Home > Reviews > REVIEW: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

REVIEW: Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)Directed by: Ron Howard
Produced by: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard
Screenplay by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Edited by: Dan Hanley, Mike Hill
Cinematography by: Donald Peterman
Music by: James Horner
Original song by: Mariah Carey, James Horner, Will Jennings, performed by Faith Hill
Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Josh Ryan Evans, Clint Howard, Anthony Hopkins (voice)
Based on the book by Dr. Seuss
Year: 2000

 

I’m not really certain what makes studios think that live action adaptations of things that belong in animation are good ideas, but if I had to make a guess, I’d say it’s because they make money. Obviously, that trumps artistic expression, more often than not. And that’s how you end up with things like The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers. These movies are at least technical marvels, when sufficient effort is put into them, and the environments in How the Grinch Stole Christmas are really quite incredible and well realized. The makeup effects are also mostly impressive, too. That being said, I’ve only once ever seen a live action adaptation or extension of a property that I ended up liking more than the original, and that was this year’s live action Cinderella. Still, that’s one exception, and none of this can overshadow the fact that Dr. Seuss’ book was already perfectly adapted decades ago by Chuck Jones in the 26-minute-long, 1967 animated TV special, complete with the perfect look and tone, and, best of all, with absolutely zero filler to pad out the original book. The same cannot be said about Ron Howard’s admirable but misguided adaptation.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Jim Carrey

Originally marketed as simply The Grinch, the film follows the same basic premise of the source material, with the titular character secluding himeslf at the top of Mr. Crumpit, looking down on the denizens of Whoville with disdain, and hatching a scheme to steal away Christmas from them out of spite for their loud holiday cheer. The film adaptation throws in a bit of Citizen Kane by also expanding the role of the Cindy Lou Who character, who originally only had a small bit part encountering the Grinch during his Christmas raid. Formerly “no more than two,” Cindy Lou Who here is much older, though still fairly young, and takes it upon herself to understand just why the Grinch hates the Whos and Christmas so much. She interviews the denizens of Whoville and learns about how the Grinch was shunned as a child by pretty much all, simply because he was different from them. Convinced that the Grinch could be redeemed, Cindy Lou Who takes it upon herself to fight back against the prejudices of Whoville and show the Grinch the true meaning of Christmas.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Taylor Momsen

I admit that I sometimes seem to waver between indifference and irritation regarding this expansion of the story. On the one hand, I really don’t feel as though we really needed to know the traumatic childhood backstory of why the Grinch hates Christmas and those Whos who celebrate it. On the other hand, I also empathize with the need to expand the story. What they do here is an attempt at making the lesson more universal rather than simply having the Whos be perfect and selfless characters, too focused on elaborate and plentiful gifts and caring less about togetherness, even with those who might hate them. The Grinch is still irrational in the extent of his vengeance against them, but in its attempt to balance the scales of morality and imbue tragedy and sympathy into the Grinch’s backstory, the film goes a little too far, resulting in the roles practically being reversed. This is less like the live action Cinderella, where Lady Tremaine’s insecurities are brought to the forefront to give reason for her cruelty, and more like Maleficent, where the originally evil character is instead revealed to be the true hero of the story that you thought you knew.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Whoville

Apart from Cindy Lou, the majority of the Whos here are often intentionally cruel from the beginning towards the Grinch. He actually seems to want to be friends with them, in spite of his distaste for Christmas, but he has to fight back his feelings of loneliness and remind himself about why he’s still not hanging around there anymore (through plenty of expositional, Sean Connery-accented soliloquies). Even when he does give them and their holiday celebrations a second chance and is rewarded with more cruelty, the film unintentionally makes it look as though the Grinch actually doesn’t need to learn any lessons at all. Instead, it has him delivering a big, ranting speech about their selfishness and avarice. (His word, not mine!) Because of their persistence in being mean, you actually want to see him exact his silly, petty vengeance against the nasty Whos. That the Grinch is the most amusing character in the movie, thanks in large part to Jim Carrey’s manic depressive portrayal, just reinforces the empathy towards him in this odd reversal of roles. Seriously, Who’s the real bad guy now? (See what I did there?) Needless to say, his climactic change of heart at the end loses some of its profundity when the most needed change is occurring with the characters we care about the least.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Josh Ryan Evans

I don’t hate The Grinch, but I don’t especially like it, either. It was a divisive film when it first released, and it’s a divisive film for me to review, since I have so many mixed emotions towards it. For example, I don’t like that everyone seems to think Jim Carrey was perfect for the role when I don’t remember the perfectly cast and perfectly sinister Boris Karloff from the animated special ever having to deliver tired pop-culture referential jokes about finding the right clothing for the occasion and checking his calendar to ensure his loathing of the Whos didn’t interfere with his jazzercise lesson. Nor do I recall the Grinch ever being willing to take part in something like a potato sack race, which happens to be set to the theme of Chariots of Fire. Nor did I ever think he needed to be seen leaping in slow motion as he sets off a mushroom cloud explosion in the background.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Explosion

The film is far too hyperactive, despite Anthony Hopkins delivering some calm, poetic narration throughout, and yet a hyperactive Jim Carrey is also what basically saves the movie from being a complete bore, too. He’s undoubtedly gets some good gags, even when I think silliness is inappropriate for the character he’s playing. I also really liked Taylor Momsen as the adorable Cindy Lou Who, even though I really do hate that unnecessary and completely out of nowhere musical break the film takes for her to sing a new song that was included just so that they could also call on Faith Hill to do a pop ballad version of it to chart on Billboard. I love the look of the film and admire the skill that went into the costumes and makeup, but I really find it creepy that the Grinch is basically nude the whole time and seems to have an even thicker patch of pubic hair on display for everyone to see. Couldn’t they have made that thing a bit more consistently furry rather than realistically hairy so as to distract from the crotch region? And the sagging Grinch boobs!?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Robbing

As with a lot of animated-to-live action adaptations (and this borrows a lot from both the book and the animated special), I don’t think we ever really needed this film, but there was still potential for it to be a satisfying adaptation that recaptured the magic of the originals while still expanding upon the story’s themes and characters, both old and new, all while presenting it in an entirely new medium. The film has tragically seemed to overshadow its animated forebear, and it seems as though most people now associate the word “Grinch” with a snarling, flailing Jim Carrey playing a character who’s hiding his inner pain rather than a sneering, bitter monster with a stern voice who illustrated that even the scariest, meanest among us can turn things around for the better. This isn’t a bad movie, but it’s also not a good movie, and I don’t think that the movie itself really knows what trajectory it was going on in the first place, either. It really is a mess, but it might also be the best of the Dr. Seuss film adaptations from the past 15 years, too. I guess it’s also fitting that a middling, messy film really deserves a middling, messy review.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5

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