(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)
One of the biggest problems with having a timeless classic is how it branches off into a multitude of different adaptations of the said classic. You will see them take one form, and then another one, or maybe a musical! And then, you will see that musical get adapted into a film, and then people want their crack at that version of the timeless tale. It’s tough, because you don’t want to radically change anything that makes the original amazing, but not every adaptation needs to fully be a 1 on 1 comparison. You need to have some kind of fingerprint that makes your take distinct due to how many versions of something like A Christmas Carol there are in the world. You can usually find one that has stuck with you whether it has Mickey Mouse, The Muppets, or the film adaptation of the Leslie Bricusse Scrooge starring Albert Finney, which is my favorite version. So, this year’s Christmas review will be of Scrooge: A Christmas Carol, a CGI animated feature that is an animated take on the musical.
This version of the classic tale is directed by Stephen Donnelly, co-written by Donnelly and the original writer of Scrooge, Leslie Bricusse (which is probably more of a royalty/rights situation due to Leslie passing away in 2021). The animated version of the story obviously stars Mr. Ebaneneezer Scrooge, voiced by Luke Evans. As the story goes, Scrooge hates Christmas with a vengeance and how everyone delights in partaking in it, including his employee Bob Cratchit, voiced by Johnny Flynn. That night on Christmas Eve, Scrooge goes home with his dog Prudence only to have the arrival of the ghostly spirit of Scrooge’s last partner, Jacob Marley, voiced by the High Sparrow himself, Jonathan Pryce. Marley puts the fear of the afterlife in Scrooge and tells him that he will be visited by three spirits. These include the candle wax-like Ghost of Christmas Past, voiced by Olivia Coleman, the bombastic and lively Ghost of Christmas Present, voiced by Trevor Dion Nicholas, and the ghoulishly evil-looking Ghost of Christmas Future. Can Scrooge change his ways?
So, not to get personal with this review, but the 1970s Scrooge is one of my, if not my favorite Christmas movie. I watch it every year with the family on Christmas Day, and it’s the adaptation of the book I watch the most. So, if I sound more critical, it’s because this incarnation is basing itself on a film that’s close to this critic’s heart. What was one of the fun aspects of the original story is how it’s a cautionary tale, but also gothic horror. It was a dark story, and to be frank, this film does seem like it wanted to have its gothic horror, but their main focus was making a family-friendly version of the tale so it would be in that roundtable of A Christmas Carol viewings for families, alongside the Disney and Muppet version. It leans a bit too much on the family-friendly side, as they do what a lot of Toei animated films used to do all of the time back then with the small animal mascots. Scrooge gets a dog, and The Ghost of Christmas Past and Future share these little sprite-like beings that have no real reason to be there. Sure, depending on the version you watch, Christmas Carol can get dark, but it’s a fun dark, and not intensely stressful like Smile, Nope, or Hereditary. They expand upon Scrooge’s past and show more scenes of his slow turn from a kind human to who he was in the present time period. It just seems like they didn’t need to do this because you get the idea of what happens when the “Happiness” sequence happens, but they shorten that part to make room for more scenes and original song sequences that are exclusive to this version of the film.
Oh, right, there are original songs in this film, and they are a mixed bag. This wouldn’t be so distracting if they didn’t remove songs from the original musical to make room for these new ones. They feel too modern and really detract when they do use music from the original musical. Not that they aren’t sung well, but the first song used in this version of the film is very forgettable. That being said, you can tell that the animators by Timeless Films did a lot of great work during this opening sequence, and make sure to give this film its own distinct visual flair. It has a lot of bright vibrant colors that do detract from the original’s more somber atmosphere. The other new songs are fine, but they feel out of place with the other ones including Luke Evan’s rock opera song that he sings before Marley arrives. It just has a ton of different story decisions that really do hamper the original tone that, while having its own moments that work, don’t compare to the original. The one song sequence I did like was between Luke Evans and Jessie Buckley, but when push comes to shove, the original version of Happiness is still the best version of that moment in the film when Scrooge sees his past. They even push the side characters even more to the side and don’t leave much of an impression unlike the live-action film. The rest of the humans look great and while they come close to looking like they are from something from either advertisements or some of the more well-known mobile games, the film looks fine for what was assumedly not on a large budget. They throw in a lot of Christmas flair and visuals, but personally, the ghosts got the best design boost by being in animation. The Ghost of Christmas Past and Jacob Marley have probably my favorite visual designs. Marley’s more ice/blue flame look is awesome to see unfold when he arrives and Christmas Past is inspired by a candle and made of wax has some of the best animation in the film. You can tell the animators had a ton of fun making her work. Even if Olivia Coleman is maybe hamming it up too much. Ghost of Christmas Future has the least interesting design, and what makes some other adaptations work is how they handle this specific ghost in general. Even Jim Carrey and Robert Zemeckis’ take on the ghost does some truly spooky things by making it a shadow along the walls, and that’s great. Sadly, the animation isn’t consistently well done when you get to the Thank You Very Much scene, the animation took a hit and is way too robotic and stiff when it is one of the more darkly comedic and lively scenes from the original musical. The one thing this film doesn’t fully mess up is the stuff with Tiny Tim. I mean, it’s hard to mess up one of the most adorable kids in fiction. If you mess that up, then you aren’t a good director.
It sounds like this isn’t a very good adaptation, but there is stuff to like. A lot of the animation looks good, and at moments, it really captures the somber and eerie tone of the film even when it’s aiming for a more family-friendly version. The voice cast is pretty good with Luke Evans, Johnny Flynn, Jessie Buckley, Olivia Coleman, James Cosmo, Fra Fee, Rupert Turnbull, Rebecca Gethings, and Giles Terera to name a few of the major actors they got for the film. When it does slow down and show some of the plot beats from the original, it does do those scenes well. The music is composed well by Jeremy Hollen-Smith, and while I’m not super fond of the new and old songs in how they are executed, they are sung well. When you have a guy who was the Genie on the Aladdin Broadway show, you know you are going to have a fantastic Ghost of Christmas Present.
It’s a solid adaptation, but if it didn’t try to feel so modern and family-friendly, even compared to other more family-friendly adaptations of the source material, it would leave a more lasting impression. It has some solid visuals, a few decent musical numbers, and good voice performances. It’s a fun time, but I wouldn’t call it one of the better films of the year. If you have yet to see this version, then there is a reason to give it a watch. It’s different enough to stand out, but even with my underwhelming impressions of this version, I bet this one will make the rounds every Christmas. Most people will watch more than one version of A Christmas Carol every year during this time period. Either way, see it for yourself and come up with your own thoughts about it. For now, it’s time to relax, work on some editorials, and enjoy the holidays.
Rating: Rent it (well, it’s a streaming-only film, but still.)