Disney’s A Christmas Carol (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 96 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: November 16, 2010
Review Date: November 7, 2010
Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic novella A Christmas Carol must be the most adapted piece of literature in existence. It’s been filmed numerous times for movies and television, been adapted for the stage in musical and non-musical versions, and been transformed into vehicles for everyone from the Muppets to Mr. Magoo. Disney has already had a go at the story with their own Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and now we have Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture/animated version of the tale, a more or less faithful rendering of the story with a handful of actors being transformed into the innumerable characters needed for the narrative. It’s a handsome picture, and quite often one forgets that he’s watching computer animation since such great strides have been made in the technology since Zemeckis first brought it to our attention with The Polar Express. It may not be everyone’s favorite rendering of the story, but it’s an entertaining and involving retelling just the same.
Crotchety miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) despises Christmas and wants no part of making merry, turning down his nephew Fred’s (Colin Firth) invitation for Christmas dinner and only grudgingly allowing long-time clerk Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) the day off for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the spirit of his late partner Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman) who warns him of a terrible fate awaiting him after his life ends if he doesn’t mend his ways. To help him see his misguided and selfish path, Scrooge is to be visited by three spirits who show him moments in his past, present, and future which should help him see his follies and possibly aid in making him into a new man before it’s too late.
Robert Zemeckis has adapted the story for the movie’s screenplay, and apart from a few liberties (miniaturizing Scrooge in the future sequence plays faster and looser with the original story than in the other segments) and some rather unfunny comic touches (Marley’s jaw cracking off in mid-sentence and thus having to be held in place with his scarf), it’s a faithful and fanciful rendition of the familiar story, made more intriguing by the fact that the stars enacting these roles through the motion capture animation are often quite recognizable: thus Carrey as Scrooge talks to Carrey as the various ghosts and Oldman as both Cratchit and his crippled son Tiny Tim allow the actors to display remarkable versatility through their changes of voice and nuance adding an extra measure of complexity to this animated interpretation. With limitless possibilities with the cinematography, Zemeckis literally flies the camera around the widescreen frame often enjoying watching from above in breathtaking shots which must have been astonishing to watch in 3-D since in 2-D they’re likewise amazing, and 19th century London is conveyed through the CGI with wonderful detail and breadth. Story-wise, though, Scrooge monopolizes this version even more than in most others: the scenes with Belle are shortchanged so the breakup doesn’t land with great distress to the present-day miser, and the Cratchit family gets its requisite couple of scenes, but they aren’t milked for the maximum poignancy and seem a little lacking in emotional heft. The shortened running time makes it necessary that we get a very streamlined telling of the tale, but in this case, less is not more.
Jim Carrey certainly has a field day with his superb interpretation of Scrooge and the very different personalities of the ghosts he also plays (though the overuse of laughter with Christmas Present gets to be irritating). The other actors, though, don’t get great chances to register in their roles. Bob Hoskins is great casting as Fezziwig, Scrooge’s old employer, but his part is very brief. Gary Oldman does a fine Bob Cratchit but not a memorable one though his Jacob Marley is pretty special aided by the fantastic CGI effects with his chains. Likewise Colin Firth’s Fred gets the job done but not in any exemplary way. Robin Wright Penn plays both Scrooge’s sister Fan and love interest Belle in brief appearances, and Cary Elwes takes on five curtailed roles without making much of an impression.
The film’s widescreen 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The movie would be an overwhelming 3-D experience with many obvious effects designed to jump through the frame. Even in 2-D, the sharpness and dimensionality of the high definition transfer makes those effects exhilarating to experience. Great care has been taken to give these animated renderings of humans great detail in facial wrinkles and in the clothes they wear. Certain colors pop off the screen though much of the film remains darker and more muted, though the HD transfer has no trouble at all rendering this without macroblocking or banding of any kind. Black levels are meaningfully deep and impressive. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix begins rather demurely, but before long, the screen in alive with all manner of immersive effects, and Alan Silvestri’s music and his adaptation of traditional Christmas carols fill the surrounds in a very satisfactory way. There’s impressive use of the LFE channel with explosive bass that’s very effective. Dialogue is well recorded and most placed in the center channel though there are even some instances of directionalized dialogue which mix beautifully with the rest of the audio encode.
“Behind the Carol: The Full Motion Capture Experience” allows the viewer to open a PiP window to see the actors in their motion capture suits acting their roles on the stage while seeing the finished results in the larger screen frame. Robert Zemeckis also has an audio commentary which can be turned on to hear his comments about the filming. The commentary is not available as a standalone audio choice since its major function is describe what we’re seeing in the live-action filming rather than the computer rendered/finished product.
“Countdown to Christmas Interactive Calendar” offers twenty-five days of animated treats behind doors on an interactive street scene which requires the viewer to watch the days in order.
“Capturing A Christmas Carol” is a 14 ¾-minute featurette on the motion capture process hosted by actress Jacquie Barnbrook (in a manner that’s a little too twee for my taste) showing how it was done behind-the-scenes of filming the movie. It’s in 1080p.
“On the Set with Sammi” is a very brief 2-minute tour of the set with child actress Sammi Hanratty who describes her typical day on the set. It’s in 1080p.
There are six deleted scenes which can be viewed separately or in one 8 ¾-minute grouping, all in 1080p. They’re, however, in various forms of unfinished rendering.
The second disc in the set is a DVD version of the movie.
There are promotional trailers for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Disney Blu-ray in 3-D, Bambi, Tron: Legacy, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Santa Paws, Oceans, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, and The Incredibles. All are in 1080p.
4/5 (not an average)
It’s not my favorite rendition of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, but Disney’s A Christmas Carol is a faithful and fine interpretation of the story with superb audio and video (even in 2-D). The bonus feature package may be slightly light for a major Disney holiday release, but it’s nevertheless a recommended Blu-ray delight.