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A Christmas Carol Opens Today

A Christmas Carol

Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol opens today to a chorus of negative reviews and a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A particularly harsh assessment comes from Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal:

To put it bluntly, if Scroogely, Disney’s 3-D animated version of “A Christmas Carol” is a calamity. The pace is predominantly glacial–that alone would be enough to cook the goose of this premature holiday turkey–and the tone is joyless, despite an extended passage of bizarre laughter, several dazzling flights of digital fancy, a succession of striking images and Jim Carrey’s voicing of Scrooge plus half a dozen other roles. “Why so coldhearted?” Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, asks the old skinflint. The same question could be asked of Robert Zemeckis, who adapted and directed the film, and of the company that financed it. Why was simple pleasure frozen out of the production? Why does the beloved story feel embalmed by technology? And why are its characters as insubstantial as the snowflakes that seem to be falling on the audience?

And that’s just the first paragraph of his review. I watched this short clip from the film, and it is sufficiently inept enough to prevent me from wanting to see any more. What did it for me is the scene at about 1:15 in which a ghost floats rapidly towards Scrooge and knocks him backwards. Scrooge then does a backroll and pops up off the floor in a way that is so comically devoid of the laws of physics and inappropriate to the physical movement of a realistic human that all dramatic impact is instantly drained from the scene. This film may technically qualify as animation, but good animation it isn’t.

Zemeckis’s desecration of this holiday classic comes at a reported cost of $180 million, and box office projections range between $35 to $45 million this weekend.

  • Scott

    This article grossly underestimates the cost of the film, but only by no more than $100 million, according to most other sources. I doubt we’ll ever REALLY know the cost.

    But it still wasn’t worth it.

  • Jeffrey McAndrew

    Didn’t Disney learn anything from Winnie the Pooh Springtime with Roo? What I’d like to see done with this motion capture technology is a remake of 1776, except as a porno.

  • ask

    I saw a headline for an online article (didn’t read it) saying it is projected to reach box office records of some sort. This is not surprising news- I am aware that box office results are conversely proportional to my interest in the film.

  • Nick

    I just saw that clip you posted. I didn’t know Scrooge had ninja like dexterity.

  • Fred Cline

    I cringe when I see the TV ads for this film – but my kids want to see it.
    What to do, what to do…

    Notice how 3-picture deals usually result in a bad idea being done 3 times instead of just one!

  • dan

    Yeah, I’m just going to stick with Mickey’s Christmas Carol if that’s okay…Ugh.

  • Scott

    “What I’d like to see done with this motion capture technology is a remake of 1776, except as a porno.”

    I’m game!

    Imagine how Thomas Jefferson would “play the violin!”

  • rextherunt

    Oh, the timeless dialogue of Charles Dicken’s.. “WoooOOOoooaaahhhH!” “WhoahhhhHHHHhhhhh!” “WOAaaaAAAAaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHH!”

  • Tim Schuit

    Looks like shit. I hope it bombs.

  • But it will be a huge economical success nevertheless.

    For starters, the English teacher of my nephew (I’m Mexican) let him the assignment to watch this movie. My sister wants me to go with him! Not one of my refusals and explanation of uncanny valleys will convince her. So Zemeckis has my ticket secured :(

    I think the thing that bothers me the most is that they are opening in November. Yes, we all know this rotten year to be over, but gimme a break!

  • “Why does the beloved story feel embalmed by technology?”

    This has to be the best description I have ever heard of MOCAP film. Let me list some others that feel embalmed by technology, Final Fantasy: Spirits Within and Polar Express.

    The smack back by the ghost is one thing, Amid, true the physics are lacking but this can be writing off as ‘style’. What really did this in for me was seeing the acting, well the lack of acting. The reaction on scrooge’s face is devoid of warmth terror or anything. The animation of the jaw on the ghost looks about as good as a cutscene in a video game.

    In the end that is how this movie looks, an over rendered video game. Perfect for a video game, but totally unacceptable in feature animation.

    MOCAP is a TOOL not an animator or an artist, when will they realize this. That and they didn’t save ANY money MOCAPing this film!

  • Val

    Oh dear.

  • I usually appreciate what Ebert has to say, but why he gave this four stars is waaaaaaay beyond me. I’d rather suck the humors from my own eyes with a straw than watch this drivel.

  • Matt Crowther

    The title of this is somewhat misleading- Yes, the movie did get a “rotten” on RT, but the overall percentage of positive reviews is actually 55%- Roger Ebert loved it giving it 4 stars. I generally agree with the folks here who think that this style of “animation” is generally creepy and fake looking, but it is not universally reviled among critics-at-large and the public may disagree as well. If this makes a s&&t pile of cash look for more of the same.

  • Hulk

    I saw a screening of this the other day. I still believe in the potential of mocap and I feel it’s here to stay but I don’t think it will become a success until film-makers and animators start stylizing it and not using it just to replicate reality. Any attempt at that has always failed in the past (Bakshi’s “Lord of the Rings” anyone?).
    That said the technology- or perhaps the expertise of the people using it, doesn’t seem to be all there yet. Every character in the film except for Scrooge himself seemed to have dead eyes. They were looking generally in the right direction but they seemed either blind or dead somehow. It was creepy. That was the main problem that stood out for me. There were plenty of others. Generally, it was like watching a movie starring the animatronic characters from Disneyland.

  • It’s funny that you judge this film before you’ve even see it. You have to hid behind someone else’s critique in order to give your own.

    Are all the haters here NOT animators? Or are they animators that are OLD and JADED? Because you all should be supporting this new medium solely because it gives animators more job opportunities. We all want jobs right? Or do you all just want to dream about the golden days of Disney whilst twiddling your jobless thumbs?

    Here’s a good review of the film:

    “Shockingly, the new film turns out to be very good, at times close to brilliant: a darkly detailed marvel of creative visualization that does well by Dickens and right by audiences — when it’s not trying to sell them a theme park ride.”

    Ty Burr
    Boston Globe

  • I had a good chuckle seeing Scrooge doing a backflip and ending up on his feet perfectly fine with no old people jokes like “Augh! My back!” or things like that.

  • It’s awful they stole the credit from Dickens on their posters, replacing the author’s name with “Disney’s”. Maybe such a selfish company should not attempt a story with this particular moral.

  • Jim

    Bruce, some of us who are animators (including myself) respect the fact that more CG films provide more work, but that doesn’t mean we have to like this movie or support performance capture. Some of us animators would rather support the medium of animation, not rendered motion capture… and I think that’s more than reasonable.

  • Ganymede Q. Public

    The down angle where “The air was filled with moaning phantoms…” is no improvement on the 1971 Dick Williams 2D version. It is louder and there are many more phantoms, all performing desperate shtick and it’s in 3-D but none of it is needed to make Dickens’ point.

  • Karl

    While, I can agree that the subject matter of Zemeckis’ motion capture films aren’t the necessarily the best use of this technology, I am attracted to seeing them anyway and feel that they are paving the way for some really incredible things in the future. Those of you who don’t want to see this movie just because it’s not a hand drawn cartoon should be reminded that no one is forcing you to watch it. To be completely honest, a computer generated film of this nature is a refreshing change from the flood of cutely rendered cgi animated films out there which are currently saturating the market. Robert Zemeckis will someday be remembered in film history as the pioneer of a limitless new form of filmmaking.

  • Silas

    Saw the film last night in SF and surprisingly enjoyed it. There are issues still with the ‘mocap-ish’ performances but it’s a definite improvement over ‘Beowulf’ .

    As for mocap does anyone think WETA will push the animation for ‘Tin Tin’?

  • > inappropriate to the physical movement of a realistic human

    Well put – and why I can’t watch this or any of the Spiderman movies – let alone other semi-realistic cgi crap. Their back bending efforts to portray reality results in the exact opposite. As my uncle would say: “Its nothing but a colossal waste of electricity”.

    Zemeckis – please don’t ever touch Roger Rabbit.

  • Jim, it doesn’t seem to me that you’ve ever worked with mocap and fail to understand how much animation actually goes into a performance in order to make it presentable on the screen. It’s funny that Zemeckis takes the full brunt of the ‘mocap hate’ when mocap is used so prevalently in the industry.
    The level of hate and bad mouthing presented here by Amid and by the people commenting is very unprofessional and lowbrow if you ask me.

  • Us animators are coming out for our revenge.

    The time has come. Prepare for justice!

    Lousy mo-cap.

  • Scott

    First off, yes I’ve seen the film.

    “to understand how much animation actually goes into a performance in order to make it presentable on the screen. ”

    If animators are doing this to make it better, someone fire them. They’re not very good.

  • Michael F.

    I noticed that a lot of different theaters are opening with very early showtimes. Out here in Raleigh there’s a theater near where I live that has showtimes as early as 10am. I wonder if Disney is hoping to reach a strong opening weekend by having more showings?

    If there is one benefit about that it’s that lots of other films are getting early showtimes so that parents can watch films. I even took advantage and saw the Men Who Stare at Goats (which you should be watching this weekend) at 10:30am!

  • Tom Pope

    It did get amn above-average reiview from the New York Times. I don’t like the look or treatment of the ads, but it will probably do well.

  • Anthony D.

    You guys are seriously wrong, I see this film as the greatest Christmas masterpiece of 2009. I have great hopes the film will be a success.

  • Ricardo

    “In the end that is how this movie looks, an over rendered video game. Perfect for a video game, but totally unacceptable in feature animation.”

    I just watched the clip and yes, this is the appropriate summary.

  • Lindsay

    Add me to the “unprofessional and lowbrow” crowd, then. This is an atrocious waste of resources. >:p

    I’ll take Richard Williams’ adaptation any day, thank you veddy much.

  • Jim

    Bruce, I actually think we’re in partial agreement regarding mocap’s effectiveness. It is very useful in some situations, especially with the right performers and the right people in charge. But I think Zemeckis receives a lot of hate because his films straddle the line between live-action and animation yet play to neither’s strengths.

    I’m well aware that motion capture requires extensive cleanup and, depending on the particular action, body part, etc., can demand a lot of hand keying. It is far from an automatic process. However, the fact that talented animators put many hours of labor into a project should not change one’s opinion of the result. The piece should stand on its own, no?

    And in the end, even the best animators in the world would be hampered by the style of the film and by the constraints of the initial source material. It simply doesn’t play well to the strengths of animation as a medium… and I don’t think any of Zemeckis’s films ever will, because he hasn’t really shown he understands animation.

  • It’s going to be swell seeing every pore in Jeremy the Nowhere Man’s skin I tells ya.

  • Scott

    Richard Williams never made a better film after his version of Christmas Carol. It’s brilliant.

  • sporridge

    “Embalmed” — perfect summation of this technique! “Mummification” was the first word that sprang to mind while I was still awake during “The Polar Express.” Think I’ll skip this in favor of “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”

  • Marc Baker

    Yes, and some of us who want to become animators don’t want to see pencils, and paper become obsolete.

  • We all know it’s a horrible idea. But don’t be surprised if it makes more money in the box office. Thus insulting the intelligence of the average movie goer.

  • People really need to stop comparing bad cgi using a ‘realistic style’ to videogame cinematics.

    Anyone who plays modern video games knows that the cinematics all look ALOT better than this, with the only big company that struggles with uncanny valley being Squareenix.

  • Melissa

    I’m having a hard time appreciating Amid’s labeling the film as a “desecration of a holiday classic” before he’s even seen it, especially when the chief complaint based on a three-minute clip is that an animated character doesn’t move like a human being. I happily welcome a bit of cartoon physics in my movies.

  • Ricardo

    “Anyone who plays modern video games knows that the cinematics all look ALOT better than this”

    I play modern video games and it’s not a great leap foward.

  • Jason

    THIS is what Disney should have animated in 2D – “A Christmas Carol”. No, I’m not talking about the Mickey Mouse one, I mean a new one with human characters. Think of it: Beautiful lush top-notch animated acting, rich, atmospheric backgrounds as per “Mary Poppins”, combined with some incredible music. My god…it could have been great. Think of a Disney version that’s even more enchanting than the Richard Williams version…I am, and I’m drooling.

    Damn! What could have been! :(

  • Kyle B

    Add me into the camp that thinks comparing this to video games in general is unfair. If anything, it looks like something you’d find in a terrible bargain bin video game where there was no budget for the animation so they just tried to get some Poser models to move around the best they could.

  • stavner

    Marc, I don’t want to see paper and pencil animation die out either, but I’m tired of people putting down all CGI animation as inferior–it’s just different, and can be just as good as traditional animation.

    That said, this film is only a little bit better than “Polar Express,” but it will make money because of Jim Carrey’s and Robert Zemeckis’ marquee value, not the animation.

  • some guy

    pioneering motion capture and forcing it down people’s throats with mediocre efforts based simply on the fact that he’s able to secure funding time and time again for it are not the same thing. If motion capture is, indeed, here to stay, he may well take credit for it, but he neither invented it, revolutionized it or has done anyone any favors making it OTHER than the people who got jobs to work on it. It’s great to collect a paycheck, but don’t expect to buy people’s devotions because of it.

    If he can make a mo-capped movie that is so good that it can’t be denied by either side of the debate, THEN you can say he revolutionized it.

    So far, however, he seems to be repeating the same miss steps over and over, focusing on detail, rather than quality of storytelling, character and APPEAL in the medium. He seems to hover at this “almost, but not quite” gray area in all of these mo capped films. The only one of which that I enjoyed was Monster House and even then I only enjoyed it due to the art direction, content and humor, NOT the mo cap – the characters walked like people wearing giant mardi-gras paper-mache’ heads.

    the whole goal being attempted by motion capture is to somehow animate without the human element, to have actors that aren’t there, yet, you still need actors to act and animators to clean up the data and smooth out the motion. believe me, you’ll almost never see actual raw motion capture data on screen, it’s always fixed by a human hand afterward. Isn’t that pretty much the definition of a self defeating purpose?

    Rob Zemekis is asking us, “why not?” I think this is one of those times where, “why?” is an appropriate retort.

  • Ministan

    The link for the clip does not take you to the clip.

  • fishmorgjp

    It’s Jim Carrey in some more CGI garbage. Directed by Zemeckis. Go away.

  • Ricardo


    One of Disney’s biggest mistakes was trying to make plausiable humans in animated films. The best Disney films are when the human’s look like cartoon characters, like in Dumbo or there are no humans at all like in Bambi.

    Mickey’s Christmas Carol was a fine adaptation of Dickens’ work. It didn’t waste too much time with hackneyed pathos or any filler songs or dance numbers. And of course, it had lush animation.

  • I could make a lot of animated films for $180 million dollars, shame it was all spent on one film.

  • Scott

    “I’m tired of people putting down all CGI animation as inferior”

    But this isn’t “animation.”

  • David Breneman

    Well, based on the WSJ’s excerpt, I might want to see it as a yuletide diversion – a chance to get someone else’s take on the story. But I don’t expect it to replace my two favorite versions of this story: George C Scott’s and Mister Magoo’s (which Walt Disney himself also praised as a classic).

  • Rene Ramos

    I think the problem is that, this was made as a money-making machine rather than a true effort of love for telling a story, you know, actually story-telling. Get CGI (for the kids), a timeless story (for the whole family) bring Jim Carrey (for the big box-office and season-based profitable reruns).

    Now, the actual motion-cap, this is another hollywoodesque machine, saving you hundreds of man hours at the sacrifice of quality, it gets human movement right, but loses handmade finesse, as that cirque du soleil move showed, I’m sure Jim Carrey did it for real, but the pentiums didn’t understand it and made it look fake, for most people can’t do it, much less an old man.

    Replicating a human isn’t really about the eyes, but the hundreds of tiny movements a face makes while talking and expressing feelings, you can see a monkey’s eyes and feel them as a real person but, once you see them smile (which is actually reaction to nervousness) you see more human-like features.

    And Benjamin Button was a good direction, but I think they chose Brad Pitt since he isn’t really that great in showing emotions, maybe if they had cast Jim Carrey for that movie instead of this one, it would have shown how bad the animation really was.

    And that’s all I got to say.

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    I saw it last night and enjoyed it. Very faithful to Dickens and I’m really amazed Zemeckis included Ignorance and Want. Apart from Scrooge,the spirits,and a few others,most of the character faces weren’t well done, Bob Cratchit looked pretty creepy in particular. I liked some of the original touches Zemeckis added,like Scrooge getting shrunk (very funny) and making Mrs.Dilbert Scrooge’s housekeeper. Carrey was wonderful as Scrooge and the Ghosts (especially Xmas Present),and I liked Colin Firth as Fred. I think Zemeckis should forget about remaking Yellow Submarine and instead go on to Roger Rabbit 2. We’ve waited 20 years for a sequel!

  • Cyber Fox

    first of all, films like Bakshi’s Hey, Good Looking, American Pop and Lord of the Rings use Rotoscope, an animation techique that dates back to the old silent Fleischer “Out Of The Inkwell” series of shorts which predates Mo-Cap by a butt load of decades

    Second, As for the critics and the box office… Screw them!
    Often times the potentialy good films are the ones that bomb critically or box office wise, examples: It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Facotry, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (to those who hate the film for closed minded reasons, have a heart and enjoy it as it is), The Secret of Nimh, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.. the list goes on

    Sure, there are films we should avoid like remakes of Japanese horror films (which are pointles IMHO), every film of the “Saw” series, Super Mario Bros, every Uwe Boll film, and others but that doesn’t mean we should trust either the critics or the box office charts to assure us that film YOU want to see is good, you should decide/think for YOURSELF, Bigotry based on critics’ opinions are the worse kind hence why the film “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” got the bad rep it has today despite it’s cult classic status.

    as for the film, I am going to see it Tomorrow in 3-D at my local Regal theatre. Whether i will like it or not is my opinion and MY OPINION ALONE!

    As of this point, Critics are the ones you should least trust (the same goes for the Oscars) as both The Academy as the vast majority of movie critics in the alleged mainstream media are liberal, one prime example is the review for the Beatles bastardization musical film “Across The Universe” from the New York Times of which the critic states that he loves this film, obviously due to the anti-Vietnam War propoganda smeared through out that film and The Academy is also the guilty party for awarding liberal films Oscars instead of films that deserve them the most, One example is the Al Gore climate change ‘documentry’ “An Inconvienent Truth” which brainwashed children into a load of Greenpeace like hippies on the grounds of Al Gore saying “there is no debate” on his so called global warming data which a year later was discovered that the data was all dated and bunk yet Liberals worship this film SO MUCH that they give this guy an Oscar, a Nobel Peace Prize and an Emmy.

  • Gary Pearson

    All discussion of animation aside, the movie is too frightening for young children. It starts with a close up of a dead body and goes from there. My 8 year old boy couldn’t stay in the theatre and my 12 year old daughter thought it was the most disturbing thing she had ever seen and she has enjoyed all the Harry Potters etc. The thing has almost no laughs in it at all and nothing breaks the tension of one truly scary ghost after another. I think the film has merit, but you might not want to take the kids.

  • Peter

    Well, now I’m triply excited for the new Yellow Submarine that Zemeckis is doing!

  • J. Encea

    ” Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Secret of Nimh, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.”

    Wow. Those are three REALLY shitty films. They deserved to flop, and anyone who thinks Sgt. Peppers is a “cult” film….well…
    It may be a horrible guilty pleasure for some lonely soul, but it’s not a “cult” film.

  • Stephen

    I’ll see it, simply because I’m a sucker for versions of A Christmas Carol, but my hopes are not up.
    I don’t go to animated films looking for realism – that’s what live-action is for.
    Alas, my dream version will never be made: “Jim Tyer’s Christmas Carol,” where every character is boneless and even the straight lines get laughs…

  • Banal – plain and simple. It is unfortunate that many in today’s Hollywood use their names to secure high-priced gigs. They must be good salespeople. But afterall, they only have to sell their ideas to many non-creative “suits” who have money to burn. It is my opinion that Mr. Zemeckis go back to “Film 101” and relearn what it takes to make a good movie. His movies are predictable, his story-telling is atrocious, and his use of technology is quite nauseating.

    Not “Bah, humbug!” for me. Just plain “Blah!!”

  • Andre

    And here we go again. Another person who tries to turn a discussion about an animated film into his own political rant. What a bleeping load! You wanna defend a bunch of bad films, be my guest. But enough with the politics. Because nobody will EVER agree on all that.

  • Chris Webb

    I’m not a professional animator. It seems to me the bodies move in a convincing way, but there’s so little expression in the faces that it’s not engaging or very appealing.

    Can anyone on this board explain why RZ doesn’t just hire some animators to animate the faces once body the data has been captured? That way you’d have bodies that move decently and expressive faces too. Wouldn’t that result in a more pleasing finished product? Really, does anyone know why he doesn’t do it this way?

  • Chris Webb

    Oops. The question should be “Can anyone on this board explain why RZ doesn’t just hire some animators to to animate the faces once the body data has been captured?”

    Apparently the data my typing fingers produce needs to be cleaned up as well!

  • Matt Sullivan

    I just don’t understand why they keep paying A-list celebs like Jim Carrey 20 million a picture, when that money could be put into the budget and lessen the chance the film will “bomb” at the box office.

  • Gobo

    Andrew Kieswetter, thank you for being one of the only people here to actually bother watching the movie before posting a review of it.

  • Ricardo

    Hollywood needs to create a new studio system that works, simular to old one but treating the artist better. Have contracted players with fair obligations to honor, have studios own their theatres again, return shorts subjects, and make more films with general audiences in mind. Not G-rated films mind you, just films that appeal to all audiences.

  • Tommy

    Well the “G” in G-Rating does mean, “General Audience”.

  • Amid, it kind of looks like you are cherry-picking evidence to support your opinion here. From what I’ve seen from both poking around the web and looking at Rotten Tomatoes, the reviews of the film have been very mixed, with some critics panning it and some critics praising it. For you to only mention the negative reviews is rather misleading. It’s fine for you to decide that you don’t want to see the film based on a clip you saw and I appreciate you explaining what it was that you disliked about what you did see. But if you aren’t going to see or review the film yourself, then I think you need to give an accurate picture of what critics in general have been saying about this film, not just the ones who agree with you.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet myself so I’m not disagreeing with your opinion or saying that you should ignore the negative side. I just don’t think your report of the critical response to the film is entirely accurate.

  • Scott

    “Hollywood needs to create a new studio system that works, simular to old one but treating the artist better. Have contracted players with fair obligations to honor, have studios own their theatres again, return shorts subjects, and make more films with general audiences in mind. Not G-rated films mind you, just films that appeal to all audiences.”

    Antitrust laws in the 1940’s—a good thing—prevent this. Spearheaded by Walt Disney himself (with Sam Goldwyn).

    And “G-Rated” means films that appeal to all audiences. “General Audience.”

  • Patty

    Apparently it’s not making the numbers they’d hoped.

    “Walt Disney Studios’ big-budget holiday bet “A Christmas Carol” got off to a soft start Friday, selling a studio-estimated $9 million in the U.S. and Canada.

    Based on the performance of similar films, that means the motion-capture-animated tale starring Jim Carrey should gross $30 million to $35 million through Sunday, a relatively weak debut given its production budget of nearly $200 million and Disney’s substantial investment in marketing.

    Pre-release surveys had indicated the movie would open to at least $40 million domestically over its first three days.”

  • RayRay

    Having seen the movie with my wife and 11 year-old daughter I can tell you it had some really scary and disturbing scenes, (Marley’s jaw dislocating just was plain FREAKY!). Yet, I enjoyed it, but it definately has it’s flaws. There were too many amusement ride scenes, (why oh why must CGI-style fliks have to have these type of scenes?) It really did stick close to the Dickens story, Carey’s Scrooge was excellent and I liked Gary Oldman as Bob Crachet. It seemed to peter out right around the middle of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come, he wasn’t as scary as I would have thought he would have been, but the ending was very well done and the audiance clapped, softly, but clapped they did. It wasn’t the best adaptation, I’ll give that to the one starring Alastair Sim, but it was not as bad as some have said.

  • BT

    I’m not an animator, just a fan, so the method of creating this movie is not personal to me. But I thought this was a very good film, and so did my fiancee who hated Polar Express. I think it’s far more serious, pure and focused than many animated films that have gotten a pass here. Even if it’s more like computerized puppetry than animation I think it’s far more worthy of the Disney name than, say, Meet the Robinsons.

    I have actually enjoyed the previous Zemeckis mocap movies (not as much Monster House) while also thinking they were very misguided in their attempt to create overly realistic human characters. But with this one I think they’ve finally found a balance, especially with their lead character. He’s very detailed but with exaggerated shapes, more like a sculpture or puppet than a human. In fact I don’t see how, design-wise, this movie can be dismissed as garbage by most people here who wouldn’t have a problem with 9.99’s characters, which are also leaning more toward real than cartoony. Actually, what they remind me most of is animatronic characters at Disneyland.

    Although there are obviously different tastes, I think some of the criticism of the storytelling is disingenuous. Zemeckis’s use of “camera” moves and the 3-D medium to tell the stories in these three movies is unparalleled. And I think it’s pretty ridiculous to deny the stunning settings and sound design (I guess it helps that I watched them all in Imax). You don’t have to like the movies or the approach but to pretend it’s just slapped together crap that looks like a bad video game is utterly ludicrous and makes the rest of your criticisms suspect.

    I’m not sure I agree that this is a revolutionary form of filmmaking, but I do think he’s shown it to be a legitimate one. And I’m not sure why people are paranoid about it taking away jobs from animators when it’s coming out in a year that saw two instant classics (Up and Coraline), several other well-liked animated films not to mention the upcoming, Jerry-approved Fantastic Mr. Fox, Princess and the Frog and plenty of live action films with extensive use of animation. There could always be more diversity but I’m happy to see such a mix of computer, drawn, stop motion and even this coming out in the same year. (Now they should get going on that Dark Crystal sequel so we can throw puppets on the list.)

    And anyway if you’re going to go after a not-primarily-animated movie why not the far more crass and inept (and biggest moneymaker of the year) Transformers 2, which could benefit immensely from the talents and principles of character animators? I’m not sure why A Christmas Carol has been designated enemy #1 here.

  • Ricardo

    “Antitrust laws in the 1940’s—a good thing—prevent this. Spearheaded by Walt Disney himself (with Sam Goldwyn).”

    That’s why I didn’t say they should just return to the old system. They should have one that could really satisfy both the artists, studio heads, and theatre owners. Of course this is just fantasy. Even if a compitent system was installed, no doubt the idiots running the entertainment industry today would not bother to exploit it.

    “And “G-Rated” means films that appeal to all audiences. “General Audience.”

    Well the label is rarely as such ironically, it usually means a family film. Many old films would have been G-rated but they clearly have adult sensibilities, abeit tame on screen. The social upheaval during the baby boomer generation divided demographics in films. I think it’s time to at least make some films that are a little less graphic for adult interests because it’s just gone too far. Blood and Sex is now used as a crutch for bad film makers. I am sure if ANATOMY OF A MURDER was made today a graphic rape scene and bloody murder would have been shown and would have added nothing to the film. But like I said about a more efficent entertainment industry, no one today would except my ideas because their minds have been dulled by stylish dreck.

  • Scott

    “Fiddler on the Roof” was Rated G. “The Straight Story” was Rated G.

    But I not only understand you, I completely agree.

  • This is one of those films that people decide whether they’re going to like or not before they’ve seen the first trailer, deservedly or not. It’s the same way with Avatar, except everyone WANTS that film to succeed.

    As far as adaptations of A Christmas Carol go, this one wasn’t that bad, although I kept thinking what an odd pairing of subject with technology. I mean, a computer generated Tiny Tim? It’s hard to imagine starving children when you already know they have no insides. And Jim Carey is known for putting his whole body into his performance, so reducing him to a voice seems like a misuse of his talents (as was putting him under heavy make-up for his stint in How the Grinch Stole Christmas).

    Maybe Avatar will strike the right balance with motion capture, by having its human characters be played by actual humans and its non-human characters supplied with human-like performances.

  • Mac

    I think this has been released a little bit early for a Christmas film. You’d think A Christmas Carol would be the kind of film people would want to see at Christmas time, not a whole seven weeks before the big day. Even though I don’t like the visual style, I am actually up for seeing this – just not yet.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    I’m more willing to give it a shot after remembering that live action can be even more dreadful, as in the 2004 Christmas Carol musical with Kelsey Grammer conflating Ebenezer Scrooge with Richard III. Various reviews stressing the Dickensian milieu make me wonder how they handled th appearance of Ignorance and Want, a powerful moment in the 1971 Richard Williams Carol, which is still the gold standard for me when it cones to animated Carols.

  • Brad Constantine

    I believe in the technology. In our business of games, it comes in really handy with actions that need a higher degree of natural movement, such as fighting, or dancing, or other things that require some sort of real experience and skill that a traditional animator would take forever to do at enourmous cost. The problem I have with performance capture, is that it is being used in a way that would be better served by photographing real actors acting. They are making live action movies using the technology only to serve the technology and not the story. The inconsistancy comes with the jarring switch from mocap to keyframed wacky bits that seem out of place. I feel the same about 2D processes. Pocahontas should have been a live action movie IMHO, The addition of the humming bird and the raccoon and the talking tree did more to serve the processes than the story. Gollum is the best case example of using the technology to serve your story. Entertanment Weekly gave the film an A…they hardly ever do that.

  • Scott

    Mo Cap is perfect for video games, where the standards of animation are not the same as a feature.

  • Mongoose Jr. III

    What I think us animators need most of all is a bit of…PERSPECTIVE.

    I really enjoyed this version of a Christmas Carol in 3D, and I think it will do well. Sure, the weight in the animation isn’t perfect, the eyes are a bit strange, but are those things so important as to overshadow everything else?
    It’s interesting, and NEW. There are so many things in this movie that are pretty amazing (art direction, acting, story etc. etc.) that a non-animator audience will enjoy.
    I guess promoting a mocap film on this website is like selling crucifixes in a mosque… but Mocap can be used in many ways, why not embrace this technology as another tool to use instead of (still) just dismissing it outright? Seems a bit narrow-minded and silly…?

  • Fred Sparrman

    Haven’t seen the film, and don’t like the looks of it, but to write that it opened to “a chorus of negative reviews” is misleading-to-inaccurate, and seems to say more about the personal wishes of the author than the actual state of affairs. The NY Times review, for one, is pretty positive.

  • Don Peri

    If most of the high-speed action scenes were deleted and if the Ghost of Christmas Present could be reanimated to be more in keeping with his joyous character in the book and not as a spirit who seems to be under the influence of something with his disturbing laugh, then I think this film would have some real possibilities. It does have some very effective scenes and touching scenes, and it has beautiful backgrounds that contrast painfully with the scenes in which the director apparently delights in torturing Scrooge with one indignity after another and with his feeble attempts to “improve” on Dickens. Speaking of Dickens, did anyone notice the framed portrait of a young beardless Charles Dickens on a wall in the Cratchit house?

  • dave-o

    The film is quite good. In fact, the filmmakers nailed it.

    The sweeping vistas of Victorian London are striking and, surprisingly enough, there are some tear-jerking scenes. Yes, some of the movements are stiff and people in crowd scenes look a little zombie-ish, but I think the Mocap suits this material. There are highly imaginative sequences especially in the Past and Present sequences. How the Ghost of Christmas Present manipulates space using Scrooge’s floor as a ‘camera’ was impressive.

    Most interesting is much Disney let this be true to the Dickens story it is and how Dickens’ indictment of the class system and even organized religion make it into the film. (A long shot of a cross atop a steeple balances out a line condemning the corruptness of the church). It is very haunting, in surprising ways… in fact how the ‘Present’ sequence ends is more scary that the entire ‘Future’ sequence, which includes the obligatory, theme-park ride/chase scene.

    Anyone who is moved by the Dickens story or who enjoys the idea of a Victorian Christmas will enjoy this interpretation of it. I fully expected to loathe this film and was really surprised at how much I left the theater loving it.

  • David

    Possibly the worst thing is that to make their money back on this bloated theme park ride of a movie Disney is going to have to figure out how to position it as a “perennial favorite” by pushing it in the public’s eye every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas and quite likely turning it into a literal theme park attraction at one or more of the Disney parks (so it joins the infamous Ron Howard desecration of Seuss’s “Grinch” as something that never goes away and a generation of kids gets exposed early on to the Grinch via the Ron Howard/Jim Carrey incarnation rather than the original Seuss or even the Geisel/Jones version.) The type of people who would not bother to actually read a book or be caught dead watching an old B&W movie (or any “old” movie) will have never read the Dicken’s original or seen one of the many fine live-action productions such as the version with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. So the Zemeckis version enters the mass cultural consciousness as their default version. *shudder* .

    And in the meantime why is the excellent (though too abbreviated) Richard Williams version still not available on DVD ? Anyone know ?

  • “Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol opens today to a chorus of negative reviews”

    I don’t think that is a fair way to characterize the reviews. As mentioned, Ebert gave it four stars and many other critics were positive. They may not have all been raves, but those that weren’t were mainly in the 2 star range.

    I’m still not sold on the animation style, but found the film to be a good adaptation of the story. It was a much better film than BEOWULF.

  • Mr. James

    In the opening scene of this celluloid train wreck Scrooge is coerced into giving a couple of gold coins to the undertaker for Marley’s funeral and then going over to Marley’s corpse and steals the coins from his eyes as repayment.


    I kept thinking to myself, “Why was I forced to pay so much more to see this crap in 3-D and what movie studio’s corpse do I have to rob to get it back?!”

    Wow, what a stinker. I’m not an animator but I do LOVE animation and I REALLY wanted to like this one. Not love, but like. All of the previous negative comments in this thread about this movie are spot-on in every sense and I won’t take up any more time repeating them. If you’ve heard this film is bad and should be avoided, BELIEVE THEM and RUN, don’t walk, AWAY!

  • Joe Wilson

    CGI, mo-cap and animation arguments aside, this has to be the most hollow telling of a Christmas Carol ever. If it wasn’t for my knowledge of the original story before seeing this adaptation I wouldn’t have anything to fill in the gaping holes in character development. My kids loved the spectacle but I told them we need to watch a better version of the actual story at some point before Christmas. The creepiest thing about this movie was the lazy eye most of the characters had. In short, horrible version of Christmas Carol…pretty good spectacle movie.

  • Reading on the news this morning, the paper said the movie was a huge success at the Box Office in the US.

    Waiting to see that being commented here at the Brew…

  • As a videogame keyframe animator, I get a kick out of all the comparisons to videogame animation. You obviously

    A: Don’t play good games.

    B: Don’t know what you are talking about.

    PLEASE don’t use video game animation as a derogatory description of a poorly conceived project. There are teams of people who bust their asses every day to make awesome animation for games, who blow this stuff out of the water on a regular basis.

  • Ricardo

    red pill junkie:

    The LA Times article was correct, it only grossed 31 million over the weekend so it’s hardly a huge success. what paper did you get your information from ?

  • Mike Caracappa

    Motion Capture is sorta like those bad Internet ads. To know, “Make youself a cartoon character!!”, only here it applies to Hollywood actors.

  • Gordon

    My wife and I saw this movie in IMAX Saturday evening. Thank God we didn’t take our 7-year old daughter, or we would have been out of there before the movie was 15 minutes through. This movie is aimed at the sensibilities of teenagers, video-game addicts, and lovers of kinetic theme park rides. Everyone leaving our theater for the showing before ours looked stunned, and we found out why!

    I share the feelings expressed in many of the comments above about the creepiness and lifelessness of the motion-captured characters (I was particularly bothered by the hands, which usually hung lifelessly and looked more clay-like than Wallace & Gromit. However, my main objections are to several directorial choices that had nothing to do with motion capture per se.

    First, the camera angles. As with more traditional 3-D animation, the camera here moved to some “unnatural” locations, which of itself was not a problem. However, Zemeckis insisted in shoving the point of view seemingly within inches of Scrooge’s face, to the point where I felt my personal space being violated. Also, when he did this with two characters on screen, the head of the character farther away often looked larger than the closer character, which just looked WEIRD.

    Then there’s the motion. The movie titles featured a gorgeous, moving pan over Dickensian London, which was beautiful and effective. However, almost every subsequent time that trick was used throughout the movie (and it was used FREQUENTLY) the apparent speed of the motion was so fast as to be vertigo-inducing. I am rarely bothered by such things, but I did have to close my eyes a couple of times to make my inner ear settle down.

    Also, Zemeckis LOVES to make the camera look like it is going to run you through a solid object, impale you on a church steeple, etc., which is clearly designed to make the audience jump.

    Still, my largest objections overall relate to the butchery he performed on the story itself. On top of reading the original story several times, I don’t know how many versions I’ve seen on film, both animated and live. In none of them do I recall Scrooge being shrunk to the size of a mouse and put through an unending chase by a pair of demon horses while continuously having to balance on a rolling, skittering bottle or icicle, over rooftops and through drain pipes. This went on for MINUTES! 5? 10? I couldn’t tell you exactly how many.

    At the same time, the actual story was pared past the bone, to the Cliff’s Notes version. For the entire movie Tiny Tim probably didn’t get a full minute of screen time, and the ghosts zipped Scrooge through the obligatory scenes past, present and future so fast that a real person would have got whiplash. There was no time for him to get any emotional impact from any of it, and his change of heart at the end appeared more to be just to get the ghosts to leave him alone and stop terrorizing him than from any more tender emotion.

    Instead, the screen time was spent on interminable scenes of the Ghost of Christmas Present laughing, and laughing, and laughing, and laughing, or the demon horses, or the theme park rides through London and the countryside.

    There is no subtlety in this film, no nuance. I felt as if I had been grabbed and shaken for 90 minutes, and occasionally bludgeoned just to make sure I was appreciating being shaken.

    Bah, humbug!

  • Hal

    There’s something kind of wonderful about Zemekis’ obsession with 3d MoCap – its like he’s the Herzog of this medium. On the one hand, I love his audacity in casting (Carrey playing Scrooge as well as the 3 ghosts demands respect as a genius subtext that Scrooge’s redemption comes from his own psyche instead of external ghosts who cherry picked him out of all the bitter asses in London and actually adds a layer to the story – likewise Oldman performing Cratchet and Marley. Oldman performing Tiny Tim is ridiculous and bad creepy) and the fact that he seems enthralled with the POSSIBILITIES of this medium to the point of obsession. That’s his curse as well – its like building a ship and moving it over a mountain to reach a river. Still, Zemeckis is one of the few established filmmakers to embrace animation completely (although George Miller made the leap more effectively with HAPPY FEET than any of Zemeckis’ 3d features IMHO) and that’s a blessing – he may spend lots of money and fail, but I can’t help thinking he’s opening doors of opportunity for a new generation to learn from his tunnel vision of pointy objects threatening the groin. As ridiculous as BEOWULF was, I’ve never seen a more openly aggresive criticism of Christianity’s role in “pagan” cultures in an animated feature. That’s worth a mention for the future of mature animated film-making in my book. There’s SOMETHING to what he’s going for, but I don’t know if the balance necessary is something he has in him. Meanwhile, I lament the loss of a filmmaker who exhibited such control of fantastic cinema in ROGER RABBIT, BACK TO THE FUTURE. If there was ever a time for Zemeckis to start imposing Von Trier style restrictions, its now.

  • Chris Webb

    Interesting Hal. I keep thinking RZ is crazy like a fox, since he’s getting the big studios to pay for research and development on his obsession. Otherwise, I don’t think mo-cap would be progressing as quickly.

    Certainly the studios aren’t forward thinking enough to pay for R & D.
    Otherwise, Ed Catmull woud have been working for Disney back in the 70’s…

  • @Ricardo:

    The paper was Reforma (from Mexico). It said the movie had been a huge success in London, and now the success had —according to the article— repeated in the US box office. Maybe they are interpreting the figures differently?

  • Hal

    I’m so with you Chris W. – if anything we NEED studio shorts to come back into vogue for that reason alone! How is it not a staple in the wake of PIXAR’s success I ask you all? At the least, be great to see the ImageMovers’ crew cut loose on their own – I wonder what would result? I was excited by Monster House to see Zemeckis’ hand guide a new talent, but that seems to be the end of it after one feature.