy main feature, the extras, particularly for a Blu-ray release, are a mixed bag and don’t really do justice to an otherwise successful production.

Behind the Carol: The Full Motion Capture Experience
This is actually an enjoyable extra, purely for a behind-the-scenes look at how motion-capture technology works and how directors and actors utilise it to its best effect. Highlights include Carrey and Oldman on set (if you can call it that) and getting into character, and to see how Zemeckis operates as director in the world of animation. Unfortunately, this extra is let down by one of the most annoyingly happy people to ever present an extra (Bah humbug!).

Countdown To Christmas Interactive Calendar
Quite possibly the most pointless extra ever, and clearly a ploy by Disney to get the kids to demand mum and dad put the film on every single day up until Christmas. Avoid this one at all costs.

Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling
This is interesting, but offers nothing new to the usual spiel of how the cast and crew wanted to do ‘their’ take on Dickens’ tale. Worth a watch, but only one watch.

On Set With Sammi – A Kid’s Eye View Of An “Anything But Average” Day
We get it: Disney makes children happy, and none more than little Sammi Hanratty it would seem. The thumb-sized thesp (she plays a number of characters in the film) takes us on a tour of how ‘awesome’ it is to work on a film like this, showing us the delights of motion capture technology, and how to do a cockney accent. Nothing against Hanratty, but there’s only so much sickly sweet good nature and excitement we can take (Bah humbug again!).

Deleted Scenes
This is probably the best feature on the disc, though it also features on the DVD disc, too. While none of the scenes are fully realised, with the animation incomplete and at a basic, ‘working’ level, these scenes are worthwhile viewing. Adding a nice touch is the insertion of the actual camera footage of the actors’ faces to the animation. Again, watching Carrey and co perform, but with their bodies and movements within the animation realm, is a revealing and enjoyable watch. Definitely one to take a gander at.

Let’s not forget, though, that this is Blu-ray. Hit and miss extras aside, sound and picture quality are of a superior quality, which can, on occasion, make up for some of the animation’s shortcomings in terms of realism and detail. The sound in particular really brings the cinematic experience home, while picture quality and clarity are of the exceptional level we’ve come to expect. A worthwhile and enjoyable effort overall for Disney, but hindered somewhat by unwarranted and unnecessary extras.

3 stars

RATING: PG
RUNNING TIME: 98 mins

Disney’s A Christmas Carol is out now.


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