It’s hard to say exactly whether Netflix’s new animated version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic is aimed at very young children who respond to sensory overload or drugged college students seeking sensory overload.
In each case, Scrooge: A Christmas carol delivers it in spades, with a turbo-charged rendition of the story aimed at maximum visual impact. A very loose remake of the 1970 live-action musical miser starring Albert Finney, this version also features songs from that film composed by two-time Oscar winner Leslie Bricusse.
Scrooge: A Christmas carol
It comes down to
Suitable, albeit sometimes a bit too intense, for small boys.
Director Stephen Donnelly has promised to deliver “psychedelic, time-traveling and musical surprises” in this umpteenth version of the oft-dramatized tale, and he’s living up to his word, for better or for worse. The film’s vibrant animation – the opening sequence depicts a London more colorful than it’s ever been – feels more Hanna-Barbera than Dickensian. And it soon gets downright trippy in its frantic, sci-fi-esque visuals that show Scrooge hurtling from one time dimension to another, often with supernatural elements. The film’s style could potentially shock the sensibilities of the youngest viewers. On the other hand, this Scrooge has a cute dog, so there’s that, although it’s hard to imagine spending his hard-earned money to feed him.
A great cast has been put together, starting with Luke Evans as a Scrooge with suitably white hair but a face smooth enough to suggest he’s had Botox. The Welsh actor does a fine job in the role and puts his extensive theatrical musical experience to good use in his songs. But when Jonathan Pryce shows up as a truly terrifying Jacob Marley, you find yourself thinking what a great Scrooge he would have been. Oscar winner Olivia Colman plays a particularly cheerful Ghost of Christmas Past, even though her character, with an oversized candle on her head, seems more like she belongs in Beauty and the Beast.
All ghostly characters are exaggerated. The giant Ghost of Christmas Present, accompanied by tiny alien winged minions, is reminiscent of another Disney musical. As voiced boomingly by Trevor Dion Nicholas, he appears to be in spirit Aladdin, a role Nicholas played in the London production. The Ghost of Christmas Future puts the action in full horror mode, with the silent, forbidding specter with fiery eyes (there’s so much fire everywhere that the movie seems designed for young pyromaniacs in the making) and Scrooge descending into what is the guts seem to be from hell.
It’s all a bit much really, and the constant tone shifts from a kind of demonic Fantasy on bouncy musical numbers proves more than a little jarring. It doesn’t help that none of the songs are particularly memorable. (Does anyone remember “Happiness,” “I Like Life,” or “Christmas Children” from the 1970 movie? Don’t think so.) There are some charming moments, especially when Scrooge visits his past and his lost love Isabel (Jessie Buckley) , in this version the daughter of Mr. Fezziwig (James Cosmo). Overall, Scrooge is portrayed in a more sympathetic manner than usual, making his transition into a lavish revelry at the end of the story less impactful.
This is definitely not carol for purists, and the over-the-top but undeniably imaginative animation could prove off-putting to those not yet on a sugar high. But it provides a decent introduction to the story for younger viewers who will hopefully move on to more subtle versions of the classic story. The film is dedicated to Bricusse, who passed away last year.