Over time, some things become so popular they transcend pop culture. Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Rolling Stones are just a few such examples. Another is Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It began as a book and reach infamy as a Chuck Jones cartoon that is broadcast on television year after year, showing no signs of ever being taken off the air. Its popularity made it inevitable that one day it was bound to become a movie. That day finally arrived in 2000 as Opie Cunningham himself, Ron Howard brought the grumpy green guy to the big screen with decidedly mixed results. In fact, other than Jim Carrey’s manic take on the title character and the technical aspects surrounding him there’s little else to get behind the film.
As the story goes, the Grinch lives a hermit’s life high atop Mt. Crump, just on the outskirts of Whoville. He peers and sneers down on the Whos and their far too cheery demeanor, especially in the days leading up to Christmas. So the Grinch devises a plan to bring an end to their cheer by stopping Christmas.
Taking a short picture book and turning it into a feature-length picture requires the addition of a lot of material. But with Dr. Seuss’ writing, the strength was as much the rhythm as it was the zany content. In adding material, The Grinch loses much of its rhythm and the heart within it shrinks three sizes right along with it. The key to the story is that the viewer has a love-hate relationship with the Grinch. Rather, I felt sympathy from about the ten-minute mark onward, so I didn’t really care much for his emergence. Couple that with the annoying, beaver-impersonating Whos and I was left cheering for the wrong guy.
Early on we’re given the Grinch’s back story – a childhood in which he was mocked by his Who schoolmates for having ample green hair. No wonder the Grinch is such an outcast. In the book he works as a villain because his heart is two sizes too small. There is no reason for his anger other than pure evil. While I am generally a fan of giving a reason for what makes good people go bad but Howard is taking a classic piece of literature (yes, Dr. Seuss is classic literature) and messing with the heart of it. In making the Whos bad during the Grinch’s childhood, it draws doubts as to whether or not they’re good people when they grow up. And because this comes from the Grinch’s own point of view, there’s no balance to provide a good side to the Whos – at least in his mind. So as a viewer, I had no balance. It didn’t help much that the present-day Whos were, for the most part, equally annoying and mindless. If the Tusken Raiders from Star Wars could speak English, they’d be cousins to the Whos.
The Grinch looks good. The set design is filled with bright, swirling colours and the Whoville props and other toys feel as though they’re straight out of some carnie nightmare. It makes for a frenetic feel amongst the town and shows good imagination. Sure, a lot of it stems from the book’s original illustrations, but the look was a key to the film as Whoville is somewhere not quite human and not quite alien. Unfortunately Howard fails to put these designs to good use. Although happy and colourful, it doesn’t feel all that Christmas-like. I had a hard time imagining what Whoville might look like the rest of the year since Christmas is supposed to be such a magical time complete with singing, Whotinkers and roast beast.
Carrey is perfectly fit to play the Grinch. His rubber face and exaggerated mannerisms bring life to the green suit and inches of make-up. But the only way you can tell it is Carrey is from his over-the-top actions and improvisational antics. The layers of make-up on his face make his something closer to a cast member of Cats rather than a human. The most amazing part about it is that even though you can’t make out a person’s face, the expressions are not hindered. Carrey sends his expressions all around his mouth and up his cheeks. Even his eyes and eyebrows have great flexibility.
What it all adds up to is that I enjoyed watching the Grinch himself, but he wasn’t in it all the time. The Whos were far too numerous and annoying to watch. I’m sorry but I like my Grinches to be evil and my Whos friendly, not the other way around.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas Trailer