The Charles Dickens perennial gets a 3-D motion-capture makeover courtesy of screenwriter-director Robert Zemeckis, who between this film, Beowulf and The Polar Express has spent an ample part of the ’00s turning people into pixels. There’s still something creepy about the technique—at worst, it has the adverse effect of twisting familiar faces into dead-eyed, herky-jerky caricatures. Yet central to the movie’s success is the casting of plastic man Jim Carrey as holiday humbugger Ebenezer Scrooge.
The unspoken theme underlying Dickens’s prose—that the money-grubbing Ebenezer is conversing with semblances of his own self—finds near-perfect cinematic expression through Carrey’s efforts. Despite his character’s strangely pliable exterior, Carrey endows the miser with a seamless depth of feeling—a quality only enhanced by the fact that he also plays the three spirits (Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come) who haunt Scrooge and push him toward redemption.
Zemeckis’s compliantly crowd-pleasing instincts still intrude from time to time, especially during a climactic action sequence that distracts from his largely to-the-letter faithfulness to the source. But the biggest surprise of Carol is that this frustrating auteur, so often in thrall to his digital palette, here uses it to freshly illuminate a time-honored text.—Keith Uhlich