DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL Blu-ray Review

     November 18, 2010

Disney’s A Christmas Carol is a holiday feast for the eyes and a boon for the soul. Robert Zemeckis and the crew at Imagemovers Digital have achieved something quite remarkable with their latest motion-capture based animated film. They’ve managed to remain uniquely faithful to the spirit and text of Dickens’ classic novel while infusing the storytelling with a soaring quality that transcends the stodgy stagings we’ve seen of this beloved tale in the past. The Polar Express may have earned bigger box office, but this is Zemeckis and crew’s true holiday masterpiece. Oh, and don’t be put off by the “Disney” possessive. This is every bit the dark and frightening tale Dickens intended, not some sanitized version for the kiddies.  Hit the jump for more:

On one of behind-the-scenes featurettes, director Zemeckis calls Dickens’ novel “the greatest time-travel story ever written” –  this coming from the man who made Back to the Future, arguably the greatest time-travel movie ever made. What both Carol and Future share are the hooks of magical storytelling built on human tales of identity and connection that conclude with the notion that the future is unwritten. The idea that it’s never too late to salvage our selves and our relationships is obviously one of tremendous and enduring appeal. Capturing on screen and evoking in viewers the cathartic sense of relief and liberation associated with this notion is the key to any successful adaptation of Dickens’s work, which this Carol does more than effectively. Everything else – the exquisitely textured animation, the robust performances, Alan Silvestri’s lovely score – are delightful trimmings on a film for which, I’ll admit, I didn’t hold such great expectations (to borrow from another Dickens title).

My first concern was that Carol has been done too many times in the past, present and, likely, future. Everyone from The Muppets to Tori Spelling have gone through the basic beats of Dickens perennial classic on TV or film. Fortunately, the stunning animation makes this Carol feel fresh and breathtakingly vital. Trust me, you’ve never swooped through Dickens’ London like you do in this film.

Another concern was the top billing of Jim Carrey. I feared Carrey’s tendency to mug might undermine the novel’s necessarily serious tone and turn Scrooge into a cartoonishly hammy villain. Having an actor portray multiple roles is also something I’m usually wary of. (I still believe Zemeckis undermined the beautiful realism of the Back to the Future series when he started having Michael J. Fox portray his own past and future family members). Thankfully, Carrey’s performances as Scrooge and as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future are distinct enough in tone and look and subtle enough in execution to avoid letting this sometimes undisciplined American actor overwhelm the narrative.

Since the characterization of “Scrooge” isn’t particularly Carrey-ish, it begs the question: why hire such a big American movie star in the first place? After three films, The Polar Express, Beowulf and now Disney’s A Christmas Carol, Zemeckis and Imagemovers have proven themselves the true stars of their shows. They don’t need big movie star names to sell their films. The promise of their own unique brand of imaginative storytelling technique and stunningly textured animation should be incentive enough for moviegoers in search of wondrous escape.

PICTURE/SOUND

This is a show-off disc in terms of stunning high definition picture and sound. In fact, if your budget for holiday decorations is limited, pop Carol into your Blu-ray player to instantly infuse your home with all the colors and sounds of the season. The 1080p High Def picture is breathtaking. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 DVS, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Subtitle options include English SDH, French and Spanish.

EXTRAS

Bonus material includes the feature length Picture-in-Picture commentary “Behind the Carol: The Full Motion Capture Experience,” the making-of featurette “Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling,” “On Set with Sammi” and deleted scenes. Oh, and there’s also a “Countdown to Christmas Interactive Calendar.” Yes, we’ve officially entered the age of the digital advent calendar!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Dickens’ classic holiday novel becomes an instant holiday film classic.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol is rated PG for scary sequences and images. It has a run time of approximately 96 minutes.

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