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A Christmas Carol

Not content to let the lifeless zombies of 2004's Polar Express define his legacy as a pioneer of 3-D Christmas movies (a genre to which, incidentally, he remains the sole contributor), director Robert Zemeckis is back for another go at it, and this time his inspiration isn't just some fly-by-night Caldecott Medal winner; it's Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, perhaps the most cherished piece of Christmas fiction of all time.

While other filmmakers have tackled Dickens' most famous work before, none adapted it in the way the author would have wanted it to be presented: as a big-budget, three-dimensional, motion-capture animated spectacle starring the legendary Jim Carrey. Thankfully for us, Zemeckis stepped up to the plate.

For the dozen or so who are unfamiliar with A Christmas Carol's simple yet powerful story, a quick rundown is in order. On a snowy Christmas Eve in 19th-century London, a notorious miser named Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Carrey) is visited by three ghosts (also played by Carrey): Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. Together, the terrifying apparitions conspire to teach Scrooge an unforgettable lesson about the folly of his avarice and the virtue of charity and compassion.

Unlike Zemeckis' previous literary adaptation, 2006's Beowulf, there isn't a whole lot about A Christmas Carol's tale of yuletide redemption that cries out for the 3-D treatment — nor does the star of Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective seem especially suited to play the part of Scrooge. And yet, both creative decisions prove surprisingly successful in this movie. Zemeckis' 3-D animation is wondrous to behold, and Carrey is simply terrific as the bitter old grinch.

The problem is, Zemeckis can't resist falling in love with his technology and his star; consequently, A Christmas Carol overdoses on both. The first time the camera glides through the streets of Dickensian London or soars above its snow-covered skyline, the experience is breathtaking, like being plunged into a world of Thomas Kinkade paintings. (And I mean that in a good way — even the fiercest detractors of the Painter of LightTM's mass-produced portraits have to admit they hold a certain romantic appeal.) But by the fifth or sixth time, it devolves into tedious showmanship.

Similarly, while Carrey's total immersion into the Scrooge character is remarkable, his manic mugging as the Christmas ghosts is all too often distracting. Don't ask me what the Ghost of Christmas Present was talking about during his sequence; all he seemed to do was laugh like a drunken Viking and blather on with an exaggerated Scottish accent.

But in the end, neither Zemeckis' overreach nor Carrey's hysterics can obscure the impact of A Christmas Carol's timeless message. As with previous adaptations of the story, I couldn't help but tear up a little when Tiny Tim uttered his trademark closing line, "God bless us, everyone!" — even if he did kinda look like a cartoon zombie. rated this film 3 stars.