Director Robert Zemeckis continues to perfect the motion-capture animation he revolutionized with The Polar Express, and the result is quite breathtaking in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. From the pimples on an adolescent's face to the coins on a corpse's eyes, the technology accounts for a remarkable degree of detail. The 3-D, in particular, is fantastic -- albeit occasionally frightening (a few shots may cause audiences to jump from their seats). With a rubber-faced actor like Carrey as the star, it's no wonder that the characters' expressions and gestures are so startlingly realistic. Of course, the downside to all of the realism is that the ghost scenes are actually quite frightening -- not Beowulf terrifying, but downright scary nonetheless. The spook factor is unfortunate for parents who will naturally assume that animation plus holiday classic equals cinematic fun for the whole family.
For those with harder-to-rattle clans, this is a touching and haunting adaptation of a story most of us know by heart in one form or the other. Carrey's genius at physical comedy is evident throughout the film in small moments like when Scrooge does a jig, sings along with carolers, or slides down a railing. While there aren't many huge laughs, there's enough levity to break through the otherwise somber nature of Scrooge's time-traveling, life-changing visits to Christmases past, present, and future. Oldman and Firth are, as always, fine supporting players, and Robin Wright Penn (a Beowulf alum) adds a wistful, feminine vulnerability to the only woman Scrooge ever loved. With the current economic doom and gloom, this is a well-timed holiday narrative about hope, redemption, and love.