JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright, Bob Hoskins, Ryan Ochoa

Written by Chris Gelderd

This 2009 American motion-capture festive film is written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, is based on the classic story by Charles Dickens and featuring motion-capture and vocal performances by Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn and Cary Elwes.

1843. Christmas Eve. London, England. Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey), a bitter, miserable and rude moneylender manages to suck the spirit out of everyone he works and meets, including put-down colleague Bob Cratchit (Oldman) and nephew Fred (Firth). Reluctantly shutting his shop for Christmas Day, he returns to his home, alone, to spend another festive season away from others.

But as night draws in, the ghost of former business partner Jacob Marley (Oldman), visits him and warns him that if he doesn’t change his ways he will suffer the same fate as Jacob in the afterlife; heavy chains weighing down his soul forged by his greedy ways. Warning him of 3 spirits that will visit him before the night is out, Jacob vanishes.

As the clock strikes midnight, so begins a night like no other for Scrooge as he is sure enough visited by the spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past (Carrey), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carrey) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Carrey), all who will show Scrooge the mistakes he has made, the legacy he has lived and the pain he has caused in an attempt to salvage him and become a changed man before it is too late…

One of the greatest Christmas stories ever written, and told in many adaptations over TV, radio and film, always manages to convey the real spirit of what Christmas is all about in a heart-warming and entertaining, simple way. This adaptation, via the imagination of Robert Zemeckis, following his 2009 motion-capture animation The Polar Express, combines that same dizzying 3D spectacle with nightmarish action, well-presented characters and a well-meaning narrative.

Jim Carrey is on fine form in motion-capture and vocal mode as Ebenezer Scrooge; wiry, mean and cantankerous to the best, almost looking like a man corrupted by the bitterness he embodies with claw-like hands, a bent frame and leather face. The animation is superb, with lots of detail to every hair, inch of skin and location we see. Mixed with a great vocal performance, this Scrooge I feel is one of the best and probably one of the closest interpretations to the Dickens original; coming over at times like an old beast rather than an old man.

With good support from a fairly British cast including Gary Oldman, Bob Hoskins and Colin Firth, the simple story isn’t lost amidst the made-for-3D action that we are treated to; flying through a beautiful wintery Victorian London, or around a snow-capped countryside or even down the dark and dangerous streets at night-time. This manages to capture the time in history perfectly and looks just the part, with the animation helping our characters bend the laws of physics for a fantastical tale that never puts the actors in danger as they fly, fall and fight.

For a story that nearly everybody knows so well, the way it is presented is key to staying fresh and current, and this is clearly the first 3D motion-capture adaptation giving us lots of nice touches that brings the story to life (literally) with great detail to all the settings we see; flickering candle lights, creaky wooden houses, furious snow falls.

While the film may not be generally suitable for younger viewers thanks to, once again, the love of nightmarish visions Zemeckis injects into these tales that seem innocent enough (we have laughing skeletons, terrifying ghosts who scream at the camera, feral children and demonic horses thundering towards the screen), maybe younger viewers should stick with the fluffy fun of The Muppets Christmas Carol.

But, on the whole, this is a nice 90 mins runtime and doesn’t change the foundations of the story at all. With a wonderfully rousing and traditional soundtrack that channels that festive spirit and a beautiful rendition of ‘God Bless Us Everyone’ by Andrea Bocelli, this offers a very authentic adaptation of a classic with fresh fantasy injected to take not just Scrooge on an amusing and dizzying journey, but audiences too.

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JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: The Polar Express (2004)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Chris Coppola, Michael Jeter, Leslie Zemeckis, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen

Written by Chris Gelderd

This 2004 American computer-animated Christmas fantasy is written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis. It features the vocal and motion-capture performances of Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, Tinashe, Peter Scolari and Jimmy Bennett.

In the late 1950s, on Christmas Eve, a sceptical young boy (Sabara//Hanks) is whisked away from his street by a magical train called the Polar Express, overseen by a strict time-keeping but friendly conductor (Hanks). On board, the boy meets other children including a know-it-all (Deezen), a recluse (Scolari/Bennett) and a kind-hearted girl (Gaye/Tinashe) who all become friends.

The conductor sees something special about the young boy and girl and as the journey takes many dangerous and exciting routes across, through and over mountains, ice-plains and the countryside, all three of them keep an eye on each other as they rocket towards their destination; the North Pole.

Once at the North Pole with the promise to meet Santa Claus (Hanks), the quartet become separated from the train as they sneak a look around the workshop, and eventually make their way out to come face to face with Santa, and our young hero must decide if he truly believes in the spirit of Christmas once and for all…

The first ever fully motion-captured film comes from the imagination of director Robert Zemeckis, adapted from the novel of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. With such a creative and imaginative director at the helm, it doesn’t surprise you to see this is fantastical journey taken where laws of physics are ignored, and the thrills, danger and excitement is heaped on sequence after sequence where it is obvious in places this has been made to profit the 3D experience on the big screen.

However, this doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of top-quality animation and the creepy-realism of the locations, the train itself, the wisps of snow, smoke and ice and the characters themselves. All are all rendered via computer animation to the point they can be 99% real, but it allows the other 1% to be escapist, thrown into danger and fantasy with no real risk to anyone – except maybe young viewers.

It will capture the imagination on first, maybe second viewing, but gradually on repeated watches, you come to see that the first 45/50mins or so is basically one long, dangerous train journey. It is also quite scary, un-nerving and perilous for our young heroes – scary hobos appear out of thin air to be in your face with demonic laughs and grins. Scary puppets are present in the rear carriage of the train that seem to have a mind of their own. The train itself is a monstrous beast that thunders towards and over the screen, and also races along the edges of cliff faces, ice lakes and mountain peaks where, if you’re not totally at ease, can be more nerve-wracking for young viewers than intended.

It edges into Tim Burton-esque surrealism with creepy imagery, peril and lots of tense moments that fail to capture a magical train journey to the North Pole but rather a nightmarish and disaster-filled ride that easily demonstrates exciting animation but loses that festive spirit in the story. Even segments in the finale at Santa’s Workshop edges us into peril and disaster, offering visual thrills as we race towards a crash or collision but are saved at the last minute. The soundtrack saves the film in places it drags; a thrilling and enjoyable flurry of music that is exciting, rousing and very bombastic with a sprinkling of festive charm along the way.

Tom Hanks does a superb job in his various mo-cap and vocal roles to keep your faith present as best he can, but it’s the opening and closing moments of the journey and the finale at the North Pole where he shines brightest – that wry, warm and witty Hanks gives us characters that are likeable and heartfelt, and his range is clearly on show. Our other supporting cast of relatively unknown actors help lend innocence to the children in their discovery of faith, friendship and Christmas cheer, while the mo-cap performances are near perfect in rendition.

So while the journey is itself not as magical as it could have been, the finale offers a few tender moments, much needed calm and a feel-good cheer as we discover what it means to believe in Christmas and Santa Claus; much more than toys and treats, but more about simply believing in all that is good, decent and honest. The message in the closing moments does tug at my heart-strings as it’s a wonderful summary of what Christmas should always be about, and how important it will be to preserve the magic for younger generations to come in a society so close to destroying it with commercialism.