The marketing genius that is the Walt Disney Company is at it again, and this time it’s a unique tie-in to the upcoming Robert Zemeckis-directed 3D digital CGI extravaganza, A Christmas Carol. Maybe you’ve heard of it? I don’t see how anybody can’t know about it – Disney has been pushing this movie hard since the beginning of summer at the Cannes Festival and followed it up with a good showing at Comic-Con.
To help mass-market A Christmas Carol, Disney teamed up with Amtrak and HP to help bring a train full of goodies to 40 cities. It all started back in May in Los Angeles and so far, the special train has stopped at 37 cities including my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. I went with my family today thinking it was going to be a whole lot of fun and the kids would get a kick out of seeing the train, because what kid doesn’t like trains?
This event was a full-out Disney project from beginning to end. They do what only Disney can do; that is make you feel like you having a true Disney experience. There is no mistaking it! Oh sure, it starts all whimsical enough with the signs and decorations leading up to the entrance, but I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy of a trip when I had to park one mile away and walk. Yes, everything about the experience was truly Disney related, right down to the long lines, park characters and multitudes of strollers parked outside the train.
So, let’s jump right into the pictures. I’m going to take you on the same journey I had to go on so that you can make up your own mind on whether you want to try and experience A Christmas Carol train. There are still three stops – Charleston, Philadelphia, New York – and if you get a chance and don’t mind standing in long lines for very little return, then go out and take your kids; just don’t expect them to have a fantastic Disney experience.
Here’s where I’m headed. It’s actually a great advertising wrap job done by HP and they make sure you know it. It could have used a wash but that’s neither here nor there.
And off we go (yes that’s me)…
Annnnd then we stop. This is typical for everything Disney does. What was this line for? Well after ten minutes of standing in it like sheep, we find out it’s just for registering to win a pair of gold-colored Disney ears and information on the Disney Vacation Club. Well played Disney.*sigh*
Finally, we have an idea of how long we will be in line and whoever put this up was either a liar or very bad at estimating because we were in line for almost 2 hours. And here is the reason why it took us 2 hours:
To help pass the time, just like in the parks, Disney had music pumping through the station speakers, a couple of places near the beginning and end of the line have HDTVs playing movie information and the trailer. Also, there were four Christmas carolers strolling through the line singing as they go. Unfortunately, they would sing mostly in front of the train engines and unless you were three inches from their mouths, you couldn’t hear them. That didn’t stop me from getting in the mix though.
The one thing I noticed in this line, as in most lines at Disney, where plenty of friendly people in front and behind me to chat with, and lots of kids on dad’s shoulders. One thing that would have made this more of an authentic Disney experience would have been a vendor selling turkey legs and balloons outside of the line.
The other thing I noticed was the over-abundance of seniors. Maybe it’s because I’m in the retirement state of Florida? Anyway, the people were nice enough to pose for a photo for me.
Two hours, several kids’ complaints and a few juice boxes later, we enter the train. Oh what wonders await us inside the fantastic movie vehicle? Well, I wasn’t permitted to take photos in most of the cars but I did manage to get a few near the end where photography was permitted. The first car is filled with portraits of Jim Carrey (Ebenezer Scrooge), Gary Oldman (Bob Cratchit) and Colin Firth (Fred) as their movie counterparts. The ones of Scrooge as a young boy and teen were particularly impressive.
Car number two contained fourteen HDTVs all serving as digital picture frames switching back and forth between concept art and the same scene in CGI format from the movie. It was rather interesting to see what the artist envisioned and how the digital painters brought it to life.
In car three we had about fifty monitors running along both sides, with each showing a different phase of the motion capture (mo-cap) performance, starting with the actors themselves and ending with the finished product at the end.
Jim Carrey stars as seven different characters in the movie, with Gary Oldman and Colin Firth co-starring all via the magic of mo-cap. If you are not familiar with the technology, the actors put on funky looking black suits covered in white orbs that special cameras track as the actors move around. The cameras upload their information to “Central Command” where forty five people process it live and store it on over 300 Terabytes of drive space! It’s quite an impressive ordeal and you can see a picture of the suit in the photos below from inside car four.
Car five has an interesting software program that you can use to take your picture and then have it morphed into one of the characters from the movie. Sounds fun but it didn’t work properly for us or the people around us. You put in an email address and your picture gets uploaded to Wal-mart. When it’s ready they will email you a link where you can download the picture for free. It’s a nice gesture but the experience was more hassle than it’s worth and everyone’s picture ended up looking like something Picasso would have painted it he were blind and strung out on acid.
The last car has a fake fireplace with a fake fire in it, all spice in is the air and a fake turkey dinner in on the table. A girl hands you some more Disney propaganda marketing materials and out the door you head but your trip isn’t over yet. Outside of the train they have a giant inflatable movie theater with more lines!
It’s actually a portable 3D Digital theater and has Dolby surround sound – it’s presented in 3-D with glasses and everything. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more shown that you haven’t already seen in the trailer or clips. There is one new scene between Scrooge and Fred which was pretty good but to be honest, everything from the film involved screaming. Scrooge yells at Fred, Fred yells back, then Scrooge yells at the ghosts and yells as he is transported from his home then yells some more at the people on the street. The scenes with the ghosts, while intensely beautiful in CGI, were very scary for my seven year old and three year old children – the same observations from what Screen Ranter Rob Keyes saw at San Diego Comic-Con.
Bottom line, this isn’t a kid’s movie and this wasn’t a kid’s train experience. It’s been marketed as such and I think parents will be very disappointed when they have to leave halfway through the film because their children no longer want to be there. To quote my daughter as we walked out of the exit “Dad, that was boring. Can we go play at a park now?” If Disney wants this movie not blow up in their face, then they need to quickly change gears in how they market it.
Well, that was my A Christmas Carol train experience. The train was interesting for adults but not so much for kids but, I at least had fun hanging out with my kids. The whole experience took me 4 hours of my day and if you decide to go, then you should expect to spend at least that much time there.
A Christmas Carol is directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman and Robin Wright Penn. It opens in IMAX and theaters everywhere November 6th, 2009.