By Rob Blackwelder
Director Ron Howard paints Jim Carrey green and pretty much turns him loose on the set in his live-action, eye-popping adaptation of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
While that might sound like a recipe for an egomaniacal disaster, Carrey's very in-character antics are what keep the film moving forward despite being bogged down with superfluous plot points to pad the run time. I mean, did we really need motivational flashbacks of the mean one's unhappy childhood?
An event-movie-sized cornucopia of mixed blessings, this "Grinch" is top-heavy with great grins, but it boasts its fair share of vexatious cringes as well. Bad songs attack out of nowhere, liberties are taken with Dr. Seuss' magical vision and the picture takes highly hypocritical digs at the commercialization of Christmas.
But soon after any such transgression, there's Jim Carrey, looking and acting so delectably, delightfully Grinchy that his teeth-gritting, mock-malevolent smile becomes positively contagious.
The movie takes place in a cartoonish, candy-colored, Terry Gilliam-meets-"Wizard of Oz" Whoville, where the perky, pinch-nosed Whos absolutely live for the cheer of Christmas.
In the first deviation from the Seussian tale, the part of Cindy Lou Who -- the little girl who catches the Grinch swiping Christmas goodies in a Santa suit -- is beefed up to second billing. Played by a little girl (Taylor Momsen) so cute she could be a modern Shirley Temple, Cindy Lou has lost some of her holiday glee and decides to rediscover Christmas by doing a good deed -- making the Grinch happy so he'll be welcome in Whoville.
This affords Howard the chance give his sympathetic antagonist a precious comic foil, as Cindy Lou comes knocking on the door of his elaborate cave, inviting him to the Whos annual jubilee.
Every bit as neurotic as he is mean, the poor Grinch just doesn't know what to make of this kid he can't scare away. Carrey darts around his cave, exhausting himself in a hilarious attempt to get a scream out of the little girl before shrugging his shoulders and following her into the village -- only to feel rejected once again. The heartless Who mayor (Jeffrey Tambor) deliberately reminds him of how much of an outsider he was as a green, hairy child growing up in Whoville.
Back to his foul old self, this is where the movie returns to the familiar, as the Grinch vows to spoil Christmas and goes burgling every Who house, dressed as St. Nick and flying a rocket-powered Rube Goldberg sled he banged together from junkyard scrap.
It's snap-on scenes like the jubilee -- so clearly contrived by someone far less clever than Dr. Seuss -- which are prevalent enough in this picture that they inspire seriously mixed feelings. However, other augmentations border on brilliant. Early in the movie a group of teenage Whos dare each other into venturing up the crooked mountain of the Grinch's lair in a scene that lightly lampoons slasher flicks. Later a fuzzy photo of his Green Meanness appears in the Whoville paper, looking suspiciously like that infamously out-of-focus snapshot of Bigfoot lumbering through the Canadian Rockies. Such droll comedy touches enhance this crowd-pleaser's all-ages amusement.
When Carrey cuts loose, "The Grinch" gets even better. Rick Baker's astonishingly inventive makeup job allows the actor to ad-lib his way through facial contortions never even imagined by Chuck Jones, who animated the celebrated 1966 cartoon "Grinch" that airs on TV every Christmas. Carrey takes conceptual scenes and turns them into showpieces -- like flipping through the phone book atop his mountain, shouting comedically choleric insults (which no one can hear) to every resident of Whoville in alphabetical order. And Carrey earns these big (and small) laughs without ever stepping out of character.
There's plenty of filler and many flaws one must endure to enjoy "The Grinch's" golden moments, but in reviewing this movie it all comes down to one thing: When the credits rolled, I had a big smile on my face.
This Hollywoodized rendition of an undeniable classic simply cannot compare to the beloved cartoon or the good Doctor's original book. It may not stand up to repeated viewings, either. But Seussian spirit is in ample supply and this "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is exactly the right kind of warm fuzzy family fare that really can entertain anyone of any age and any disposition -- even the Grinchiest of movie critics.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th November 2000
Box Office USA: $259.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $345.1M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 53%
Fresh: 69 Rotten: 61
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Jim Carrey as Grinch, Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who, Jeffrey Tambor as Mayor Augustus Maywho, Christine Baranski as Martha May Whovier, Bill Irwin as Lou Lou Who, Molly Shannon as Betty Lout Who, Clint Howard as Whobris, Josh Ryan Evans as 8-Year-Old Grinch, Mindy Sterling as Clarnella, Rachel Winfree as Rose, Rance Howard as Elderly Timekeeper, Jeremy Howard as Drew Lou Who, T. J. Thyne as Stu Lou Who, Lacey Kohl as Christina Whoterberry, Nadja Pionilla as Junie
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