If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Unless it’s A Christmas Carol, the delightful Charles Dickens classic that nobody will leave well enough alone. If only the latest iteration, Scrooge, were content to revisit a magical old favorite. Instead Netflix’s psychedelic musical drains and dilutes, trading the original’s wit and heart for belted-out ballads, flame balls and what appear to be fire-eyed and gravity-defying trolls.
Before you write off this review as uncharitably Scroogey, take note: four children, ages eight to 11, gathered round the television to attend the screening. Plied with mugs of sugary cocoa, a frighteningly willing audience heeded the call of duty. Three of them were howling in disdainful laughter by minute two. Up on the screen, an entire village had broken out into a song and dance routine in which they merrily proclaimed: “I Love Christmas!” The fourth child, taking her film critic duties very seriously, quietly scribbled on her notepad: “What the heck???”
A rule of thumb in musical theater is that characters should sing only when speaking will not convey their emotion. In this case, though, song is used to dazzle and distract. The kids weren’t buying it, and neither will you. Nor will you be terribly impressed with the production values, which languish in a no-man’s land on the visual spectrum between old school claymation and acceptably modern. The figures lack dimension in all respects. The voices coming out of them belong to Olivia Colman, Luke Evans and Jessie Buckley, a trio of Netflix alums who may have been possessed by some sense of familial duty to enroll in the streamer’s adaptation.
Dickens’s novella, originally published in 1843, was storytelling at its most taut and rigorous, a work brimming with humor and humanity. Here was a time travel story with an underlying idea. It wasn’t too late for cranky capitalist Ebenezer Scrooge to revisit pivotal moments of his past and reengineer his destiny. This retelling manages to unravel a tightly plotted and emotionally resonant ghost story and lose the logic and poignancy. An ingenious and mystical tale that took on politics and personal trauma has been downgraded into a loud, frosty mess.
If the underlying message is to be decent before it’s too late, then be nice to yourself and queue up the berserk and brilliant Muppets Christmas Carol, why don’t you? You only live once.
Scrooge: A Christmas Carol is available on Netflix on 2 December