a high-point for director Zemeckis, and a good step forward in motion-capture8/10
I wonder if Robert Zemeckis weren't a filmmaker if he would have become a pilot. Look at his films and you may find a recurring shot in them, if not all then at least a good lot of them: a shot up in the sky, flying around and bringing the audience along (i.e. the feather in Forrest Gump, the pull-back through the valley and mountains in Beowulf, Back to the Future with the flying Dolorean), and here too are shots like that, more than one in fact. It's exhilarating to see Zemeckis at a mastery of this particular shot, and in the full scope and awe in 3D it's even stronger to watch and wonder 'how did they do it(?)' With motion-capture, anything is possible... except, sadly, making one feel a true emotional connection to the material.
Oh, don't get me wrong. It's an improvement over The Polar Express, whose creepiness was more unto itself and jarring as opposed to serving the story, and one can already see advancements in the technology from Beowulf, which was also lots of fun and had an edge to it allowed only with the digital animation. But for some reason- maybe my heart is a lump of coal or I wasn't in the right Christmas spirit or something- the material in the film didn't connect with me, except those moments that were funny (intentionally or not, sometimes due to Jim Carrey's performance), and it became something peculiar. It's a story that is practically timeless, and the director is at the top of his game, almost at the same control of the medium for a particular story like Forrest Gump or Back to the Future - maybe more-so.
It's also still a WOOSH experience, not carrying the same time and effort for characters to really feel fully human before our eyes like, for example, Up did back in the summer. I mention all of this first since the story we all know pretty much (as an aside, I kept thinking back to the first incarnation of the story I saw as a child, the Muppet Christmas Carol, and marveled at how both that and this film kept much of the book's dialog and storytelling devices exactly), and it's almost pointless to recant it here. What is paramount to mention though is that Zemeckis, in keeping with the tone of the original Dickens text (and having the clout that he has), makes it a true Victorian horror movie.
It should be said also that children will be hit or miss with this version; while they'll delight and be awed by the animation and moments of craziness (my favorite being the scene with the ghost Marley and his entire presentation before Scrooge, unhooked jaw uneasily included), they may be put off by the "old" language, some of it in that olde 19th century English Dickens wrote in. Perhaps this is why, against his own better judgment, Zemeckis decided to add in a few scenes to change the very faithful adaptation, the key one being the chase through the streets of London in the Christmas-Future sequence. This is smack dab in the middle of what is the best segment of the film - seeing death as a silhouette with a bony finger and Scrooge's stark pleas is truly chilling - and it suddenly makes it also the worst. It kills the tension and makes a strange sensation: does one laugh at a tiny-voiced Scrooge running around like a mini Daffy Duck cartoon while he's supposed to be facing down his own demise? It's entertaining to watch, but awkward to behold at this point of the story.
That the motion-capture, for all of its beauty and detail in the faces and people and locations and dazzling set-pieces, doesn't engage on a purely spiritual level (not even to the extent that 'Muppet Christmas' did, that at least had the ghost of Henson on the production to keep things truly haunting), is somewhat forgivable for what Zemeckis does accomplish here. He puts a modern spin on a classic tale, makes it approximately dark and mostly uncompromising for all ages- adults will jump possibly more than the kids at the WHOA effects- and Jim Carrey is nothing short of astonishing.
Carrey plays Scrooge in such a bravura way that only calls attention to itself as a dramatic part (only toward the end, when he becomes "happy" Scrooge are there a few unintentional laughs), and it may even be the best Scrooge seen in many years in any medium. Added to this are his *other* parts in the film, as the ghosts of Christmas past and present, the former creepy just on the pronunciation of 's'. Others like Gary Oldman and Colin Firth come off more or less fine if not remarkable (Oldman as Marley is fantastic - as Cratchit, a Oldman-faced Hobbit, is another thing).