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Blu-ray Review: Disney’s A Christmas Carol
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A Christmas CarolDisney’s A Christmas Carol
DVD | Blu-ray | 3D Blu-ray
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth
Walt Disney Pictures Home Entertainment
Release date: November 16, 2010

Ever since 2004’s The Polar Express, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis has been obsessed with motion-capture performance and has been at the forefront of its technology. With his hand so firmly planted in the medium, it’s no surprise that his last few films have employed motion-capture animation, including his latest, Disney’s A Christmas Carol.

I’ll admit, with each film the animation does gets better. Beowulf (2007) trumped The Polar Express, and now A Christmas Carol tops Beowulf. But, I have to ask, how many more classic stories must Zemeckis run through the mo-cap mill before he gives it a rest?

I don’t mean to sound harsh. Like I said, the technology is improving and I think non-human characters are rendered wonderfully with motion capture, for the most part. I just wish Zemeckis would maybe do an original script, like James Cameron did with Avatar, and give adaptations of classic novels a break for a while.

The problem with motion-capture animation is that while it does record every movement of the actors on a motion-capture stage, the look of the human characters on screen is just plain creepy. In A Christmas Carol, aside from Scrooge (Jim Carrey), the other humans look glassy-eyed and distant. Scrooge is above the rest in part because his animation is a caricature; also, I’m guessing because he is the star of the film and is featured so prominently, that a lot of time was spent to get his look as perfect as possible. I found myself overanalyzing the other characters and focusing in on their visual flaws, which took me out a the movie that I otherwise was truly enjoying.

A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite stories, and you can tell that the filmmakers really put their hearts into creating this animated version. Carrey is perfect as the curmudeony Scrooge.Thankfully, Scrooge is the focal point of the story, because Carrey totally carries the film. It’s a performance for which the actor would probably earn an Oscar nomination had it been live-action.

The movie faithfully follows the Dickens tale about Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich old man who loves nothing and no one except for his money. He runs the counting house, where he’s a moneylender, who underpays his one loyal employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman). The old man has no sympathy for the underprivileged, and his heart cannot be softened, even during the Christmas season, a time of year he particularly loathes. While even the poorest of people around him are making merry, Scrooge prefers to be angry and alone, uttering nothing but “humbug” to any who try to wish him well. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge gets a visit from the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley (also played by Oldman), who warns the miser of his fate if he doesn’t change his ways. Later that night, Scrooge is haunted by three ghosts — The Ghost of Christmas Past,The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, all portrayed by Carrey — who take him on a journey of discovery and redemption.

While Carrey is fantastic as the three ghosts, aside from the death rider-like Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, I wasn’t a fan of the look of the first two ghosts. Christmas Past was a big face on a flickering, floating candle, while The Ghost of Christmas Present looked like Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison with long red hair and beard. Oldman was wonderful in his two roles, making Bob Cratchit even more endearing then usual, and the fettered ghost of Jacob Marley even more terrifying.

The story of A Christmas Carol is one of the greatest of all time, and with the holidays coming up soon, it’s the perfect time to revisit the tale with this new film. I’m sure most children can easily enjoy the movie, as they won’t be analyzing the animation of the humans like I did; actually, I’m guessing most people can get beyond that as well. And I hope they do. I watched the film a few times, because I knew that the first time around I’d be overly critical of the motion-capture animation. Upon repeat viewings, I was able to just enjoy Disney’s A Christmas Carol for what it is and forgive the limitations of the technology — I’m sure it’s what the ghosts of my present, past, and future would expect of me.

Bonus Features

— [Blu-ray 3D Exclusve] Mr. Scrooge’s Wild Ride

A 3D version of the film was released theatrically and is now available for home viewing in 3D with the 3D Blu-ray edition (though, you need a 3D TV and 3D-enabled Blu-ray player or 3D computer with blu-ray drive for this). The 3D Blu-ray version comes with all of the bonus features from the DVD and Blu-ray editions, plus it includes this exclusive extra on how the filmmakers used 3D in the film. Even without watching it in 3D, a lot of the scenery is eye-popping, and there’s some sequences where you can tell it was shot a certain way to get the most out of the 3D.

— [Blu-ray Exclusve] Behind The Carol: The Full Motion-Capture Experience

To turn this feature on, select PLAY on the Menu and you’ll have the option to play the movie as is or to turn on this feature-length picture-in-picture experience. With this turned on, you can see the motion-capture performances in a small pop-up window on the bottom right part of the screen. With this feature, you can also opt to turn on audio commentary by director Robert Zemeckis. If you’re interested in motion-capture technology and performance, then definitely check this out after you’ve watched the film at least once without it. Also, if you’re a fan of Zemeckis, this is a must-watch with his commentary; he practically gives a 90-minute lesson in motion-capture filmmaking. A very unique option here is that you can also switch it so that the motion-capture stage with the live actors is on the full screen at any point during the viewing. You can also turn off the audio commentary at any point while watching the film.

— [Blu-ray Exclusve] Countdown to Christmas Interactive Calendar

This is an interactive feature that contains 25 days of holiday surprises behind each door. Start with the door marked 1 and continue on in numerical order to see to the rest; skip a number and you’ll get a message from Scrooge (but you might not like it!). This is a cute little activity, perhaps for the kids, though it took a while to load and the surprises aren’t always so thrilling.

Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling [14:43]

Actress Jacquie Barnbrook, who plays several roles in A Christmas Carol, hosts a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Director Robert Zemeckis talks about his vision for the film, while the actors describe what it was like working in the motion-capture suits on the capture stage. The most fun part of this featurette was the actors complaining about the “T-pose,” a pose they all have to do behind each scene. This featurette packs a lot of details in just under 15 minutes, including testimony from a scholar on how faithful the movie is to the Dickens novel. The only part I disliked was Barnbrook’s hosting, which was very corny.

On Set With Sammi [1:52]

This featurette follows child actress Sammi Hanratty, who plays a few roles in the film, and narrates this very short extra. We see her getting her motion-capture make-up, cameras, and suit on; we quickly see the capture stage, and then it’s time to remove all the equipment.

Deleted Scenes [8:39]

Director Robert Zemeckis introduces the six deleted scenes on the Blu-ray (three on the DVD). Unlike live-action films, these deleted scenes are not fully rendered. We see them here in crude initial animation with the actors’ faces over the animation, with the actors’ in their mo-cap gear. So, you really can’t look at this the way you would live-action deleted scenes, it’s more like a behind-the-scenes look at sequences that were never added to the final film. Of the six, four scenes are short and not integral to the story, but there are two — “Small Matter” and “Belle’s Family” — that are much better. I would have liked to see them included in the final cut of the film.

DVD Disc

The Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray editions both come with an extra disc that is the DVD version, which includes the bonus features available on the DVD edition (see all features above not listed as Blu-ray exclusives).

Digital Download

The Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray editions include an extra disc that allows you to download a digital copy of the feature film, which you can then watch on your computer, or transfer to a portable device, like an iPod.

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