Good intentions do not a good movie make. And unfortunately, even heartwarming messages can't stop "The Ghosts of Dickens' Past" from succumbing to its own worst tendencies.
This family drama/fantasy (a joint production between the Canadian CINAR television production studio and Feature Films For Families, a local company that makes straight-to-video family movies) attempts some tricky subject matter, and doing it in an ironic fashion doesn't help.
The real irony here is that the film is lacking in the rich humor that marked the best work of its subject, beloved author Charles Dickens. The movie also takes itself much too seriously.
Still, though it's not on par with the company's previous two theatrical releases ("Rigoletto" and "No More Baths"), you have to give the film some credit simply for being one of only two G-rated movies currently showing around the valley. (Disney's "Mulan" being the other.)
"The Ghosts of Dickens' Past" may not be great, but at least it's clean.
The film is a highly fictionalized account of Dickens' attempts to write his seasonal parable "A Christmas Carol." The story is told through flashbacks as the author (Christopher Heyerdahl) discusses the writing process with a young, would-be novelist (Seann Gallagher).
Desperate to pen a best seller, Dickens is too consumed with thoughts of financial rewards to gain the proper inspiration — at least until he has a life-changing experience. Walking through some of London's seamy backstreets, he is saved from being robbed by an urchin girl (Jennifer Bertram).
Naturally, Dickens is eager to find and thank the girl, and he discovers she has been working as a child laborer. But he doesn't meet up with her again until she appears as an apparition to show him the impoverished conditions under which many Londoners have been living.
As mentioned, the material is treated way too seriously and lacks the proper balance of humor and pathos. But there is a worthy message, though it takes forever to arrive.
On the performance side, Heyerdahl is earnest, if a bit too self-conscious. And Bertram wisely avoids the sad-eyed child stereotype that could have made the movie maudlin.
"The Ghosts of Dickens' Past" is rated G and contains nothing offensive.