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A tale of two Scrooges

Published on: December 30, 2013

ParentMap's managing editor compares Disney's A Christmas Carol with ACT Theatre's version.

scroge1He's mean, he's miserly, and he's everywhere these days - Scrooge is getting even more face time than usual this holiday, thanks to Disney's new holiday "crassic" - A Christmas Carol - which the studio bills as "a multi-sensory thrill ride" that "captures the fantastical essence of the classic Dickens tale in a groundbreaking 3D motion picture event."

A thrill ride it was when I took my kids, ages 10 and 13, to see it IMAX 3D last week -- but it was also one of the most upsetting movies I've seen in years. Yes, the 3D effects were amazing - even startling -- but only a few minutes into the movie, they became scary and gory. This "Carol" is a thrill ride through dark and squalid London; a ghost story with one of the meanest Scrooges ever seen.

My stomach had barely settled from the soaring, swooping, over-the-city IMAX shots when Marley's ghost came screaming in, jaw coming unhinged with a meaty squelch and squirmworthy visuals. And it went on from there. Like many of Jim Carrey's movies for kids, this one is unsettlingly manic;  any happiness is depicted with echoing, crazy laughter. The ghost of Christmas past was a creepy talking candle-creature; Christmas present was a hairy good-ole-boy whose laughter made me want to rush the projection booth to hit the volume knob.scrooge

Disney's take on the tale has none of Dickens' redeeming humanity; nary a touch of warmth, no rest for the jumpy and exhausted audience. There's no denying that this movie is well done, even technically amazing. But I like it less and less the farther I get from it, and any fondness I had left was blown completely away last night when I took the kids to opening night of ACT Theatre's long-running version of A Christmas Carol.

Here, then, in this intimate theater-in-the-round, came the true spirit of Dickens' masterpiece cautionary tale. Here were carolers - live ones!  - and snow drifting from the rafters on the inspired and enthusiastic actors (real 3D!) below. Here were ingenious sets, popping up from the floor or lowering down from the rafters like a well-oiled machine (this play has been running for 33 years - I saw it as a kid); here were flashes of humor, moments of delight, and an audience that by turns laughed out loud and applauded (something I did not hear at Lincoln Square Cinemas).

R. Hamilton Wright's Scrooge worried me at first; I liked him instantly, and you're not supposed to feel that way about Scrooge. But I think now that what I felt was relief at being back in the hands of people who understand and even revere Dickens' original. Last night's Scrooge was mean, sure, but from the beginning you could see traces of his possible redemption; you felt like you could grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. You saw a man who'd lost his way - and lost everything because of it - and you rooted for him to find his way back, even as he cussed and spat and pushed crippled children aside with his cane.

Call me a wimp, but I don't want to be horrified by my Christmas entertainment. I want to be reminded of my humanity and my obligation to others; I want to -- yes, it's cheesy -- but I want to feel moved by the spirit of the season. I want to be delighted and uplifted. At the very least, that's what I want for my kids - not yet another test of their tolerance for gore and violence; their ability to cull some sort of meaning from the whizzing fireworks of Disney's slick technical perfection.

If you can, get tickets to ACT Theatre (many shows will sell out). Tickets start at around $32; the show is 90 minutes with no intermission - perfect for kids about ages 6 and older.

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