Disney's A Christmas Carol
In the long string of adaptations of Charles Dickens' 1843 classic, possibly the greatest contribution of Disney's A Christmas Carol is that it reminds us that this is a dark and scary ghost story. Screenwriter and director Robert Zemeckis focuses on the personal horror of a miserable man, literally haunted by the prospect of living eternally in despair for his selfish choices.
That Zemeckis would focus on this should come as no surprise, given his history as a director and producer—What Lies Beneath, Death Becomes Her, The Frighteners, Th13teen Ghosts, Gothika, Ghost Ship, and The House on Haunted Hill. Now, his version of A Christmas Carol is easily the most unnerving of all the film adaptations of the story. Some of the movie's best moments involved the haunting of Scrooge—especially an early scene where Scrooge can only sit and wait as he hears the terrifying THUD-drag-THUD of something approaching in the dark.
Wait. Terror? Darkness? Isn't this a Disney film, starring a mugging Jim Carrey and directed by the guy behind the bright and fanciful ThePolar Express? Yes, but families should know this is a far cry from The Muppet Christmas Carol. It will scare the stockings off of little kids. Which is strange, because at times, it seems to be aimed at kids with gags and Polar Express-like action sequences (Scrooge shooting like a rocket into the starry sky, shrinking to the size of a rat, sliding down London's drain pipes, running from giant horses, etc). Families with young children will be better off renting the Muppet version.
OK, so it's not a kid flick. But how does it fare in adapting Dickens for other audiences? It's a mixed bag.
The good: Zemeckis nails the terror of revisiting one's painful and regrettable moments of selfishness with an understanding that it will doom your future. It excels in portraying a mean and horrible old man whose life is empty and sad because he's pushed everyone away from him. (In fact, this may be filmdom's most despicable Scrooge yet, as Carrey plays him so seething that any words he speaks to people seem to grind out with spite.) The film shows how a person's good nature, emotions and compassion are pushed down by hurt and greed.
But on the other side of the coin, Scrooge's redemption is not as convincing as in other adaptations. The reawakening of his spirit is far overshadowed by the darker end of the spectrum. While there is joy in this Scrooge's journey, it doesn't unfold naturally. I wasn't happy for Scrooge. I didn't feel his conversion; it just happened. While I felt his horror and misery, I didn't feel his victory. It lacked heart—which might be because it spends very little time on the story's lovable characters, like Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.
Still, this is one of the most (if not the most) faithful film adaptations of the story. While some visual bits and action sequences are added, almost all of the dialogue is verbatim from the book (which, incidentally, also includes a lack of focus on Tiny Tim). Zemeckis very much tells the story that Dickens told. So why is the triumph of redemption not as affecting?