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With: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard, Deep Roy, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anthony Hopkins (narrator)
Written by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, based on the book by Dr. Seuss
Directed by: Ron Howard
MPAA Rating: PG for some crude humor
Running Time: 105
Date: 11/08/2000

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

2 Stars (out of 4)

I'll Take the Seasick Crocodile

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I suspect that making a How the Grinch Stole Christmas featurefilm was a business decision rather than an artistic one. I can picturea meeting with lots of suits saying things like, "wouldn't it be funnyif we put Jim Carrey in a Grinch suit?" and "that's an easy $100 millionright there." And perhaps some small artistic soul protested, saying,"but we can't make a feature film out of a 25-minute story that'salready perfect." To which the suits replied, "Nonsense--it will writeitself."

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a padded-out 100 minute version of the same Grinch story that most of us are familiar with from Dr. Suess' brilliant book and Chuck Jones' brilliant animated TV special. There's no question that Jim Carrey makes a greatGrinch. Carrey would make a great Ronald Reagan, too, but that doesn'tmean we ought to make a movie about him.

But they did make a Grinch movie. The story is filled in with horrible musical numbers (and a butchered version of the great "Mr. Grinch" song from the TV show). In an excruciating flashback sequence, the Grinch is given a childhood with an arch enemy and a secret crush on one of the Whoville girls. Finally, the Grinch is invited -- and attends -- the Whoville Christmas Eve celebrations where he is further humiliated, causing him to wreak his famous revenge. As adults, Christine Baranski plays the secret crush, and Jeffrey Tambor plays the mayor of Whoville. Cindy Lou Who, the little girl who comes down the stairs and catches the Grinch stealing her tree in the book is given a bigger role here and is played by the adorable Taylor Momsen. Bill Irwin and Molly Shannon play the girl's parents, and the irrepressible Clint Howard plays the mayor's yes-man. Anthony Hopkins provides narration (taking the place of Boris Karloff in the animated version).

What's worse is that the script (by Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman) uses some of Suess' imaginative rhymes but tries to invent some new ones and match them up. It doesn't work. I doubt anyone alive can write like Suess could.

Part of the problem here is that the Whos in Whoville are horribly annoying. The picture begins with a swooping camera descending upon a busy Whoville with heavily made-up Whos running around making all kinds of noise and commotion. Are we supposed to side with these awful creatures? If not, it makes it easier to side with the Grinch. But in the end, the Grinch (of course) comes around to their way of thinking, and we're back to square one.

Carrey is a whirlwind as usual. He's at his funniest when spouting throwaway lines and asides that don't sound scripted. He speaks in a kind of throaty purr, like a combination of the child-hating W.C. Fields and the aforementioned Karloff. Carrey makes you laugh and keeps you entertained single-handedly, as the rest of the movie gives him little help. The only other artist worth mentioning here is makeup wizard Rick Baker, whose Grinch makeup will probably win another Oscar for him.

Who to get to direct a package like this? Why, Ron Howard of course. Howard is liked by everyone in Hollywood, businessmen included, and turns in about one mediocre, middle-of-the-road movie a year. Some make money and some don't. But he never ruffles feathers or makes any challenges.

I had a great time watching Carrey but was profoundly disturbed by the reality of this project. It's an anti-commercialism story that ends with the Whos getting all their presents back (and justified as well). Universal will no doubt launch a huge marketing campaign so that millions of little boys and girls will be whining for plastic Grinches in their stockings. But the Grinch they want is the evil, Christmas-hating Grinch, not the sweet, happy, friendly Grinch from the ending. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is thick with irony but doesn't have the guts to explore any of it.

(Who's the Grinch now?)

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