Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Laura Clifford
Robin Clifford

There has been a great deal of hoopla, over the past months, about the coming of the big-screen recreation of the Grinch tale that debuted in 1966 as the Boris Karloff-narrated, Dr. Seuss classic. As everyone must know, feel good director Ron Howard was teamed with zany Jim Carrey to bring the animated tale to live action life and create the feature length fantasy, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

Robin:
The anticipation of this new rendition of the Christmas TV classic has probably set expectations extremely high for fans who have eagerly awaited the new Grinch. As such, I think that there may be some disappointment on the entertainment horizon for many of us. And, I think this is due to our fond memories of the original that color our recollection of that venerable oeuvre. If you think about it, the original "Grinch" had four things going for it - the Grinch, his faithful dog Max, the wonderful reading by Boris Karloff and the brilliant imagination of Theodor S. Geisel, A.K.A. Dr. Seuss. Beyond these four things (and the great songs - make that five things), there are the Whos and they are really boring. The Whos could be interchanged with Munchkins or Ewoks and it wouldn't have mattered. I never liked any of the little buggers anyway.

In the modern remake, produced by longtime partners Howard and Brian Grazer, we pretty much get the same thing, but with an attempt to flesh out the Who society. Unfortunately and inexplicably, the Whos are shown from the very start to be a culture of crass consumerism where buy, buy, buy is the name of the game and the spirit of Christmas is completely lost - except for little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen). The best things in the movie are still the Grinch (Jim Carrey) and Max (Kelley), but there is an effort to create a complete world on the screen.

Helmer Howard evokes a vision that is reminiscent of the one that Robert Altman created in his interesting and artistic flop, "Popeye," with Robin Williams. There, too, a fantasy world is built around a strange central figure and is populated by all manners of cartoon creatures. In both films the protagonists are loners who aren't accepted by society. The difference between the two films, and the thing that will make the new flick a success to Altman's ambitious failure, is Jim Carrey.

In a scant hour and a half or so of screen time, Carrey and makeup maestro Rick Baker have created a living, breathing version of the creature that came to life for so many of us in the Chuck Jones cartoon of 35 years ago. Way back then, the Grinch became a sustained Christmas icon and Carrey and crew have reinvented the creature whose heart "grew three times that day." The best moments on the screen are when the Grinch is giving his mordant soliloquies to no one save his faithful dog, Max. Remember how much you liked Max in the original? You're going to like the new Max at least as much, maybe more.

The Who world we are shown is glitzy and spangled with holiday cheer, but it is a forced world, at best. The makeup for the adult Who population takes on a feral quality that isn't very pleasant to look at and the petty and selfish dealings of the Whoville mayor, May Who (Jeffrey Tambor), are to be loathed. Only Cindy and her father Lou Lou Who (Bill Irwin) come across with any intelligence or integrity. Momsen may be a little too old to be an appropriate Cindy Lou Who, but the young actress makes her a real person, I mean, Who. The rest of the Who world are consumed by their rampant Christmas buying and holiday competition. Cindy's mom, Betty Lou Who (Molly Shannon), is obsessed with having the best Christmas light display and competes fanatically with her neighbor Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski), who, we come to find out, has the hots for the Grinch.

Tech credits beyond Rick Baker's marvelous makeup are first-rate. Whoville, created by production designer Michael Corenblith, is bright and colorful with a slight off-kilter look that keeps up the fantasy flavor of the film. The Grinch's lair has all the paraphernalia necessary for him to perpetrate his grand theft of Who Christmas, including the requisite antler to disguise Max as a reindeer. High marks are due costume designer Rita Ryack who creates a furry skin for Carrey that is a match for Baker's makeup. Lenser Don Petermen does a yeoman's job capturing the action on film.

The part of the story that recreates the venerable 30 minute TV show and shows the Grinch go from lonely ogre to loving friend of the Whos is captured with care by the filmmakers. Those things that are invented specifically for the film - Who society, the flashback story on how the Grinch became the lonely creature he is - do not have the same imagination as the original Dr. Seuss work and it shows.

The brilliant casting of Jim Carrey and the intelligence to allow the actor to become the character are what make "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" a must see for the holiday season. It is certainly going to be a staple for holiday video watching that will be a perfect companion piece to the original. Carrey gives one of the most memorable performances of his career and is a new Grinch icon. I'm still not a fan of the Whos, though, and I give it a B.

Laura:
Earlier this year, Jim Carrey was the only reason to see "Me, Myself & Irene," a Farrelly Brothers mistep. He's done it again.

Carrey simply *is* the Grinch, helped, of course, by Rick Baker's phenomenal makeup design. Whether he's gleefully tampering with Who mail ('jury duty, pink slip, blackmail, eviction notice!'), going over his schedule ('4:00, wallow in self pity, 4:30, stare into the abyss') or lecturing Max (Kelly, the film's other asset) on the art of being a reindeer, Carrey had me sucked in. However, when the focus shifts from Carrey, the movie is abysmal.

Firstly, there's the story tampering. We're given background as to how the Grinch got this way (he was called names at school). The Whos' Christmas obssession has become crass commercialism, depressing Cindy Lou Who (newcomer Taylor Momsen) to the point that she sings the maudlin 'Where Are You Christmas?' mid-film. The mayor (Jeffrey Tambor) is in a love triange with Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski) and the Grinch! Screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman ("Doc Hollywood") even have the poor taste to include a couple of sex 'jokes' that seem seedy and woefully out of place.

Secondly, there's the truly awful Whos (makeup again by Rick Baker). They look like rat-dogs. Cindy Lou is too old and too normal looking in contrast to the others. Even the Grinch, when shown in flashbacks as a baby and an eight year old, looks awful, like a rejected monster from "Gremlins."

Thirdly, there's the art direction which is plastic and non-organic. Whoville looks like Munchkinland crossed with the live action "Flinstones." I was always aware I was watching a soundstage covered in fake snow. At one point, the Grinch's quick entry/exit to Whoville is shown in an animated sequence and the whole film is picked up for that one brief moment. Otherwise this is just a drab, grimy, bleak looking film.

I can't recommend "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" as a film, although I can recommend Carrey's performance and the casting of Max the dog. Anthony Hopkins was chosen to narrate the film, perhaps to recall the English accent of Boris Karloff from the vastly superior original animation, a move the filmmakers should have avoided.

C

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