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Disney's A Christmas Carol

Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 Reels

MPAA Rating: PG for scary sequences and images

Released in theaters: Nov. .6, 2009

Genre: Family, 3D, animation, holiday

Runtime: 96 minutes

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn

Sex/Nudity: Young Ebenezer dances with a young woman and it’s clear they become engaged.   

Violence/Gore. Many frightening scenes involving ghosts, skeletons, corpses and red-eyed stampeding horses that might scare kids younger than 8. The movie opens with Marley’s body in a casket, and we also get scenes of Scrooge being haunted in his dark mansion and falling into a deep hole toward a casket.

Profanity: Includes British slang like “bugger” and “blast.” “Ass” and “hell” are used, but not as swear words.

Which Kids Will Like It? Kids 8 and older who like the classic Dickens tale and/or holiday movies with CG/3D animation.

Will Parents Like It?  The animation is really stunning, but because of the scary content, I don’t recommend it for kids younger than 8.

Review: We all know the classic Dickens tale about the crotchety Ebenezer Scrooge who’s visited by three ghosts who make him see the light. There’s really nothing new to tell here, but it’s the way the story is told that makes it seem fresh and new in our eyes. This animated, 3D version of Disney’s A Christmas Carol does indeed bring new life to the story.

It’s directed by Robert Zemeckis, the genius behind The Polar Express, and this animation is quite similar to that film. It’s really well done, somehow merging real people–in this case, mainly Jim Carrey–with the animated figures. So what you get is an animated film that seems almost like live action, jumping right off the screen at you (the 3D helps in that regard, too!).

Zemeckis also helmed Monster House, so even his family films have a tendency to be dark and psychological. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of both Monster House and Disney’s A Christmas Carol, they’re much too scary for little ones.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol opens with Scrooge looking over the body of his dead partner, Marley, now lying in a casket with coins on his eyes. Of course, miserly Scrooge snatches up the coins before the body is sent to its final resting place.

We have Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman, who also voices Marley and Tiny Tim), working faithfully in Scrooge’s dismal accounting shop. Bob somehow manages to keep his positive attitude, despite hanging around the cup-half-empty Scrooge all day. At home, his family likewise manages to be positive, despite being dirt poor with a crippled Tiny Tim.

Another main character is Fred (Colin Firth), Scrooge’s well-off nephew who desperately desires to be friends with the old man, who’ll have none of it. Instead, Scrooge shuffles home to his massive dark house and settles in for the night with some porridge. And that’s where the action begins, with the procession of ghosts calling on him in the wee hours.

The ghosts are pretty scary, although each has his little quirks. The first one, the Ghost of Christmas Past, is a funny little spirit with a flame for a head. During this sequence, we see the young Scrooge courting his love, Belle (voiced by Robin Wright Penn).

The Ghost of Christmas Present is a giant Viking-type spirit sitting atop a large mound of bountiful things. And the third, the Ghost of Christmas Future, is a dark, Grim Reaper type accompanied by a team of frightening stampeding horses. Each takes Scrooge through particular time eras, showing Scrooge himself as a young boy, a young man, a present-day miser and a dead soul with no one to grieve for him.

The animation during these sequences is stunning, capturing both the beauty and despair of each particular era. However, if you’re at all prone to motion sickness, I recommend closing your eyes during the flying scenes. During the Ghost of Christmas Present sequence, the floor somehow becomes a glass through which you can see into the present-day time. It’s really awesome, and the animators use the 3D technology to its best use in this movie. I say that because it’s blended so well into the animation that you don’t really even notice that you’re wearing 3D glasses. 

Overall, Disney’s A Christmas Carol is a creative and visually beautiful take on the classic tale, the ultimate story of an old miser regaining hope and love, even when things are at their bleakest. As mentioned, though, it’s too intense and scary for kids younger than 8. 

Jane Boursaw is a family entertainment writer specializing in movies and TV. Visit her at Reel Life With Jane; follow her on Twitter; become a friend on Facebook; email jboursaw@charter.net.