Nothing if not a meaty yarn, Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a lot more besides, but Robert Zemeckis, a cutting-edge animator who hasn't told a decent story since 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, has a tin ear for the writer's grand moral melodramas, or just doesn't care much. What switched him on were the technical possibilities of Ebenezer Scrooge's journey back to the future, which Zemeckis has folded into a whiz-bang, often terrifying 3-D thrill ride with all the emotional satisfaction squeezed out of it. The movie's performance-capture digital technology gives Jim Carrey, sunken into a great beak of a nose and never-ending chin, a chance to show off his india-rubber body language as he morphs from bent old Scrooge to fresh young Scrooge and back again with the aid of whimsically drawn ghosts of Yuletides past. The action is breathtaking, but when A Christmas Carol isn't carried away by its own frenzied motion, it's a ruinously stiff tableau vivant of good folk in cabbage-patch faces pilfered from The Polar Express. Zemeckis milks Tiny Tim's Forrest Gump–ish pathos for every holy drop, leaving little breathing room for the final chapter's powerful parable of Scrooge doing penance for a life squandered on avarice and acquisition. In this new and far from improved A Christmas Carol, the human drama comes buried in software.
3-D effects give Carrey more room to mug.
Opens at Neptune and other theaters, Fri., Nov. 6. Rated PG. 95 minutes.