How the Grinch Stole Christmas (DVD, 2008, Collectable Classic Grinch Snow Globe Premium)

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How Hollywood Stole the Grinch

Nov 18, 2000 (Updated Nov 19, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Jim Carrey steals the show; Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who comes in a close second

Cons:Why on earth was this movie even made?

He’s perched on a summit high above the rest of us going about our daily lives; he’s smacking his lips and rubbing his green-as-money hands together; he’s ready to descend on us and steal all the joy from our holiday season.

The Grinch? Heck no—I’m talking about Mr. Hollywood Executive. The kind of coin-eyed fellow who would pump bazillions of marketing dollars into a film like Little Nicky, but let Almost Famous fade away like yesterday’s celebrity. The kind of money-grubber who’d put his green-stained hands all over a beloved holiday classic like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and turn it into something resembling a shopping spree at FAO Schwarz while under the influence of LSD. The kind of decision-maker responsible for big-screen “entertainments” like Dudley Do-Right, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.

These small-screen to big-screen transfers are about as successful as Warren Beatty donning street punk and singing rap. Something always gets lost along the way (usually it’s the dollars from our wallets). Coming out of these big-budget, big-ambitioned, big-fizzled failures, I always ask myself: Why? Why would someone want to smear their fingerprints all over these classics from an earlier generation? Why would anyone take the time and trouble to fix something that ain’t broke? Why, why, why?

Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Before we proceed, you should know three things:
1. I was part of the generation that grew up under the topsy-turvy tutelage of Dr. Seuss. With his Sneetches and his Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, he was our Grand Master of Rap, the jiving funk daddy of a delirious new dictionary. The perennial How the Grinch Stole Christmas, animated by Chuck Jones, burns in my memory with a sort of Yule log glow (the same goes for The Little Drummer Boy on TV and Andy Williams crooning carols on the stereo).
2. Despite the similarity of our names, I am in no way related to Mr. Grinch.
3. I tried to go into Ron Howard’s big-budgeted, big-ambitioned adaptation with an open heart (which, I’d like to think, wasn’t two sizes too small).

This is going to sound like backhanded praise, but How the Grinch Stole Christmas is about as good an adaptation as we can expect from Hollywood these days. The Seuss spirit is captured adequately by the candy-gloss look of the film and rubberman Jim Carrey’s antics.

But let’s face it, folks…Hollywood is nothing if not extreme. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a big sloppy mess of an entertainment, bouncing around like a shrieking Whozit who broke into the Whoville Pharmacy and gobbled up waaay too many Whopills.

The movie begins with swirling ice crystals and narrator Anthony Hopkins (a suitable replacement for Boris Karloff) intoning the words “Inside a snowflake like the one on your sleeve happened a story you have to see to believe.” And, for the next hour and a half, the producers wage an all-out assault on our senses with “seeing is believing” special effects. With the exception of an animatronic Baby Grinch (which is so unconvincing it should never have been used), the results are generally good. Imagine a spun-sugar version of Tim Burton and you won’t be too far off the mark. Whoville residents are made up to look like cartoonish dogs/cats/weasels/mice (take your pick); a marching band has horns of all shapes and sizes—including a tuba with a smaller tuba player emerging from the bell; staircases zig-zag like an M.C. Escher optical illusion; lots of things go boing! Excess is to be expected when we’re talking about Dr. Seuss.

It’s the story that’s a mess. Screenwriter Jeffery Price is well-versed at translating the world of cartoons to the screen—he wrote the inventive, zany Who Framed Roger Rabbit. On the other hand, he also wrote Wild Wild West. ’Nuff said.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave up on Mt. Crumpit for the past 40 years, the story is probably as familiar as those old tree ornaments you recycle every year: wizened, green-skinned, flint-hearted Mr. Grinch lives on a mountain above pleasant little Whoville, a town that never forgets Christmas. Like Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, Grinch hates to see others feeling so holly-jolly and he plots to steal their Christmas joy (along with their Christmas trees and Christmas presents). Like Dickens’ Scrooge, the Grinch also has the capacity to have a change of heart and love all of Whomanity, starting with Little Cindy Lou Who (played here by cute-as-a-button Taylor Momsen who delivers the second-best performance in the film). It is, of course, a religious parable of redemption and rebirth; the fact that Grinch has a Christmas setting is not coincidental.

Seuss’ 1957 book and Chuck Jones’ 1966 cartoon were delivered with a rhyme scheme that fell trippingly off the tongue. The story was neat, compact, no room for ballyhoo (even the Whoville carol, “Welcome Christmas,” fit the spirit of the tale).

By it’s very nature, the $120-million Grinch could never be so streamlined. For better or worse (mostly worse) here’s the extra jingle-jangle that Howard and Price have added to the story in order to expand it from 26 minutes to the cineplex-friendly 102 minutes:

· A flashback to Grinch’s childhood where we learn why he hates Whovillagers and the Christmas season
· A love interest (Christine Baranski) who’s also being wooed by the Whoville mayor (Jeffery Tambor)
· A dog-butt-kissing joke (this is, remember, a Jim Carrey movie)
· An out-of-place layer of adult humor—there’s a strip joint (Whonude), a swinging Ice Stormish key party and a sprinkling of bad words (at one point Grinch mutters “hell”)

At the heart of the film, of course, is Jim Carrey. I cannot imagine anyone else playing the Grinch (much as, years earlier, I could not imagine anyone playing Popeye except Robin Williams). With a voice that sounds like a hybrid of Jimmy Stewart, Sean Connery and a mating walrus, Carrey delivers his best green-latex performance since The Mask. Be warned, however, this is not your daddy's Grinch. Sure, he's mean and green, but he's also prone to silly bathroom humor. I'm sure the makers of this Grinch like to think they were adding depth to a well-known character, but really it's as shocking as seeing Ebenezer Scrooge let loose with a couple of armpit farts.

With an actor as volatile as this, Howard must have stepped back and let the wild man do his thing and there are plenty of scenes where Carrey is truly funny in free-rein improvisation (including a parody of Howard himself—watch for the baseball cap).

But in the end it is, after all, only Carrey doing Carrey. And, sadly, it’s only Hollywood doing Seuss. When all is said and done, lovers of the original Grinches will probably find themselves turning one word over and over in their minds: Why?


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