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'A Christmas Carol' Review: What Is Christmas For, If Not To Scare Kids Into Being Better People?

It’s that time of year again: tinsel, roast dinners and people pretending Home Alone is the best Christmas film. In fact, there’s a lot of chilly pretension in the air when it comes to festive movies - and if I hear one more person joke about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas film, I may have to boycott the holidays for my own sanity. Controversially, I have a more obscure suggestion for the top spot, and it’s going to spark the wrath of some movie Scrooges.

Credit: Promotional Release for Disney's A Christmas Carol

You simply can’t beat Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, no matter how many “bah-humbugs” I might get for saying that. Before you reach for your own nightgown and snooze at this choice, I pray you bear with me and let me be your ghost of Christmas cinematography.

Over the years countless film adaptations of the classic story have popped up, from 1951’s Scrooge to The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). They range from exact replicas of Dickens’ original text to deviant musical versions, sometimes starring an off-pitch Michael Cane. Nevertheless, most retellings struggle to balance Dickens’ literary feast of exaggerated caricatures and warming descriptions with the stark message of social inequality that is paramount to the novel. A version that impressively juggles both, and the one I’m advocating for you to add to your Christmas watchlist this year, is Disney’s 2009 adaptation. With a stellar voice cast, cosy soundtrack, and strangely creepy animations, it captures Dickens’ dark Christmas spirit in a delectable Disney parcel.

The film’s use of the 3D motion-capture animation process is immediately arresting, allowing for a vivid reimagining in which the star-studded cast shines through. Jim Carey takes on the infamous Scrooge with vigour, shifting from mumbling grimaces to a rejuvenated and compassionate philanthropist with expert ease. Despite its promotional status as a children’s film, A Christmas Carol evokes one of Carey’s most compelling dramatic performances. The behind-the-scenes footage places the comedic actor’s skillful versatility on full display as he performs as Scrooge and all three ghosts. Carey is aided by the mighty acting chops of co-stars Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchit and Colin Firth as Fred, Scrooge’s compassionate nephew. The balance between familiarity and adaptation aids the film’s ability to evoke nostalgia alongside freshness, a theme that is continued through the memorable soundtrack.

Alan Silvestri’s score melts the winter blues and eventually conquers even Scrooge’s cold heart. Silvestri’s long career, including work on Forrest Gump (1994) and The Avengers (2012), lauds him as one of Hollywood’s most renowned thematic composers. His oeuvre is not disappointed by his contribution to this Christmas classic, impressing with a vibrant score that evokes equal nostalgia and intrigue. Perhaps the best example of this is the main title scene; the jingle infects the ear with festive cheer whilst the camera floats over the streets of a snowy Victorian London, weaving in and out of the lives of animated peasants singing carols and banquet halls brimming with feasts.

With the unique animation style comes a strangeness to the film, an almost uncanny-valley aura, as we watch the realistic characters move with a peculiarity that strikes unease even in the most heartwarming moments. This unease becomes addictive, as the viewer is made to be as spooked and dislocated as Scrooge, and is equally relieved and recovered at his moral transformation. The portrayal of Earth’s children, Ignorance, and Want, is particularly effective; the vivid unhuman fingers scratching along wooden floorboards seem to crawl over the viewer’s skin. Through these endless juxtapositions of festivity and fear, gothic and tradition, and abundance and lack, the film rips the heart from Dickens’ novel, wipes the blood on the viewer’s hands, and twists it until it joyously beats again. It is a retelling with depth and quality beyond other frivolous adaptations, equally discomforting and uplifting until you have no choice but to reflect on your own values this Christmas time, and all year round.

Perhaps this article should instead be called ‘A Christmas Carol: A Manifesto,’ firstly because I knew you would need convincing. High school exams traumatised many into hearing the words ‘A Christmas Carol’ and being reminded of monotonous lessons and sickening stress. I, therefore, stand as a Dickens defender, aiming to remind my “fellow passengers to the grave” why A Christmas Carol bears far more contemporary relevance than you might think. In the early Victorian period, Christmas celebrations had long been in decline in Britain. Thus, when Dickens published his novel in 1843 with the aim of highlighting social class disparity, the tale’s popular success also reignited Christmas traditions of festive decorations and generosity. Next time you’re pulling a Christmas cracker or donating to a seasonal fundraiser, remember that these practices might not have prevailed without Dickens’ candlelight contribution to the cause.

Credit: Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Moreover, what I propose is not just a film pick, but a lifestyle. A lifestyle of choosing quality over quantity in your movie selections, of recognising the importance of selflessness in spite of materialism, and of consuming thoughtful material in a dangerously depthless modern world of aesthetics. I therefore act, admittedly dramatically, as your ghost of Christmas cinematic future, showing you a catalogue of only The Princess Switch franchises and Home Alone 3s for winters to come unless we change our viewing ways. If, like me, you crave a story deeper than a cheesy Hallmark special, reach for Disney’s A Christmas Carol this month and keep Dickens’ message of “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence'' alive.

I confess, it may be ambitious to suggest you will all be moved to making lifestyle changes after watching my biased film pick on Disney+. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a feel-good movie for December, this underrated classic ticks all the boxes. Disney’s A Christmas Carol wraps up all the brilliance of Dickens (without any of his tangents) in a magnetic and truly haunting 96 minutes. After all, what is Christmas for if not to scare kids into being better people?

Edited by Barney Nuttall, Film and TV Deputy Editor


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