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The frost is hardly off the pumpkin before the Christmas movies begin. I have a friend who has a holiday embargo: no talking about Halloween before Oct. 1, no discussing Christmas before the first of December. She's one of my most sensible friends.
So, I was predisposed to be a little Grinchy when confronted with Robert Zemeckis' animated A Christmas Carol in 3-D. Come the first week of November, I'd prefer yo ho ho and a bottle of rum to Santa's Ho Ho Ho and Merry Christmas. Particularly when my pantry is still full of uneaten Halloween candy calling out to me like all the ghosts of Halloween past: eat me, eat me, and destroy your diet like all the ones that went before.
The latest adaptation of Charles Dickens' slim supernatural novel is as overstuffed as a Christmas goose. Like Jim Carrey himself, this movie is just plain loud. The actor's unchecked ego has him playing Ebenezer Scrooge (young and old), as well as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Coming at the audience in 3-D and in multiple characters, he's the blob who ate Christmas.
While anybody who has read the cautionary tale should have learned the lesson that bigger is not better, the filmmakers go full postal with an oversized chain-rattling phosphorescent specter, a ghost of Christmas Present as tall as the tree at Rockefeller Center, and a grave waiting for Ebenezer Scrooge that's as deep as a mine shaft. Even the little details are writ large: every random hair on Scrooge's schnoz is illuminated to prove the glory of the filmmakers in making animation look as real as an illustrated medical textbook.
Other than the 3-D element, Disney's latest brings nothing essentially new to the Dickens story -- inexpensively available in a number of versions. Patrick Stewart played Scrooge in the 1999 TV version; George C. Scott pinched pennies in 1984; Alastair Sim tormented in 1951's Scrooge and in the 1971 animated version; in 1997, Tim Curry played the role in the animated musical. And that's not all of the examples of A Christmas Carol past, such as variations like Bill Murray in 1998 Scrooged, Vanessa Williams in the 2000 A Diva's Christmas Carol, and the 1992 The Muppets Christmas Carol.
The biggest disappointment about the current Jim Carrey version is how far it has strayed from the simple message that if you want to be a mensch, begin by paying attention to the needs of others. Instead, it's swamped in big budget, throw-money-at-the-screen special effects. It's comforting to know that even Dickens, who became known for writing some long books, knocked this story out in less than a hundred pages -- and it has endured.