Green Dregs and Ham
There once was a man, and he called himself Seuss,
Who wrote the best children's books ever produced.
With drawings elaborate, and tales subtly moral
Of his greatness, not even this critic would quarrel.
Alas, he's now dead, and so all is not groovy,
For someone said, "I know! Let's make us a movie!
The story's too short, but who cares about that:
There'll be toys! And a soundtrack! It's gonna be phat!"
You ask what director would dare be so dopey?
Why of course! It's Ron Howard, the one known as Opie.
There isn't really much resembling a script in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, save for the 1957 book's text and some of the additions that first appeared in Chuck Jones' 1966 cartoon adaptation, which starred Boris Karloff as the Grinch and was approved by Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel. OK, so that accounts for maybe 30 minutes of this inexplicable film...tops. The rest is padding, additional and startlingly unsubtle bludgeoning of the underlying moral message on the off-chance that you somehow missed it; in addition, there's undoubtedly a good deal of improvisation from star Jim Carrey. (For the sake of those who've never read the book--and shame on you--the underlying moral message is that Christmas isn't just about presents.) With a loose-cannon such as Carrey, it's hard to know how much of his act was spontaneous, but here's a clue: The scenes involving just him are funny and full of life. All the other scenes are not.
For those who have read the book, ask yourself the following: At any point did you ever stop and wonder, "Gee, this is a great book, but what's the Grinch's motivation?" Probably not, given that the text (read by Anthony Hopkins in this new version) explicitly advises that when it comes to the Grinch's hatred of Christmas, "Please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason." But Howard isn't content with this answer and proceeds to give us hackneyed backstory: Like millions of Hollywood protagonists before him, the Grinch is just a sensitive outsider, mocked for being different, who dreams of getting the girl (in this case, Christine Baranski).
It's possible that this angle could have been made workable; after all, it has been effective many times, and it's essentially the premise of A Christmas Carol and its myriad variations. But the filmmakers don't pull it off. They can't even bring themselves to make the Grinch a legitimate bad guy, having him save the life of young Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) at the beginning of the film. In fact, far from being the "mean one," he's really the hero; it's the Whos down in Whoville (originally cat-like cartoon critters, but visualized here as humans with funny noses and buck teeth) who are the shallow, petty materialists. The Grinch actually redeems them by stealing their presents. This is a Grinch who, midway through the film, delivers a tirade about how Christmas has become all about avarice and greed, then, at the climax, is somehow taken by surprise with the notion that the true spirit of Christmas "doesn't come from a store." One imagines it's pointless to complain about the Grinch merchandise now clogging the aisles.
Carrey does his damnedest to save the proceedings from deteriorating into mush. Unrecognizable wearing his green-haired bodysuit and speaking through his false teeth as though he's Sean Connery attempting an American accent, Carrey gets great mileage from eating raw onions and broken glass, demonstrating his superiority over a dog, running nuts and bolts through a blender to drown out the sound of Christmas carols, and reading from his day planner ("4 o'clock: Wallow in self-pity"). Given the amount of money thrown at the onscreen images, Universal should have just gone all out and let Carrey play every role. The Whos are insufferable bores, and young Momsen as Cindy Lou may be cute, but do we really need her cuteness to be augmented by extra-large prosthetic teeth, a hat made of cookies and milk, and a truly sickening song called "Christmas, Why Can't I Find You?" This isn't Dr. Seuss, it's Hollywood. If you have any doubts, just check out the giant explosions, the soundtrack laden with Smash Mouth and Barenaked Ladies and Busta Rhymes, the jokes about gay hairdressers and retaining water, and the cat clawing someone's face (the gag so nice they show it twice). It's not enough for the Grinch to save the presents at the end; he has to grunt, strain, hoist the overloaded sled into the air, and yell triumphantly, "I gotcha Cindy Lou!"
And yet, there are occasional moments of Seussian inspiration: The clouds above Whoville, in particular, are in the author's trademark curly style. A gun that shoots Christmas lights is also nicely inventive, as is a scene of the Grinch's literally stealing sugarplums from a child's dream. And the sets generally look as though they were designed well (think Batman Returns, minus the angst); too bad Howard stages the whole thing as a sitcom, so we never really get a good look at all the work that went into the background details.
It's pretty much a given that this Grinch will please crowds: It purportedly moved Geisel's widow to tears, and at the press screening I attended, it garnered a huge ovation; no doubt those who dare criticize it will be called Grinches. But if you truly love Geisel and his Grinch, stick with the book and the cartoon. If ever an example existed of why we shouldn't do something just because we can, this is it. That said, a live-action Cat in the Hat starring Tim Allen is apparently now under consideration. What's next? A live-action Bugs Bunny starring Freddie Prinze Jr., with Patrick Stewart as Elmer Fudd?
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