Lionel Barrymore. Alastair Sim. Laurence Olivier.
Albert Finney. George C. Scott. Michael Caine.
Bill Murray. Mr. Magoo. Scrooge McDuck.
Of the many to play Ebenezer Scrooge, Jim Carrey now adds his name, starring in Disney’s new 3-D animation version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
In this latest incarnation of Dickens’ Christmas fable, Carrey plays not only the penny-pinching miser, young and old, but also the three ghosts that visit him: the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.
Carrey’s zest for the undertaking comes through clearly enough – after all, the rubber-faced “Ace Ventura” actor has always been a contortionist. His Scrooge is exceptionally gaunt, topped by limp white hair, and features a downturned mouth below an Ichabod Crane nose.
When Scrooge breaks into a sudden jig or the Ghost of Christmas Past – rendered here (faithfully to the book) as a kind of flickering candle – gives a comic twitch, it’s easy to recognize the actor behind the animation.
But on the whole, the film feels suffocated by its design, and the liveliness of Carrey and the rest of the cast (including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Cary Elwes) struggles to shine through.
Director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump,” “Cast Away”) opted to use performance-capture animation, having the actors’ movements and expressions transferred from live-action to animation. He previously employed the technique in “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.”
Unfortunately, the characters come across oddly inanimate. Many have vacant, almost ghostly eyes. It seems a curious decision to go to such lengths to make a thoroughly human story so inhuman.
Zemeckis largely hues closely to the text, allowing the audience to soak up Dickens’ language, still fresh and familiar and musical.
But too much of the film is geared around 3-D wizardry. Unneeded sequences pop up for purely “wow” baiting, such as an airborne Scrooge shot skyward to the moon, and a gratuitous chase sequence as he runs from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (who has now wrestled up a chariot of black stallions).