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A Christmas Carol

Captured in Motion

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Surprisingly, Robert Zemeckis is able to channel the spirit of Charles Dickens’ original in this graphics-conscious update. After the lukewarm reception of his previous motion capture films, Beowulf and The Polar Express, he may finally find the reception he’s been hoping for with A Christmas Carol. It succeeds by staying true to its source material and by utilizing motion capture technology to enhance its story. Unfortunately, the motion capture is also its main detractor.

A cartoon is inherently separate from the viewer. The viewer can empathize with the characters, but they are blatantly not human. With motion capture it’s a way to create realistic human cartoons and manipulate their movements in an exciting way. It’s what transforms Jim Carrey into the elderly Ebenezer Scrooge — as well as his younger incarnations — and the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, a candle-like figure and ogre, respectively. While it’s amazing to see these transformations, especially Gary Oldman as Jacob Marley and Bob Cratchit, there’s still a separation between the characters and the viewer. It’s easy to be fooled for a second into believing these are real people, until an odd mouth movement reinforces they’re just creations.

If it weren’t for this awkwardness it would be a truly wonderful adaptation. But Zemeckis’ decision to use motion capture is constantly questionable. Why this and not a cartoon or real actors? Zemeckis would argue it is for the best of both worlds, but this is a technology still new to films and not widely used. We live in a time when pushing the boundaries technologically is just as much a reason to see a film, as are its direction, story, and acting. But the film does stand up on those latter merits alone.

Jim Carrey is convincing as all the characters he plays, at least on a vocal level, as is the rest of the cast, including Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn and Cary Elwes. Many of these actors play multiple characters, some voiced and some motion captured. Occasionally it’s obvious, but that doesn’t mean the performances aren’t good. On the contrary, it’s great to see a film that doesn’t rely solely on the name of the actors it features, but on their talents as well.

There are countless incarnations of this classic story and there will no doubt be more. If this is not the best film adaptation, it’s surely one of the more exciting ones.