Jim Carrey is wonderful as the title character in "How the Grinch Stole
Christmas." Despite being trussed up in a cumbersome lycra spandex suit
covered with thousands of green-dyed yak hairs, elaborate facial makeup,
contact lenses and false teeth, Carrey moves about with great vigor, as if
he had inhabited the Grinch's body from birth. His expressions are even more
fluid - it's amazing to see the actor project such a wide range of emotion
with rubber appliances glued all over his noggin. In terms of style, the
Grinch is a blustery, hyperactive drama queen and Carrey absolutely nails
him. The excess, the overindulgence that made so many of Carrey's earlier
performances cringe-worthy serves him perfectly in this context. He is at
his best when the Grinch is alone, stretching out like some mutant hybrid of
a mountain lion and Oscar Madison while checking his schedule. "Let's see,"
he purrs malevolently, "4 o'clock: Wallow in self-pity. 4:30: Stare into the
abyss. 5 o'clock: Come up with a solution to world hunger and don't tell
Although I found Jim Carrey's work delightful, I left the screening of the
high profile holiday offering less than satisfied, wondering why Hollywood
felt the need to take a nice, uncomplicated, 22-minute cartoon and redo it
as a live action extravaganza. Theodor S. Geisel (AKA Dr. Seuss), who wrote
the original story and collaborated on the TV version, apparently shared my
sentiments, turning away those eager to transform his books into movies. As
regards "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," he was quite satisfied with the
1966 animated TV show and didn't think it could be improved upon.
He was right.
In the press kit for the feature, the producers trumpet the fact that many
filmmakers had sought permission to make Dr. Seuss movies and "Geisel
repeatedly turned down their requests. Until now." Gosh, I wonder if the
fact that Geisel died in 1991 might have been a factor in his change of
Actually, Geisel's widow, Audrey, authorized the film and reportedly used
her veto power to ax a few scenes she found inappropriate. If only she had
monitored the screenplay (written by the men responsible for the big-screen
dud, "Wild Wild West") as closely, she would have seen where the adaptation
The 1966 cartoon told a simple story well. The denizens of Whoville were
gentle beings happily working together to prepare for Christmas. Up in the
mountains, the wicked Grinch, whose heart was "two sizes too small," glared
down at the villagers and concocted a plan to quash their spirit. On
Christmas Eve, dressed as Santa Claus, he stole all their presents, their
decorations and even their food. The next morning, instead of hearing cries
of anguish, the Grinch listened as the folks in Whoville sang together in
joy, unaffected by their material losses. Finally realizing the true meaning
of Christmas, the Grinch tearfully returned everything and joined the Whos
in their festivities.
To expand the tale to feature length, the new writers opt to look at why the
Grinch became so mean. In doing so, they turn Whoville inside out. The
big-screen Whos race about town trying to balance loads of presents. When
little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) tries to ask her father, Lou Lou (Bill
Irwin), about what the holiday really stands for, he is too busy shopping to
answer her. Mother Betty Lou (Molly Shannon) is no help either; she and
neighbor Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski) snipe at one another while
battling to see who can decorate their house more lavishly.
It gets worse. We learn that the Grinch grew up in Whoville, where he was
mocked for looking different and being poor. When Cindy tries to reconcile
the adult Grinch with the town, pompous city leader May Who (Jeffrey Tambor)
does his best to keep the Grinch an exile.
Changing the Whos from idyllic sprites into clones of us is a bad idea. It
taints the film, adding bitter where before there was only sweet. This may
sound like nit picking, but remember, we're talking about a beloved
Christmas classic. Would it really be so hard to keep the fable pure?
The transition from animation to live action suffers in other areas as well.
While Whoville retains the fairyland appearance of the original, it never
seems like anything more than a big set covered with unconvincing fake snow.
Director Ron Howard's lighting and camerawork only add to the
claustrophobic, artificial feel. As for the Whos, attempts to make them
physically resemble cartoon characters succeed only with a few actors (Clint
Howard actually looks better than usual), while most of the others come off
like the alien-of the-week from any latter day "Star Trek" series (poor
Molly Shannon is virtually unrecognizable beneath her facial appliances).
The bottom line? As much as I enjoyed Jim Carrey's performance, I'll take
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in its 22-minute animated form, where the
Whos remain innocent, the story remains uncluttered and Whoville looks like
a magical village instead of the set for an expensive grade school play.
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott