It's not often that you'll hear a film criticised for being too loyal to its original source material but that is the case here. Zemeckis has brought Charles Dickens' popular moral tale to the big screen in impressive, animated 3D glory, yet what his adaptation delivers in a festive feast for the eyes, it lacks in heart, soul and cheer.
The story is pretty much intact and herein lies the rub; with the advantage and hype surrounding 3D, it would have been preferable and indeed more stimulating for Zemeckis and Carrey to use their box of tricks and have some fun with early 20th century London and the miserly moneylender, Ebenezer Scrooge. Carrey appears often on screen, doing a 'digital Eddie Murphy' by playing the ghosts and voices of Christmas past, present and future. While that might sound like a hoot, and the early arrival of Marley does the job with spooks and visuals, you quickly long for the real Carrey and the other famous actors who follow.
Carrey had his funny bone removed to star as Ebenezer and is scarcely recognisable. Instead, Scrooge is made in the likeness of a Spike Milligan character, crossed with a bitter, spindly Steptoe. Also Carrey has disguised his voice by mimicking Alastair Sim's 1950s Scrooge and the resemblance is uncanny.
Firth, Oldman, Wright Penn and Hoskins all make appearances but their features appear bland and shapeless a lot of the time and you yearn for some humanity, done so well in Pixar's 'Up'.
Zemeckis does try with Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, but as an audience you are several steps ahead here, which is fine, but it does become too reliant on 3D (a night time flight over London is pretty good) and familiarity breeds resentment fairly quickly.
Zemeckis, who also wrote the screenplay, is so respectful of Dickens' original novel that there is scarcely a word out of place or an idea reinterpreted. Considering the book is over 150-years-old and has been recreated numerous times since, some modernising would not only be welcome but essential to ensure this 3D Carol earns a place among family favourites. The film falters on many of the same obstacles, which tripped Zemeckis' former 3D motion-capture release 'The Polar Express'. A blend of the humour of Bill Murray's 'Scrooged', Sim's wholesome 1950s version and the fun of the Muppets' twist with the technology of today would have been magic.
Dickens was never one to fear insulting delicate sensibilities and Zemeckis has embraced this viewpoint wholeheartedly with a spooky Marley, who may not be celebrated by younger PG viewers. Not only that but the ghosts labour their points so much it's surprising Scrooge didn't have a heart attack instead of living to tell the tale.
The Irish make their presence felt in this Disney version between the unusual and slightly unnerving accent of the flame-headed ghost of Christmas past (also voiced by Carrey) and our own Fionnuala Flanagan, voicing the part of Scrooge's house keeper, Mrs Dilber.
Dickens' tale is an intense, metaphorical and moving Christmas family ghost story that has been enjoyed for generations. However, as visually impressive as Zemeckis' 3D version may be, it fails to encapsulate the heart and humour of the moraltastic original.