Thursday, November 16, 2000
On opening weekend, when the hype is all done,
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" isn't much fun.
Dr. Seuss' book and cartoon filled many with joy,
But director Ron Howard's film will only annoy.
Some source material should be left alone.
Unfortunately, this holiday favorite is a cardinal example. The good Dr.'s wit and whimsy are tough to follow. The screenplay of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (credited to Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman) loads the simple tale of the Christmas-hating Grinch (Jim Carrey) with a backstory that never really convinces. In a half-hour, a viewer can easily accept that the Grinch's tiny heart is the sole motivation for wrecking the Whos' holiday.
In the film, however, the Grinch is a lonely misanthrope who associates the materialism and snobbery involved with the season with the rest of the holiday. The fact that the other little Whos made fun of him as a child doesn't make the Grinch any nicer.
Having exiled himself from the rest of Whoville, the hairy green monster lives to play cruel and random pranks on the villagers or to scare any Who foolish enough to crawl near his lair on Mount Crumpet. But not everyone thinks of the Green One as bad. Little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) has her doubts about Christmas and thinks the Grinch may merely be misunderstood. When the Grinch saves her from a prank gone wrong, she becomes obsessed with trying to help him find his good side.
Howard and his accomplices waste several minutes trying to help the Grinch find his inner child. When the film returns to Seuss' original storyline, it seems almost like an afterthought.
If loading the tale with needless psychological baggage weren't enough of a crime, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" has some of the ugliest art direction this side of "Battlefield Earth." The appeal of Seuss' drawings and the cartoon Chuck Jones made from them was their simplicity. Both men knew that needless intricacy would sink the story. Howard's live action film is cluttered with voluminous detail and garish colors.
The Whos themselves all have pig-like noses that make them look like the people in the "Eye of the Beholder" episode of "The Twilight Zone." Instead of resembling the cartoon or the book, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" has the strange angles and curved lines that one associates with the artificial worlds that director Tim Burton ("Sleepy Hollow") creates. Burton can infuse his odd designs with logic and a sense of wonder.
It's almost as if the director were competing with Carrey's manic posturing. As a result, the capable performers Howard has assembled (such as Anthony Hopkins, Christine Baranski and Molly Shannon) get lost in the chaos.
From behind a hill of makeup, Carrey manages to project considerable malevolent glee. He clearly loves prancing around and spouting cynical quips, and his enthusiasm is almost contagious. In addition to his bone-bending contortions, Carrey has a wonderful sense of timing, making the better lines seem even funnier. (Looking at his calendar of evil things to do, he reads, "Solve world hunger, but don't tell anybody.") He may not have the sensitivity or menace that Boris Karloff brought to the cartoon, but his antics are the movie's only inspired components. Compared to the rest of the proceedings, the boisterous Carrey seems almost subtle.
Howard has proven he can make terrific films out of earnest, straightforward stories like "Splash" and "Apollo 13." But for tales that require some edge, it is safe to deduce that he is no match for the great Dr. Seuss.