By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Acclaimed on its publication and so popular since that it has never gone out of print, Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol” also has provided the basis for innumerable stage and screen adaptations.
The latest, a lavish and well-crafted 3-D animated version from Disney, though free of objectionable content, does feature images and special effects likely to disturb sensitive youngsters.
As faithfully retold by writer-director Robert Zemeckis, this is the familiar story of miserly misanthrope Ebenezer Scrooge (voice of Jim Carrey), who notoriously regards Christmas as a “humbug.”
After spending the eve of the holiday making his much-put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit (voice of Gary Oldman) miserable, and rebuffing the cheerful invitation of his nephew, Fred (voice of Colin Firth), to a celebratory family dinner, Scrooge retires to his dreary mansion for a supper of cheap gruel. But his routine is interrupted by the tortured specter of his late business partner, Jacob Marley (also voiced by Oldman).
Chained to heavy money chests symbolic of the greediness that marked his life, and condemned to wander in eternal restlessness, Marley — a grimly decaying animated corpse — warns Scrooge that he is headed for a similar doom, and that he will soon be visited by three spirits who will try to persuade him to change his ways.
These, of course, are the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, all three voiced by Carrey.
The first, who appears as a flickering candle, returns Scrooge to the scene of his lonely childhood and his apprenticeship under fun-loving Mr. Fezziwig (voice of Bob Hoskins), during which he fell in love with gentle Belle (voice of Robin Wright Penn). As the sprite also forces Scrooge to recall, however, their romance was eventually ruined by his idolatrous love of money.
The Ghost of Christmas Present, a jolly, thriving figure, gives Scrooge a “heavenly perspective” on current events, revealing the straitened circumstances in which Cratchit’s meager salary leaves his family, especially his sickly, crippled, but ever-chipper son Tiny Tim (Oldman’s voice as well), and the pitying mockery with which Scrooge is discussed by Fred and his guests.
With the approach of midnight, the Ghost of Christmas Present suddenly turns corpselike and is replaced by the last apparition, a black-robed, silent skeleton. The vision he conjures sees Scrooge chased for his life by a runaway horse-drawn hearse and forced to experience his own unmourned death.
Such eerie elements, though present in the original, make this unsuitable viewing for the most impressionable. But heartier family members of almost any age will be delighted by a sweeping survey of Victorian London, from its coziest firesides to its gloomiest graveyards.
As for the central conversion story, its Christian context is unabashedly detailed in the lyrics of carolers, in the lingering view of the ornamental cross above a city church and in the upbeat piety of Tiny Tim, whose jaunty prayer, “God bless us, every one,” serves as the final line of novella and script alike.
“A Christmas Carol” will be shown on both Imax and conventional screens.
– – –
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.