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Robert Zemeckis
Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Steve Valentine, Daryl Sabara, Sage Ryan, Amber Gainey Meade, Ryan Ochoa
Writing Credits:
Robert Zemeckis, Charles Dickens (novel)

From Walt Disney Pictures comes the magical retelling of Charles Dickens’ beloved tale - Disney’s A Christmas Carol, the high-flying, heartwarming adventure for the whole family, starring Jim Carrey. When three ghosts take penny-pinching Scrooge on an eye-opening journey, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas - but he must act on it before it’s too late. Complete with spirited bonus features, this exhilarating and touching Disney classic is destined to be part of your holiday tradition, adding sparkle and heart to all your Christmases yet to come.

Box Office:
$200 million.
Opening Weekend
$30.051 million on 3683 screens.
Domestic Gross
$137.850 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Descriptive Video 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:
Mandarin Chinese
Cantonese Chinese

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $45.99
Release Date: 11/16/2010

• “Behind the Carol” Picture-in-Picture Mode
• “Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling” Featurette
• “On Set with Sammi” Featurette
• Six Deleted Scenes
• “Countdown to Christmas” Interactive Calendar
• Sneak Peeks
• Bonus DVD


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Disney's A Christmas Carol [Blu-Ray] (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 11, 2010)

Did the world need yet another retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Probably not, but a 2009 version will do nothing to stem that tide, as its $137 million gross showed that the old story could still pull in patrons.

If you require a plot synopsis, you need to get out more, but here goes: on Christmas Eve, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) receives visits from a series of ghosts. They show him what a jerk he’s been most of his life and give him a chance to fix his mistakes before it’s too late.

We’ve already established that Carol succeeded as a commercial enterprise – well, in a relative sense, at least, as that $137 million gross looks less stellar when compared against the movie’s enormous $200 million budget. Given the fact that it represents approximately the 8353rd retelling of the Dickens tale, though, the big question becomes whether or not the 2009 take succeeds as an artistic enterprise.

My answer? Sorta. My biggest complaint about Carol stems from the animation. It’s now been 10 years since Zemeckis made a live-action film; 2000’s Cast Away was his last endeavor of that sort.

Since then, Zemeckis has stayed solely in the realm of animation, and a specific kind of animation, as he goes only with computer-generated images based on motion capture elements. This means real actors perform the characters and animators then flesh these out into on-screen visuals.

Zemeckis first went down this path with 2004’s Polar Express, and he followed that with 2007’s Beowulf. Up next? Exactly the same treatment, this time for a remake of Yellow Submarine.

I don’t know why Zemeckis refuses to make live-action flicks anymore, but I wish he’d ditch the motion capture animation, as it remains these movies’ biggest weakness. Granted, the technology has improved since 2004, so the character no longer seem quite as stiff and artificial as they did in Polar Express.

But “no longer quite as” doesn’t mean “not at all”. From the movie’s opening scene, the inherent creepiness of the human characters puts us off-guard. Zemeckis wants something that approaches photorealism, but the plastic look of the characters makes them unappealing. It becomes awfully tough to invest in the film when its visuals work against it in this way.

There’s also the gimmicky nature of the casting. In Express, Tom Hanks took on six roles, and here, Carrey plays eight parts. Granted, five of those stem from Scrooge at different ages, but it’s still a gimmicky choice. Pretty much every other version of Carol used actual younger actors for younger Scrooge – is there any really good reason to place Carrey in the film as all five?

He’s not the only actor to take on multiple parts. Gary Oldman plays Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim (!), while others perform more than one character. Heck, it’s rare to see anyone in the cast who stayed with just one role; maybe Zemeckis just wanted the biggest bang for his buck.

In truth, it feels like a gimmick, and one that I don’t really understand. Perhaps you could argue that only one actor should play Scrooge at different times of his life, but it still seems unnecessary to me, and I really don’t think it makes sense for Carrey to play the three ghosts as well. As for Oldman as Tiny Tim… words escape me.

Despite the ugly animation and the gimmicky casting, Carol still manages to succeed much of the time. It apparently offers an unusually faithful retelling of the Dickens novel. Carol has been reworked with so many variations that it’s tough to remember what was only in the original, but reports indicate that Zemeckis sticks pretty closely to the source, so that’s a plus.

Zemeckis also creates a darker than usual version. Most editions of Carol tend to smooth out its rough edges for family audiences, but this one packs a surprisingly moody punch. Many moments are creepy, and some become downright scary. I think that’s a welcome change, as it gives the movie the edge it needs. After all, Scrooge’s experiences are supposed to be so harrowing that they force him to change his ways; the film needs to convey the visceral impact, and this Carol does so.

If Zemeckis had made this via more traditional techniques – either standard live-action or non-mo-cap animation – I suspect I’d really endorse it. Unfortunately, the director’s infatuation with various gimmicks harms the final product. That results in a good but flawed telling of the story.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Disney’s A Christmas Carol appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. While often stellar, the transfer came with some concerns that made it less than amazing on a total basis.

My sole complaints related to black levels and shadows, as both lacked consistency. At times, blacks looked deep and tight, and low-light shots could be smooth and clear. However, more than a few exceptions occurred. In many scenes, I noticed somewhat inky blacks and moderately impenetrable shadows. Shots with real contrast – such as interiors with light from windows – looked fine, but pure nighttime bits looked murkier. Since the movie came with quite a few of these, the image was often less clear than I’d expect.

Everything else about the transfer excelled. Sharpness was stellar, as the movie always displayed excellent clarity and accuracy; this was a tight, precise presentation with detail that often looked stunning. No jaggies or shimmering appeared, and edge haloes failed to intrude.

Source flaws also were absent, and colors looked nice. Given the darkness in which so much of the action occurred, we didn’t get a ton of bright hues, but the film consistently exhibited them in a pleasing manner, and when more vivid tones emerged – such as during the Ghost of Christmas Present part – they looked dynamic and vibrant. Without the concerns related to blacks and shadows, this would be an “A+” transfer; as it stood, I thought it merited a “B+”.

I felt the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Carol earned an identical grade. Though it was more consistent, it lacked the same peaks. Still, it offered a pretty involving soundscape, especially during the ghost-related scenes. Those used the spectrum in an active manner that managed to place us within the action. Music showed solid stereo presence, and some decent localized speech also came along for the ride. While I’d be hard-pressed to cite any particularly killer sequences, the whole package managed to keep us immersed.

At all times, audio quality satisfied. Speech was natural and concise, without edginess or other concerns. Music appeared lively and full, while effects seemed accurate and dynamic. Again, the track lacked the consistent “wow” factor to enter “A” territory, but it was more than good enough for a “B+”.

Among the set’s extras, the big attraction comes from a picture-in-picture mode called Behind the Carol. This consists of two components. First, we see the non-animated motion capture footage of the actors. The material appears in the lower right corner of the screen, and it lets us view the performers in their original state. I don’t know if I really want to view 90+ minutes of this, but it’s interesting to check out the actors at work.

In addition, “Behind the Carol” includes a commentary from writer/director Robert Zemeckis. He mostly concentrates on subjects connected to performances and animation, but he also discusses music, character design, lighting, shooting in 3D, adaptation notes, editing and camerawork, and some other production areas.

Though a bit dry at times due to the emphasis on technical elements, Zemeckis offers a generally interesting discussion. I’d like to hear more about the why of the project - ie, why make the 993rd version of Carol? – but at least Zemeckis digs into the “how” side of things well. He covers the various topics in a satisfying way that makes this a worthwhile commentary.

Two featurettes ensue. Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling goes for 14 minutes, 43 seconds and includes notes from Zemeckis, UC-Riverside Associate Professor English Literatur Susan Zieger, producers Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, motion capture supervisor Gary Roberts, stunt coordinator Garrett Warren, director of photography Robert Presley, and actors Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Cary Elwes, Sammi Hanratty, Bob Hoskins, Colin Firth, and Jacquie Barnbrook, who also hosts. The show looks at the decision to make another version of Carol and adapting the original, motion capture techniques and performances, animation, and general thoughts. “Retelling” takes a decidedly fluffy tone, but it still manages to produce some good information. It’s especially nice to hear from the actors as they discuss what it’s like to shoot mo-cap.

On Set with Sammi runs a mere one minute, 52 seconds. It shows young actor Hanratty as she goes through her time on the set. Nothing of great substance emerges here, but we see some decent behind the scenes bits.

Six Deleted Scenes last a total of eight minutes, 39 seconds. These include “Tattered Caroler” (0:52), “Stew and Swine” (1:51), “Hearse” (1:21), “Small Matter” (1:40), “Belle’s Family” (1:49) and “Clothesline” (1:06). Most offer minor bits of filler, but I like “Family”, as it expands nephew Fred’s character a bit.

Exclusive to Blu-ray, a “Countdown to Christmas” Interactive Calendar offers kids a way to get excited for the holiday. They’re supposed to come onto the Blu-ray everyday from December 1 through 25, click on the appropriate date, and experience a little treat.

A very little treat. For the effort, all we get are short CG shots of toys and other gewgaws. I suspect kids might enjoy the first couple of days but then they’ll tire of this nonsense.

A few ads open the disc. We get clips for Bambi, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Tron Legacy. These also appear under Sneak Peeks along with promos for ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas”, The Search for Santa Paws, DisneyNature Oceans, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, The Incredibles and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2. No trailer for Carol shows up here.

Finally, a second platter provides a DVD Copy of Carol. If you want to own Carol but aren’t yet Blu-ray capable – or if you just want one to tote in the car - it’s a good bonus. Note that this is the standard DVD you’d buy on the shelves, not some emasculated barebones one; it includes a good selection of extras.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol provides a flawed version of the story. Robert Zemeckis adapts the tale well, gives it a satisfying dark side and moves it along well with his direction, but his decision to use ugly motion capture animation robs it of some impact; the visuals simply remain too ugly and unnatural to allow the viewer to really dig into it. The Blu-ray comes with good picture and audio as well as a fairly positive collection of supplements. If the motion capture animation doesn’t bother you, this is a solid purchase; others should probably rent before they take the plunge.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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