Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | December 1st, 2022
Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (Stephen Donnelly, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
In 1970, the late British composer Leslie Bricusse (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) adapted Charles Dickens’ classic 1843 novella A Christmas Carol for the screen, delivering the songs for Ronald Neame’s Scrooge, starring Albert Finney in the title role. Now, 52 years later, director Stephen Donnelly (Monster High: Welcome to Monster High) gives us an animated version of that adaptation. Featuring a roster of talented actors in the voice cast, the movie proves somewhat entertaining, if hardly stunning in visuals or narrative. Happy Holidays! You could do worse.
Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast) stars as the voice of Ebeneezer Scrooge. As you may recall, the story follows that man’s journey from miserly to generous over the course of a fateful evening where three ghosts force him to confront the nastiness of his life heretofore. After a first act in which he demonstrates complete callousness to all, he is visited by the spirit of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley (Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes), who warns that eternal damnation awaits if Scrooge does not change his ways. As a gesture of friendship, Marley has arranged an intervention.
And so the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future arrive, one after the other, each revealing to Scrooge that which he has done, is doing, and will do. Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter) and Trevor Dion Nicholas voice the first two, while the third never speaks, transitioning from the playfulness of its predecessors to become a gloomy, frightening presence leading Scrooge to his unhappy end. Along the way, there are scenes both goofy and poignant, featuring: the lovable canine companion Prudence, rambunctious playmates to the middle ghost known as Cheerlings, and one very lovelorn former fiancée to Scrooge named Isabel (Jessie Buckley, Women Talking).
There is also Scrooge’s nephew, Harry (Fra Fee), and the Cratchits, whose pater familias, Bob (Johnny Flynn, Emma.), works for Scrooge’s bank as its only (underpaid) employee. Tiny Tim, Bob’s son, is quite ill. Instead of offering Bob a Christmas bonus, however, Scrooge deducts funds for the slightest of perceived faults. He is, in short, a terrible human being. The town despises him, and with good reason.
And so the stage is set for either a major comeuppance or change of heart. Given that this is a well-known narrative, there are no surprises. Actually, there are a few, though not of outcome. Most strange to me is the rapidity with which Scrooge appears, in his first visitation with one of the phantoms, to immediately express regret. It makes the subsequent travels through memories less suspenseful. There is also the matter of Prudence, whose appearance seems too sleek for a dog owned by a miserable creature of a man. These elements, and others, telegraph redemption far too early.
The animation also mostly fails to impress, though it improves after an opening sequence that bodes poorly, given how stilted the onscreen movement appears. Wildly colorful, the design mistakes excess for beauty. Still, there are moving sequences, including a lovely duet between Scrooge and Isabel, Evans and Buckley’s voices intertwining in heartbreaking harmony. By its conclusion, Scrooge: A Christmas Carol may have failed to dazzle despite its strenuous efforts to do so, but it has also kept us watching, offering a pleasant-enough way to pass the time in a story all about the passage of time and the pain of regret.