A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, unlike The Polar Express, this Robert Zemeckis adaptation of a classic holiday tale is too intense both visually and in content for families with very young children. At its heart, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a ghost story, and not only are the many spirits very creepy at times, but the 3-D technology makes certain scenes -- as when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come's red-eyed black stallions jump out at the audience -- all the scarier. And the realistic nature of the motion capture technology often makes the movie seem more like live action (and thus more intense) than animation. But on the other hand, the language is mild (British slang like "bugger" and "blast") and the drinking limited to Christmas toasts. And the messages are all quite positive, as Ebenezer Scrooge's (Jim Carrey) transformation is one of literature's ultimate stories of redemption and hope, even in the bleakest of times.
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What's the story?
Charles Dickens' 19th-century classic comes to life again in this 3-D adaptation, which faithfully follows the original tale. Seven Christmas Eves after the death of his business partner, Jacob Marley (voiced by Gary Oldman), miserly money lender Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) spends the day complaining about the town's holiday cheer ("Bah, humbug!"), terrorizing his put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit (also Oldman), and refusing his nephew Fred's (Colin Firth) invitation to Christmas supper. That night, Scrooge is visited by Marley's ghost, who informs him that three spirits will appear to him to offer one last chance to change his life before it's too late. Scrooge is then summoned by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come (all played by Carrey), each of whom gives the crotchety old man a peek at defining moments in his life and possible future -- as well as the life of poor-but-happy Cratchit, whose crippled son Tiny Tim (Oldman again) is sickly but still filled with holiday cheer.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the lessons that Scrooge learns. How does he change throughout the movie? What is the story trying to teach us about not just Christmas, but about human behavior in general?
How are the themes of A Christmas Carol still relevant more than 200 years after it was originally written? Kids: How can you act generously during the holidays and year round?
Do you think the 3-D technology enhances the movie, or would it have been as good/better without it?
- In theaters: November 6, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: November 16, 2010
- Cast: Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Jim Carrey, Robin Wright
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Book Characters, Holidays, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: scary sequences and images
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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