Cautions: unexplained fantasy elements, violence, intensity and some morbidity, brief immodesty and sensuality, brief language and mild ethical confusion
Disney’s A Christmas Carol is a masterful and (perhaps accidentally) Christ-honoring reworking of the classic story, bringing iconic, unforgettable characters to life again—or to a convincing computer animated death—in a whirlwind of images, music and meaning, evoking different emotions every minute. For younger children or sensitive viewers, however, those emotions may include fear.
2009 | Robert Zemickis | 96 min Watch Trailer
Unexplained Fantasy Elements
The supernatural elements of the story can easily be interpreted in one of three different ways: as representing a reality that only Scrooge got to witness; as an allegory, with Scrooge experiencing different aspects of Christmas—or of eternity—strictly figuratively1; or they can be interpreted as a dream or hallucination (Scrooge himself suggesting a disorder of the stomach, and then returning from each supernatural journey apparently by falling out of bed). The allegory and dream explanations are the best, within a Christian framework
Scrooge’s long-dead partner Jacob Marley appears to him as a ghost. In addition to biblical descriptions of hell (as a place of fire, darkness, decay, weeping and gnashing of teeth), Marley says that constant, wearying travel over the earth is the lot appointed to him. Other ghosts appear, being beaten relentlessly by enormous coins, keys and other implements of their earthly trades. All the ghosts are fettered and dragging chains.
“Ghosts” or “spirits” of Christmas (which bear no resemblance to the concept of ghosts as the souls of the dead) appear to Scrooge.
Violence, Intensity and Some Morbidity
Intense moments and scenes are liberally sprinkled throughout the movie. For the most part they are scary in roller coaster fashion, but a few segments take on a more haunted house-style intensity.
Marley’s ghost is depicted as being in intense torment, screaming imprecations upon himself in anguish. He is also glowing, green and partially decayed. At one point, his jaw suddenly tears loose and hangs down on his chest, only barely attached to his face.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears as a bodiless shadow, appearing at unexpected times, occasionally shooting out a black, skeleton hand to grab Scrooge. At the end, the Ghost’s face is revealed somewhat, as a dark, blurry skull with glowing eyes. This version of the character is scarier than in other films about the same story, and may be too intense for sensitive viewers.
Scrooge’s grave-side plea for mercy is more scary than sad, with Scrooge, screaming, falling into his own grave, a glowing red coffin below him, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, eyes burning, above him.
A lengthy, intense scene has Scrooge running for his life from a pair of half shadow, half skeletal horses driven alternately by a mad, shadowy man, and by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. At one point in the chase, giant phantoms rise out of the ground, harassing Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present, at the sound of midnight, clutches his chest in agony, falls to the ground, suddenly ages, transforms into a skeleton and dissolves into the wind… laughing the whole time. Meanwhile, the child allegories of Ignorance and Want transform into crazed, violent adults. This is a very disturbing segment.
An ink sketch turns into the more lifelike version of the same thing—a dead man’s face in a coffin. The scene goes on, with characters looking at, and interacting around, the corpse, and finally removing the coins from his eyes.
There are a few intense startle moments in the film.
A family is seen grieving and weeping for some time over the loss of a child.
Brief Immodesty and Sensuality
A phantom girl is briefly shown transforming into a woman in the dress of a nineteenth-century harlot and moving sensually and disturbingly around an alarmed and repulsed Scrooge. The segments lasts only a couple of seconds.
A few women are seen in low-necked dresses. A male character’s robe hangs open, revealing his chest.
Couples are seen waltzing.
The word “ass” is used twice to mean simultaneously an animal and an idiot.
Mild Ethical Confusion
Phantom children, named and representing Ignorance and Want, are briefly shown transforming into wicked adults, potentially communicating the idea that poverty and lack of education are the causes of sin. However, that is not a necessary conclusion from the scene.
At one point, Scrooge accuses the Ghost of Christmas Present of depriving the poor once a week by closing the bakery, where they had been allowed to cook their own food after hours, every seventh day. The Ghost rebukes him and states that those “so-called men of the cloth” who require the closing of the establishments, do their selfish, evil deeds in the name of Christmas but are complete strangers to it. This mildly implies a connection between the doctrine of the sabbath and corrupt religious people.
Characters mention Christmas punch, and a song references wassail. Darkly-portrayed phantoms drink from bottles and barrels.
A man takes snuff.
There are a few high-speed flying and sliding scenes that may bother viewers who are prone to motion sickness.
1 A similar example would be the allegories in the book "Pilgrim's Progress", in which the Christian makes it to heaven by swimming across a river of water, or has the burden of his sins literally fall off his back at the sight of the cross.