Disney's A Christmas Carol
Story telling has been around as long as people gathered together. Over time certain examples of literature have become such classics that they are constantly reinvented. In cases like this re re-imaginings are not the result of a lack of originality. Quite the opposite, in such cases the retelling of a story is the responsibility of each generation to take a classic tale and express it in a fashion so as to make it their own. The fundamental elements typically survive from one incarnation to the next but what matters most is how the method of presentation changes to reflect the tastes and sensibilities of the current generation. One prime example of this is a story that has not only stood the test of time but helped to define a holiday season is Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Not only has it been remade nearly constantly but it has been the basis for more satires and spoof that possible to count. Some stories may come to represent a specific time and place but this tale of ghostly visitations has become inexorably entwined in the global celebration of this holiday. The characters depicted in this story have gone beyond mere literary icons to the point of establishing new tropes that themselves have been molded and reinterpreted as the basis of many diverse stories. The story was originally published in 1843 and is by far one of the most famous and undoubtedly the most beloved work in the incredible portfolio of Charles Dickens. While much of his works highlights the vast discrepancy between the rich and poor in Victorian England this story transcends that through the inclusion of themes that encompass the hope of redemption and the healing influence of love. This is the third time that the Disney studios took on a direct remake of the story. This time instead of using the established voice of established anthropomorphized characters like Mickey Mouse or Kermit the Frog it is a humanistic rendition told through a modern variation of animation.
This version of the story sprang from the creative mind of a proven American storyteller and film maker, Robert Zemeckis. An animated holiday story may initially seem like an odd movie choice for this auteur but a closer examination will provide a possible connection to his other well known works. Zemeckis is best known for his ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy where young Marty McfFly splits his adventure between the past, present and future. Time travel may seem to be a modern plot device but it is the core of this story. As everyone knows the misanthropic and miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is so devoid of good cheer and appreciation of the Christmas season that fate intervenes. One fateful night Scrooge is visited by three Christmas sprits who take him on a fateful journey through the past, present and potential future in order to show him the errors of his ways. This may be a classic morality play but as generations of children and grown-ups alike can attest the didactic elements never overwhelm the sheer enjoyment of the story. This is especially true with this incarnation.
The film was presented theatrically in a modern variation of 3D filming. The underlying technique used in this incarnation is something called performance capture. In this method a recording is made of an actor’s performance which is then digitized. Once in the computer it can be mapped to a two or three dimensional model. The main benefit of this methodology is the physical presentation of the performer is retained; the nuances of his facial expressions or subtle body language is kept giving a much more human appearance to the resultant animation. It is an excellent comprise between fully digital and completely live action. This method was previously used with incredible success by Zemeckis in ‘Polar Express’. In some ways it is the logical next step beyond roto-scoping where a performance is traced by an artist. Allowing the computer to take on this tedious process not only speeds up the process but offers the film maker a plethora of options in the final appearance. This technique offers an almost surrealistic view of a familiar story providing a new twist to something we have all seen countless times before. With Jim Carrey utilizing his rubbery, extremely expressive face in so many roles the only way possible to capture his comic brilliance is with a method like this. Carrey’s performances rely on such minute expressions and motions that any animation technique that doesn’t allow them to come across would be worthless but fortunately the technique is mature enough and Zemeckis experienced in its use to turn this movie into sheer magic.
Performance capture was able to transfer the humanity directly to the film but the addition of other sophisticated animation skills to take the audience back in time to Victorian London. This in itself is a major advantage held by this version. The original Dickens tale was borne of pure imagination that the previous films attempted to recreate. His words invoked in the minds of his readers a fantasy existing somewhere between a dream and reality. This animation did precisely that. This is especially evident in the high definition release. The detail exhibited is absolutely amazing. The city comes alive transporting the audience into the frightening experience of Scrooge. Each of the spirits takes on a distinct persona that is based on the traditional renditions but now is able to explore new dimensions. The same holds true with the DTS lossless audio; it is sweeping crafting an expansive sound stage that out shines any previous presentation of the movie. in a field consisting of some many renditions of this story this one is certain to shine as one of the best.