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It’s hard to tell exactly whether Netflix’s new animated version of Charles Dickens’ Yuletide classic is geared to very young children who respond to sensory overload or drugged-out college students looking for sensory overload.
In either case, Scrooge: A Christmas Carol delivers it in spades, providing a turbocharged rendition of the tale aimed for maximum visual impact. A very loose remake of the live-action 1970 musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney, this version also features songs from that film composed by two-time Oscar winner Leslie Bricusse.
The Bottom Line Suitable, if at times a little too intense, for small fry.
Director Stephen Donnelly has promised to provide “psychedelic, time-traveling and musical surprises” in this umpteenth version of the oft-dramatized tale, and he lives up to his word, for better or 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 frenetic, science fiction-style visuals that depict Scrooge hurtling from one time dimension to the next, frequently featuring supernatural elements. The film’s style could potentially jar the sensibilities of its youngest viewers. On the other hand, this Scrooge owns an adorable dog, so there’s that, although it’s hard to imagine him shelling out his hard-earned money to feed it.
A terrific cast has been assembled, starting with Luke Evans as a Scrooge with appropriately white hair but a face smooth enough to suggest he’s had Botox. The Welsh actor does fine in the role, using his extensive theatrical musical experience to good advantage in his songs. But when Jonathan Pryce shows up as a truly frightening Jacob Marley, you find yourself thinking what a terrific Scrooge he would have been. Oscar-winner Olivia Colman voices a particularly chipper Ghost of Christmas Past, even if her character, sporting an oversized candle on top of her head, looks more like she belongs in Beauty and the Beast.
All of the ghostly characters are depicted in exaggerated fashion. The giant-sized Ghost of Christmas Present, accompanied by tiny alien-like winged minions, brings to mind another Disney musical. As boomingly voiced by Trevor Dion Nicholas, he resembles the genie in Aladdin, a role that Nicholas played in the London production. The Ghost of Christmas Future brings the proceedings into full horror mode, with the silent, forbidding specter sporting fiery eyes (there’s so much fire on display throughout that the film seems designed for budding young pyromaniacs) and Scrooge descending to what seems to be the bowels of hell.
It’s all a bit much, really, and the constant tonal shifts from a sort of demonic Fantasia to bouncy musical numbers proves more than a bit jarring. It doesn’t help that none of the songs are particularly memorable. (Anyone remember “Happiness,” “I Like Life” or ‘Christmas Children” from the 1970 film? Didn’t think so.) There are some charming moments, particularly when Scrooge visits his past and encounters his lost love Isabel (Jessie Buckley), in this version the daughter of Mr. Fezziwig (James Cosmo). In general, Scrooge is depicted in more sympathetic fashion than usual, making his transition to full-throated holiday cheer at the end of the story less impactful.
This is certainly not a Christmas Carol for purists, and the over-the-top if undeniably imaginative animation could prove off-putting to those not already on a sugar high. But it provides a decent enough introduction to the story for younger viewers who will hopefully move on to more subtle versions of the classic tale. The film is dedicated to Bricusse, who passed away last year.