How the Grinch Stole Christmas
directed by Ron Howard
(MCA/Universal, 2000)

When Hollywood decided that the classic Christmas cartoon How the Grinch Stole Christmas needed updating, I experienced a quaver of fear. How, I wondered, could anyone bring the classic Dr. Seuss tale and its gnarly green villain to life as vividly as the 1966 animation?

Well, having finally succumbed to curiosity, I can give a mixed report. Jim Carrey, in the title role, does a marvelous job recreating the nasty antithesis of Yuletide joy. His actions and facial contortions are near-perfect (although his voice, I must admit, pales in comparison to the cartoon version's Boris Karloff). He dominates the entire film with energy and antics only slightly overshadowed by his prodigious makeup and costume. (Carrey reportedly felt so confined by the suit, which took three hours to apply, that he was counseled in torture-resistance techniques by a U.S. Navy SEAL.)

Anthony Hopkins also did good work as the narrator.

But director Ron Howard didn't do the Seuss story complete justice. Instead of reimagining the original through a new lens, he gave us a completely different story. The Whos of Who-ville are the primary victims here -- where once they were beatific inhabitants of a remote and pastoral village, they've become greedy, materialistic, hard-partying gluttons in a town based solely on marketing and capitalism. One of the many pointless additions to the story is Jeffrey Tambour as the town's shallow and manipulative mayor. Bill Irwin is more satisfying as Lou Lou Who, the town's postman, although even his character seems superfluous.

Cindy Lou Who, the innocent tot who discovers the Grinch at his nefarious thievery, is now an older child (Taylor Momsen) bent on redeeming the famous hermit, who boldly braves his mountain fastness to spread her version of holiday cheer. Even the Grinch's pseudo-Santa sleigh has been reinvented, now boasting rocket boosters.

The new back-story, which attempts to explain the Grinch's Christmas loathing, doesn't make a lot of sense. Since everyone in Who-ville looks fairly the same (size being the only real distinction), why did this child arrive green and hairy? While the cartoon gave us a villain who was evil, rotten to his core and filled with inexplicable rage at the world, this Grinch is simply misunderstood and overly mischievous. And really, Ron, while you may believe that every movie requires romance, can we accept that the town's most eligible bachelorette would fall for someone with demonstrably poor hygiene?? Also, should the Grinch's big redemption scene really involve so much heart-thumping pain?

I feel sorry for the children who will grow up associating this movie with Dr. Seuss' marvelous story, rather than the animated feature which still holds up so well after 35 years. A favorite Christmas tradition has been replaced with typical Hollywood glitz and glitter, and the season is poorer for it. Please, if you have children (or a childlike fascination for Christmas), stick with the original.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 9 February 2002

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