Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Not much Christmas for the Grinch to steal here

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momson, and Jeffrey Tambor
Director: Ron Howard
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

In "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (a movie that has about as much in common with the Dr. Seuss book of the same name as "Bram Stoker's Dracula" had with the book it was supposedly based on), the Grinch (Carrey)--a lifelong outcast from the terribly vicious, self-centered and materialistic Whovian society devises a plan to destroy Christmas and the 1,000th Whovilation after one final insult too many.

When watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", I was aghast at by how wide a margin the filmmakers seemed to miss the message of not only Dr. Suess' original book but even the cartoon. (Yes, I can envision some Hollywood types not feeling up to reading even a picture book, but they had the cartoon to go by.) The Whos have got to be the most evil, self-centered species in all of creation--the 10-year-old Grinch gets teased by classmates, vanishes, and no one cares to bring him back into the community, just to mention the worst of the characterizations of the Whos in the film--and where they pretty much lived the Christmas spirit in the Suess' book, with the feasts and the parties being an enhancement to their joy not the source of it, in the live-action film, a tiny minority of one (Cindy-Lou Who) has any Christmas spirit at all.

I was also very annoyed at the way the film was written. It shifted back and forth between a straight adaptation of Suess' story and a bunch of extra stuff, but one didn't seem to have an impact on the other. The most glaring of these was after the Grinch comes down to Whoville and takes part in one of the pre-Christmas celebrations only to be humiliated by the Whoville's mayor and his sycophantic sidekick (extra stuff), he returns to his mountain lair and schemes to destroy Christmas in a direct adaptation (line by line in some cases) of the book... but there is no sense or reflection in what he says that he's already been down to Whoville. It's as if no one bothered to go through the entire script and made sure that all the scenes fed properly into one another. It's as if they decided that all the movie needed was a slip-shod adaptation and Jim Carrey doing schtick in a very well-done Grinch suit.

Speaking of Carrey. I've never been a huge fan of his post "In Living Color" comedy... I find him more annoying than funny. I thought that he'd make a good Grinch--based on memories of the previews I saw when the film was originally released--but unfortunately, all he really does is his standard routines wearing a furry suit. Some of it IS pretty funny, but it would have been nice if someone (Carrey... or maybe even the film's apparently MIA director) had bothered to develop a character for the live-action Grinch, aside from "it's Jim Carrey doing schtick in a very well-done Grinch suit."

On, and I won't get started on the absolute butchery they do to the wonderful "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" song.

On the surface, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" seems like a well-done adaptation of Suess' fantastic children's book, and what rating I'm giving it beyond Zero is for the sets and costumes. In actuality, though, it's an embodiment of everything that book was trying to speak AGAINST--empty flash and commercialism that's devoid of heart and true spirit. This Howard-directed abomniation basically takes Suess' message and turns it on its head. In the original story, the Grinch was mean because he had no Christmas spirit... in the movie, he's mean because the Whos neglected him in every possible way and stripped him of all Christmas spirit. The Whos as portrayed in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" deserved EVERYTHING the Grinch wanted to do them and much more.

The cartoon, although nearly 40 years old now, is still the only good adaptation of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", and I recommend you avoid this version. I make my recommendation even more strenuously if you have young children. How will you answer the question "Why didn't his mommies and teacher go looking for him?" after the Grinch runs away from home? Do you really want to explain to your child why a Christmas movie casts such a heartless bunch of creatures as the Whos as the sympathetic characters in the film?