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How the Grinch Stole Christmas

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Starring: Jim Carrey, Christine Baranski
Director: Ron Howard
Rated: PG
RunTime: 102 Minutes
Release Date: November 2000
Genres: Comedy, Kids, Christmas

*Also starring: Molly Shannon, Jeffrey Tambor, Verne Troyer, Bill Irwin, Jim Meskimen, Taylor Momsen

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

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 anybody."

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 attitude?

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 went wrong.

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

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