Disney sneaks a little ‘Christmas’ into June

Posted by · 1:18 pm · June 22nd, 2009

A Christmas CarolEvery hour on the hour until 7:00pm today, Walt Disney Pictures is screening a pair of scenes from Robert Zemeckis’s upcoming “A Christmas Carol” over at the Universal City IMAX theater as part of the excited, long-winded publicity build-up for the film.  Currently a cross-country train tour is parked in Sacramento, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the making of process as well as the scenes exhibited today.  Next weekend it’ll be on to Oakland and will continue through its five-to-six month odyssey until it pulls into New York’s Grand Central station just days prior to the film’s November 6 release.

For details on when the exhibition will be in your neck of the woods, check out the tour’s schedule.

As for the footage itself, the scenes are strikingly different.  The first is something of a character initiation for Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey), in case you’re somehow unaware of his place in literary lore.  It isn’t the best scene for showing off the film’s 3D particulars but it is, however, a great indication of the detail and textured artistic direction of the film.  The sets are rendered as beautifully as Zemeckis’s “Beowulf,” though there is more of a glimmer of existence in the “lifeless eyes” that many were so loathe to observe in “The Polar Express.”  We also get a look at Bob Cratchit in this scene, one of actor Gary Oldman’s three gigs on the production.

The second scene is much more technically eye-popping: Scrooge’s first encounter with one of the film’s four specters, former business partner Jacob Marley (Oldman again).  Marley’s ghost looks absolutely gorgeous, accented by a fluorescent blue hue that fortunately doesn’t glaze over the considerable detail on the face.  Marley’s chains make for a delightful opportunity with the 3D, allowing the gimmick and gag aspects of “Beowulf” to give way to a more alarming, visceral experience that is meant to frighten.  More of this, please.

We were also treated to the first trailer for the film, which will debut July 1.  Much of that footage is the same “trailerish” material that follows the train tour exhibition, but it’s more fleshed out, of course, with lots of indication (especially with the Ghost of Christmas Past stuff) that the film will be a thrilling experience and that the 3D will enhance that experience considerably.  But I was quite taken with a subtle piece of character-building tacked onto the end.

The camera follows a drifting snowflake, large in the foreground and illuminated by the 3D, as it settles onto Scrooge’s nose in close-up.  You would expect the flake to melt away with a bit of a “hiss” sound or something, but Scrooge being the cold-hearted man that he is, it merely rests there on the tip of his nose until he blows it away, quipping the expected: “Humbug.”

I thought all of the footage looked fantastic.  I was very much on board “The Polar Express” and the technological stretching Zemeckis was doing on that film when most everyone else was busy over-praising Pixar’s “The Incredibles”.  Thankfully there were those of us able to see that through the usual growing pains of such leap forward (i.e., the aforementioned “lifeless eyes”).  I thought “Beowulf” missed an opportunity to paint with deeper strokes, however.  It seemed Zemeckis was more interested in the “Hey, look!” nature of the 3D elements with that film.  But with “A Christmas Carol,” it seems the director may have found the right balance.  I’m very much looking forward to the finished product.

The interesting question that’ll be popping into many industry minds later in the year is whether the film can find footing with the Academy’s animation branch where “Beowulf” did not.  I’m tempted to say it won’t because we’re talking about a group of people who don’t consider performance capture to be animation.  Zemeckis himself has even said this.  And, of course, they’re right.  Additionally, Disney has Pixar’s “Up,” Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” and, if they really feel froggy (get it!?), “The Princess and the Frog” to pitch this Oscar season.  So it would be tough to juggle a fourth campaign.  We’ll see how that unfolds, but I imagine the film will have considerable technical elements worthy of praise outside a pigeonholing “Is it animated?” debate.

“A Christmas Carol” opens nationwide November 6.  Here is a glimpse at a portion of one of the scenes we saw today.  This is nothing you haven’t seen before, but what we saw today was a longer version of the same moment.  And YouTube doesn’t do it justice:

→ 6 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

6 responses so far

  • 1 6-22-2009 at 6:30 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Kris is this what the animatiojn is like in the video or was it better, cause that video really doesnt look all that good

  • 2 6-22-2009 at 6:50 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    Wow, I love your description of these scenes, and now I really have high hopes for this film. It does look like it has a lot of potential. If I may say so, this seems to be a very crowded year for animated films. First we got the visual treat that was Coraline (which, other than the writing in the end, I liked a lot) then we got Pixar’s Up, which I found really moving and exciting, and now we’re waiting on Ponyo, The Princess and the Frog, and now A Christmas Carol, it should be quite a competition (I haven’t seen Monsters vs. Aliens yet, cause it just didn’t draw me, but I might see it later). Is there any film I’m missing? I’m kind of hoping this is the year we get five nominees in that category (of course, I’ll know for sure when I see more of these animated films as the year goes on).

  • 3 6-22-2009 at 9:23 pm

    Ken said...

    Was the footage you saw the same as shown in the 20-second clip here? Because to me, the Marley part looks a bit unfinished. Not nearly as much rendering as Beowulf.

  • 4 6-23-2009 at 12:01 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Nothing you’re seeing on the net compares, folks. It looks so much better on the big screen.

  • 5 7-11-2009 at 1:34 pm

    leocdc said...

    i wish, because this is not looking so weel