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HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS

Review by Andrew Manning (11/00)

Release: 2000, Universal
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Molly Shannon, Mindy Sterling, Verne Troyer, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Ron Howard
MPAA Rating: [PG] crude humor
Genre: Family/Comedy


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SUMMARY

An embittered furry beast called the Grinch (Carrey) despises Christmas and sets out to ruin it for the inhabitants of the idyllic town of Whoville, only to learn the true meaning of the holiday in the process. Based on the classic Dr. Seuss tale.

THE SUDDEN RUNDOWN

Jim Carrey steals a show whose merits are based mostly in nostalgia.

WHAT'S GOOD

If anyone can pull off portraying a time-honored cartoon character who is a big, green, furry something-or-other, it's Jim Carrey, right?

Right. Forget John Goodman as Fred Flintstone or Robin Williams as Popeye--an outstanding makeup job and his patented rubberfaced, energetic antics take the title for best cartoon to live action transformation yet. As the Grinch, Jim Carrey absolutely steals the show. He looks the part with uncanny realism and plays the part with a constantly toonish demeanor. The comedic actor seems the virtual perfect match for this role, just as he was the perfect choice for the title character in The Mask.

Second to Carrey's performance is the nostalgia value this movie has. Many of us who grew up watching the original Dr. Seuss cartoon every Christmas will recognize several scenes, and that, in itself, counts for some points in the Wistful Childhood Memories department. From the Grinch lifting a loaded Santa sleigh at the top of the hill to the vacuuming of Christmas presents, most of it is still here.

While I think a Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas) version of this film would have been more interesting, I have to give director Ron Howard credit for capturing the essence of the original story's environment, especially the town of Whoville. Even translated into live action on the big screen, the story feels whimsical, magical, and other-worldly. Detailed, grandiose sets, costume designs, and even the recruiting of Cirque du Soleil acrobats all positively added to the effect.

I suppose there's no reason to discuss the story in detail, since most of us are probably familiar with it: Grinch hates Christmas, Grinch sets out to ruin Christmas, Grinch learns the true meaning of Christmas. That's pretty much the same thing we see on the silver screen here, with additional material explaining the Grinch's background a little more. Scenes are also stretched out more to accommodate a feature film running time. For example, in the original cartoon, the Grinch merely dressed up his dog like a reindeer and put him to work; but in the Carrey/Howard version, the Grinch plays director and goes on a rant about the dog's motivation. While this ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the movie, there are less successful attempts at filling time.

While the movie is at times too sentimental to make it in today's jaded culture, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is largely a crowd-pleaser. And coupled with Man on the Moon, it reaffirms Carrey's ability as a versatile actor. Audiences interested in his performance, or those simply wanting to revisit their youth, will likely enjoy this fluffy, yet entertaining, film.


WHAT'S BAD

As I mentioned above, attempts to turn Dr. Seuss' classic into a feature length film often result in filler material. Sometimes the movie feels like it's just killing time, doing things that don't really enrich the overall story. That's usually an indication that the story shouldn't be redone, but I guess you can't argue in the face of a $55 million debut at the box office.

The thing that bothered me most, however, was the people of Whoville. Yes, it probably takes a bitter guy who has mulled through too many commercialized Christmas holidays, but I'm going to say it anyhow: Whoville bugs the hell out of me. It's a whole city full of yuletide freaks who not only celebrate the season, but are also naive enough to believe it's a universally joyous event. That much blind happiness just made me sick. Part of me wanted the Grinch to succeed in destroying Christmas, and bring some reality to this Village of the Bad Haircuts. Sad, ain't it?

All things being equal, though, don't let my bitterness sway you from seeing the movie. Unless, of course, you're a member of the bitterness camp.


Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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