“Disney’s A Christmas Carol”
Category: Web Exclusives
A very traditional holiday tale is re-envisioned for digital-age audiences
Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a favorite holiday tale. It is the heartwarming story of a stingy old man who, after visits from four ghosts who present the past, present, and future, has a change of heart. In years past, the story was told in various forms—first, in a novella by Dickens, and later on stage and on film in a live-action production and a 2D animated movie. Now, “A Christmas Carol” is being presented in stereo 3D using the most cutting-edge CG technologies available.
Disney’s “A Christmas Carol,” a multi-sensory thrill ride re-envisioned by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, captures the fantastical essence of the classic Dickens tale in a groundbreaking 3D motion picture event. Ebenezer Scrooge (JIM CARREY) begins the Christmas holiday with his usual miserly contempt, barking at his faithful clerk (GARY OLDMAN) and his cheery nephew (COLIN FIRTH). Scrooge makes it clear that he has no intention of enjoying the holiday and, as always, goes home—alone—where he encounters the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley, who’s paying the price in the afterlife for his own callousness, hopes to help Scrooge avoid a similar fate and tells him that he will be visited by three spirits. But when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come take Old Scrooge on an eye-opening journey revealing truths he’s reluctant to face, he must open his heart to undo years of ill will before it’s too late.
This latest version of “A Christmas Carol” was directed by Robert Zemeckis from his own adaptation based on the classic novella by Dickens. The film is the first movie developed by ImageMovers Digital, which was created by Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, and Jack Rapke to develop 3D performance-capture films exclusively for The Walt Disney Studios. “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” is produced by Starkey, Zemeckis and Rapke.
The stellar cast is led by multi-faceted actor Jim Carrey (“Yes Man,” “Horton Hears a Who,” “Bruce Almighty”) who, like many of his co-stars, appears in several pivotal roles. In addition to portraying Ebenezer Scrooge at various ages old and young, Carrey brings to life the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Joining Carrey is a diverse group of gifted actors. Gary Oldman (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) stars as Scrooge’s beleaguered employee, Bob Cratchit, his young and ill son Tiny Tim, as well as the ghost of Joseph Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner. Colin Firth (“Love Actually,”) stars as Fred, Scrooge’s cheerful, good-hearted nephew. Robin Wright Penn (“State of Play”) stars as Belle, who long ago stole Scrooge’s heart, and Fan, Scrooge’s now deceased sister. One of England’s most distinguished actors, Bob Hoskins (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”) reunites with Zemeckis as Old Fezziwig, to whom Scrooge was apprenticed as a young man, and Old Joe who runs an old rag and bottle shop and purchases the “deceased” Scrooge’s bed linens and curtains. Cary Elwes (“Ella Enchanted,” “The Princess Bride”) rounds out the cast and portrays multiple characters, including young Dick Wilkins, Scrooge’s old roommate.
The creative team includes production designer Doug Chiang (“Beowulf,” “The Polar Express”), director of cinematography Robert Presley (“Enchanted,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “What Lies Beneath”), film editor Jeremiah O’Driscoll (“Beowulf,” “The Polar Express”), composer Alan Silvestri (“Beowulf,” “Night at the Museum”) and visual effects supervisor George Murphy (“King Kong,” “Constantine”).
“Disney’s A Christmas Carol” is being presented in Disney Digital 3D, RealD 3D, and IMAX 3D. RealD 3D is the new generation of entertainment, with crisp, bright, ultra-realistic images so lifelike you feel like you've stepped inside the movie. RealD 3D adds depth that puts you in the thick of the action, whether you're joining favorite characters in a new world or dodging objects that seem to fly into the theatre. RealD pioneered today's digital 3D and is the world's most widely used 3D cinema technology with over 9,000 screens under contract and nearly 4,000 screens installed in 48 countries. And unlike the old days of paper glasses, RealD 3D glasses look like sunglasses, are recyclable and designed to comfortably fit on all moviegoers, and easily over prescription glasses.
DICKENS’ STORY—Filmmakers Covet Author’s Vision
Thought to be one of the greatest Christmas stories ever told and enjoyed by millions each year at the holidays, “A Christmas Carol” was originally published by Dickens in 1843. The novella was an immediate and enduring success and would become a holiday tradition for generations. It was the world’s first time-travel story and perhaps the most beloved of ghost stories. At its core, however, the story is one of redemption. “Everybody loves a good transformational story,” says Carrey. “You know, somebody who sees the light, who finally finds out what’s important in life. And, this is one of the greatest ones ever written.”
It is the ghosts, of course, who help turn the stingy Scrooge around. The Ghost of Christmas Past (JIM CARREY) appears in the form of a flickering flame—Dickens describes the Ghost as a “bright, clear jet of light.” The Ghost escorts Scrooge on a journey back in time, revisiting moments in his past. He sees himself as a youngster, as an apprentice to Fezziwig (BOB HOSKINS), as a vibrant young man chatting with co-clerk Dick Wilkins (CARY ELWES), and as a man in love and engaged to Belle (ROBIN WRIGHT PENN). The memories deeply affect Scrooge. The Ghost of Christmas Present (CARREY)—a merry giant decked out in robes— arrives to show Scrooge what his life is really like in the present. Scrooge is taken to the Cratchit household and sees his clerk’s meager situation, including the gravity of the illness of his young son, Tiny Tim (GARY OLDMAN). The Ghost also allows Scrooge to observe his nephew’s Christmas party, where they witness a guessing game in which Scrooge’s dreary life is the punch line. Next up, and perhaps most unsettling, is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (CARREY), a phantom who takes Scrooge into the future as the pair explores an unnamed man’s recent death. Businessmen discuss the man’s riches, Old Joe (HOSKINS) and Mrs. Dilber (FIONNULA FLANNIGAN) divvy up his bedding and curtains. Scrooge demands to know the man’s identity; he’s shocked to read his own name on the tombstone. If only he had another chance.
The filmmakers felt that no film version had truly captured the story in a way that Dickens truly intended. “It’s as if Charles Dickens wrote this story to be a movie—it’s so visual and cinematic,” says Zemeckis. “It’s the greatest time-travel story ever written and I wanted to do the movie the way I believe it was originally envisioned by the author.”
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY--Presenting Powerful Visuals
“‘DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL’ is a classic tale with stunning performances and powerful visuals,” adds producer Steve Starkey. “It has it all.”
Performance capture is a process that digitally captures the performances of the actors with computerized cameras in a full 360 degrees; the film will be presented in Disney Digital 3D. The technologies allowed the filmmakers to present a true Dickensian world with no artistic restrictions, transporting the audience to a time and place previously unavailable.
“The technology is liberating for me as a filmmaker,” says Zemeckis. “It allows me to separate the cinema aspect of making a movie, which is something all filmmakers try to control, and realize the magic of the performances from my cast. It’s the perfect blend of welcoming those wonderful accidents that happen when an actor is performing, and then being able to put the cinema language into the film.”
Starkey adds, “The characters in the story are bigger than life—ghosts and even Scrooge himself who evolves through time. We can do things in this new form of cinema that you couldn’t do before.”
According to Zemeckis, “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” is the perfect film to showcase how far performance capture technology has come and how it allows filmmakers to be innovative, yet still showcase the strengths of the cast. For the actors, it’s a fascinating process with no costumes, no physical makeup and very little as far as sets. Carrey and the rest of the cast had their work cut out for them in their efforts to become the characters. “A lot of people think that these movies are just voice-over work,” says Carrey, “but they feature complete performances by actors.”
While the technology afforded filmmakers incredible freedoms to create environments and characters that have never been seen on the big screen before, it still comes back to the story, says Zemeckis. “You take the meanest man alive and show him the error of his ways…and we get to come along for the ride.”
CASTING A CLASSIC--Jim Carrey Steps in as Scrooge
Even as Robert Zemeckis was writing the script, he had only one actor in mind to play the role of Scrooge—Jim Carrey. “Jim’s not just a wonderful actor, he’s a chameleon,” says Starkey. “He can work his body in ways other actors can’t. He’s just so versatile. I can’t imagine the film without him.”
Neither could the director. Zemeckis had no doubts that Carrey’s talent as an imaginative and risk-taking actor would make him the quintessential Scrooge. “When I did my first performance-capture movie and I realized the potential of what could be done, I couldn’t help but think that the greatest performance-capture actor that exists is Jim Carrey,” says the director. “His face is so incredibly expressive, and he’s so great at creating characters, giving him the ability to completely change his physicality. All of his talents as a performer and as a comedian are included in his performance.”
Producer Rapke agrees, “There is a place that he goes to that in a million years you wouldn’t think it was possible. He has an unlimited amount of extraordinary physicality. The way he transforms himself into Scrooge is amazing. He gives his all, pursuing every single permutation of the character. He comes up with so many alternatives and they are all great. It’s an embarrassment of riches.”
“Scrooge,” says Carrey, “is not a person who really loves his life. He wants to live it alone. He’s not a spiritual guy on a mountain. He’s a guy who wants to make his cage as comfortable as possible because if he steps outside it, he risks being seen by people. He risks people finding out that he’s broken and bitter.” But Carrey believes there’s more to Scrooge than the miser. “Nobody is just one thing, you know? There’s much more to all of us. Generally at the bottom of it all, there’s goodness.”
Not only does Carrey play the old and miserly Scrooge, but because of the advantages afforded by the film’s technology, Carrey is able to portray Scrooge at every age—from a young 7-year-old, alone and friendless, sitting quietly at school, to an old man, bent over and feeble. The technology captures Carrey’s unique acting performances as the actor expertly crafts the evolution of one character’s lifetime. “He’s a guy in pain,” says Carrey. “He’s a guy who didn’t have anybody to love him.”
CASTING A CLASSIC
Carrey also portrays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. “Since the ghosts are all an extension of Scrooge, it’s only fitting that they all have a bit of Scrooge in them,” says Zemeckis. “So it was a perfect fit to have Jim play all the parts.” Zemeckis also called on several other cast members to fulfill more than one role.
CASTING A CLASSIC
ZEMECKIS AT THE HELM—It All Comes Back to the Story
With films like “Forrest Gump,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, “Cast Away,” and “The Polar Express” under his belt, Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis has established himself as an expert filmmaker. It’s all about telling a good story. “I think what makes him an extraordinary filmmaker is that his films are not just blockbusters,” says Colin Firth, “they’re films that people cherish year after year. They’re all favorites. It’s character and it’s story. Films like ‘Back to the Future’ were fantastic from a special effects point of view but it wasn’t about that. You wanted to see what was going to happen to the character when he goes back in time. Everything was thought through on a human level. Bob is a storyteller.”
For Zemeckis, the process began with the writing of the script. Utilizing this superb source material, the writing process resulted in a script that is accessible to the modern audience and yet true to the original material. “The source material is so good and it is all there,” says producer Jack Rapke. “Bob wrote a brilliant adaptation of Dickens. There is such depth to the story and the character and the journey that is truly unparalleled.” Those who work with the Academy Award-winning director find him open-minded, innovative, and collaborative.
Production designer Doug Chiang, who worked with Zemeckis on “The Polar Express,” “Monster House” and “Beowulf,” adds: “Bob is a fantastic director to work for, primarily because he always pushes the boundaries of design. And what I love about it is that even in the initial meetings, what he describes and what I envision in my mind during those first meetings is almost always just a fraction of where he’s going. And that’s the part that I love as a designer, because I know that whatever we start on day one in the first few weeks, the end result is going to be ten times that. And, as a designer, it’s really the surprise and the challenge of the unexpected that I get from Bob.”
“Bob Zemeckis provides a challenge for everybody working with him,” says Starkey. “He’s a wonderful collaborator. He actually looks for collaboration with those around him and actually feeds on the artistic input of everybody that works with him. He’s very smart and knows many crafts as well as the people themselves do, and he challenges them in their craft. And he’s always exploring new technologies and at the same time new stories. So you get the best of both worlds. You get to take cinema into the future and at the same time, tell stories that haven’t been seen before.”
No doubt that “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” will become a holiday classic family film, just as book is.