Bah Humbug ! Where's the Magic ?!?

Nov 19, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Costumes, sets, well paced, very faithful to the spirit of the original cartoon classic version of the classic book.

Cons:Too carefully reverential of the original material. It should have been bigger, not just longer. It lacks magic.

Jim Carrey is very good, and Anthony Hopkins makes a fine narrator, but Ron Howard's stretched version of the 24 minute cartoon classic version of the classic Dr. Seuss book isn't a classic–it lacks magic.

Actually it also lacks originality. The film for the most part engineers the classic cartoon into a live action film -- Impressively so. The scene design, the Rick Baker costumes are all top notch. Having the Who's have rodent/feline type noses is an interesting Dr Seuss type choice, but I would have liked to have seen some other Seuss inspired gadgets and creatures (which for the most part the movie doesn't show us at all).

The film-makers have decided to be very careful to remain faithful to the cartoon and of course the original book. They even play snippets of the classic cartoon songs (with different inferior voices).

They expand things a little bit of course. We get some Grinch childhood flashbacks which show us how The Grinch was never accepted and never fit it with the Whos of Whoville. He always seemed to hate Christmas which made everyone dislike him even more. We get scenes showing us how the Grinch spends his time in his mountain lair which is right above the garbage dump. These give Carrey a chance to add a little edge to his cartoonish characterization--but there just isn't much he can do but entertain us with his talented voice and clownish tendencies.

There's an entertaining set piece where the Grinch has fun and is discovered by little Cindy-Lou Who when he's making a mess in the Who post office. But it's an in-offensive, and fairly dull type expansion that would have fit easily into the cartoon or book. While that's good on the one hand, on the other hand it doesn't add anything special or unique.

Surely more than a chance to make money is behind the expansion of this material for the big screen.

There's nothing in the film that gives us bigger, and better glimpses into the Dr. Seuss universe. And there should have been something new, something to take our breath away. A new musical number, a funny expanded scene, a Cat in the Hat subplot perhaps. Something. Anything that was fresh, new,and truly imaginative.

The film-makers have very carefully breathed life into the classic. They tread carefully around the material to be sure and remain as faithful to what worked best in the original and not be overly creative with the expansion. Careful, we are dealing with a proven timeless classic here, must be very very careful.

The book which can be read aloud in about 12 minutes contains the entire story. The Grinch, a nasty, spiteful creature who dislikes the sound of people having a good time and Christmas with a passion, decides to ruin Christmas for the entire town of Whoville. He plots with the help of his Dog Max to impersonate Santa and steal all the toys and Christmas decorations.

But Christmas has more meaning than merely the trimmings of the holiday festivities. And just as this fact is about to drive The Grinch utterly mad. . . . .

Oh I can't ruin it.... (Hehehehe– like anyone on the planet doesn't know the story, right?).

In the book, the reason The Grinch does this horrid thing is perhaps because his shoes are too tight but most likely because his heart is three sizes too small. In the movie it's also because he was treated as an outcast and a freak as a child.

The cartoon and book make wonderful use of Dr. Seuss' rhyming verse. There's not enough of it to stretch to movie length and rather than try to expand it, or find other Seuss rhymes to use it is voiced sparingly by Anthony Hopkins. yet the lack of Seuss poetry make the film feel clunkier and less inspired. Not using more Seuss rhymes changes the tone of the film. It loses some of it's energy, some of its wit. And director Howard doesn't fine a way to make things bouncy in other ways to compensate for it.

To make up for it we have Jim Carrey. He inhabits the painful Grinch suit quite well. He growls and sputters and screams and yells, and cackles and frets and does everything you would expect a cartoon character played by Jim Carrey to do. I don't think there is any digital admonishment to what Carrey is doing (as there was in The Mask). Carrey could have easily over-done everything, but he refuses to do that. He doesn't even over-do the pathos–which I was grateful for. He's a funny entertaining guy. I certainly laughed several times. But there's an awful lot of time we are left alone with Carrey's Grinch, in the film. It starts to drag, he starts to grate on the nerves a bit.

While I've nothing but praise for the production design over-all, I wish it went further. I wish we could have seen wider shots (even if miniatures had to be used) to give us more of a sense of place. I wished we could have seen some Dr. Seuss like gadgets, or at least some imaginative musical instruments (like the cartoon showed us). I wish the colors were a little brighter, and I wish it was shot in crisper, warmer Christmas tones, then the somewhat fuzzy redishness everything seems to have in the film.

I'm happy to tell you, the film-makers do not damage or tarnish the cartoon classic or book one bit with this very reverential film treatment of the material. Unfortunately, they are so careful to not make any mistakes, they fail to create anything new or exciting. As the novelty of the set design and make-up wears off, you become increasingly aware this faithful adaptation will not find magic in its re-telling.

That's a let-down.

Chris Jarmick, Author (The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder Available December 2000)

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