It takes gall to rewrite a classic. You better have something significantly better or more brilliant to say, or you should really leave the literary finesse to the one scholars have labeled as legitimate. Just because you think you have a better take on Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, or JD Salinger than said noted authors doesn't mean you're right. Or talented. Or sane. Take the all purpose, public domain Saturnalia cautionary tale, A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens may have wanted it to be modernized, westernized, cartooned, and more or less corrupted, but last time anyone checked, those intentions were never spelled out. Instead, like most writers, he'd probably lament how his subtle satire has been transformed into a flailing feel good tale of redemption. So imagine the chutzpah it takes to turn this Victorian England emblem into a Pro-PC ploy filled with flat anthropomorphized animals and even less computer generated grace. The minds behind this horrid reimaging might think they know better than Dickens, but you know what - they're wrong. They know nothing.
Scrooge the skunk hates Christmas. He treats his only employee, sad rabbit Bob Cratchit horribly. Every December 24th, the miser puts on his angriest attitude and dismisses anyone who comes around preaching peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. This includes his noble nephew, the men who run the local orphanage, even the beggars in the street. This particular Christmas eve, however, he will be visited by three spirits - ghosts given charge to show him the past, the present, and the future. By exposing him to the reasons for, the realities of, and the possibilities that can come from his hateful ways, they hope to show Scrooge that it's better to give than to receive - or more specifically, it's greater to be a humanitarian than a horrible old skinflint.
There is a lot wrong with this lame, lazy version of A Christmas Carol. The decision to turn the main players into animals - Scrooge is a skunk while Cratchit and the rest of his brood are nauseatingly fluffy bunnies - is questionable. The computer generated animation is Commodore 64 level realistic at best. The production design is primitive, the character realization worse than most direct to DVD titles. And then there is the internal sentiment. This update of the Dickens tale more or less eviscerates the narrative we've come to know and love (or loathe, in some cases) and reconfigures it with a bland, politically correct collection of clichés, truisms, and equally hoary old BS. The most egregious offenders are Scrooge's goody two shoes nephew, and that bastion of emotional manipulation, Tiny Tim. The former is a fancy pants dandy who more or less explains over and over again the value in embracing generosity and altruism. Every time we need the movies message sledgehammered into our heads, here comes the wilderness wuss to browbeat us one more time. The latter, as usual, is so genial and angelic that Mother Teresa would look like a crackhead in comparison. But there's also something more to his lame leg reality...
Then there is the matter of Scrooge's anti-holiday motives. When the gangly goose version of the Ghost of Christmas Past shows up, she takes the angry old codger to his childhood, and we learn that the entire "humbug" philosophy derived from a sister's promise of a place to live, and the sudden arrival of a baby that keeps it from happening. So Scrooge is basically upset that his borderline destitute sibling, struggling to find a place for him in her house, chooses her own child over him. Huh? Naturally, our lead sees the error of his otherwise selfish ways. Then, when the kangaroo Ghost of Christmas Present lets the evil old miser listen in on the Cratchit family, we get a lesson in loving your boss, no matter his level of mean, wicked workplace abuse. That's carried over to the nephew's home, where Scrooge is not mocked, just labeled as "misunderstood". But the worst literary abomination occurs with the bloated walrus that is the Ghost of Christmas Future. This is where the CG Christmas Carol really falls apart. Tiny Tim (him again) does not die because of Scrooge's skinflint ways. Instead, he lives, growing up to be just like the pathetic penny pincher. We then are treated to the sight of a handicapped rabbit, looking mangy and ratty, ranting and raving against the yuletide spirit. Just as Dickens would have wanted, right?
In the end, Scrooge is even rewarded for his newfound generosity. When he is first visited by the grasshopper ghost of partner Jacob Marley, he is told that he is destined for an afterlife filled with wretchedness. But once he opens up the wallet and starts passing out the profits, he is revisited by the spirit who explains that Scrooge has been absolved. Just like that, a lifetime of antisocial behavior and major mortal sinning is forgiven. True, this is the main message of Dickens' tale, the author arguing that Scrooge was as good as his word and kept Christmas in his heart all the rest of his years. But the ending is now false because we know that, main character aside, there is no real downside to all this avarice. So, Tiny Tim turns into an A-hole. Big deal. Without the threat of death, without the persistent pestilence of Victorian London (never really addressed, mentioned, or visually realized here), without the combatant and yet essential elements that made A Christmas Carol so resonate, what we end up with is a waste of time, an attempt to bypass the original's purpose by cherrypicking points to make a more kid-friendly (and brainwashing) experience. Instead of a carol, what we wind up with is a calamity.
Offered in a colorful is stark 1.33:1 full screen image, the optical aspect of A Christmas Carol is decent - and quite telling. The clarity of the picture allows you to see just how cheap, shoddy, and flat the CG is. There is no attempt at detail, no careful character shading or background atmosphere. It's all Photoshop basics, about as good as a first year film school thesis on YouTube, nothing more.
The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix is nothing special. The dialogue is easily discernible and the passable electronic score is acceptable. There are a couple of songs offered (clearly, the filmmakers are following the genre mandates circa 1986) and both are basic and banal. Overall, for a digital babysitter, the tech specs are perfectly presentable.
None - and probably the better for it. One imagines the pain of sitting through a meandering commentary track where faceless upstarts argue over their need to modify Dickens for the contemporary, 21st century crowd. Yeesh.
One can just imagine the little faces lighting up with joy when the open up their holiday presents and find a copy of this dross staring back up at them from the DVD case. Even better, this critic is sure that someone wandering the aisles of Target or Toys R Us came across this particular package, saw that it was a CG version of A Christmas Carol, dialed into their fleeting pop culture radar, and mistook it for the recent Jim Carrey/Robert Zemeckis effort. Either way, one pop into the player and it will be massive disappointment all around. Deserving nothing less than a Skip It, this excruciating example of good intentions gone gangrenous needs to go away and never come back. If Charles Dickens could see this (and frankly, several other's) take on his original, he'd never stop spinning in his grave. Someone need to visit the makers of this Christmas Carol in the wee small hours of the night and show them the errors of their ways.
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