Tuesday, December 5, 2017

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) (Movie Review)

     The books of Dr. Seuss are an important staple of the youth, and something no child should be without. When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of them, and as an adult I’ve begun to appreciate them from a different perspective, as there’s so much more to them then just colorful characters and creative rhymes. Many of his stories convey important life lesions that are meaningful for kids, and sense they were so unforgettable with their presentation, they continue to stick with us as adults. Of course, when I was a kid my favorite of Dr. Seuss books by far was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. I had my parents read it to me every year, it was one of the first books I ever read on my own, and I watched the original 1966 animated TV special with my family more than any other Christmas movie that I grew up with. However, during the ladder half of my elementary school years, I started to grow, and was exposed to new things. At this time, I was obsessed with comedies, and my favorite comedian of all was Jim Carry. There was a time in which I idled him more than any other actor, and naturally I was overjoyed to see him in the role of the Grinch in the 2000 live action movie adaption of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

      Back then, I wasn’t looking at this film as an adaption of it’s precious source material, or even as a Christmas movie, I just saw it as another funny comedy with Jim Carry. By default, this was actually my favorite Christmas movie for years until I finally discovered “A Christmas Story” (which still hasn’t been surpassed.). Seventeen years later, I’ve grown up, and have now begun to view this film from a different point of view. I still have a great deal of fondness reserved for this movie, but dose any of it really work, dose it even count as a “good” adaption of it’s source material, and for that mater dose it even hold up as a Christmas movie … Well, as many book adaptions go, there are some things that hold up, and other things that aren’t as good as I realized. The Grinch is a creature that hates Christmas and lives outside of a town called Whoville that’s crazy about the holiday season. After all these years of putting up with the Yuletide cheer, he decides to put an end to it once and for all by stealing the holiday all together. He invades the town, takes all their gifts and decorations away. His efforts are foiled when he realizes that no one can steal Christmas and that there’s so much more to the season then he realized. It’s a very simple premise for a children’s book or a half hour TV special, but a theatrical movie has to stretch things out … and it’s here that this adaption gets a little rocky.

     First of all, the Grinch in this movie is given a detailed backstory as to why he’s an outcast, but it only gives us a reason for why he hates the Who’s of Whoville and not much of a reason why he hates the holiday. There’s also a lot of filler revolving around the people of Whoville throwing contests, and getting very competitive as to who has the best decorations. This paints an ugly picture around the towns folk as they too need to learn a lesson about the real spirit of the holiday just like the main character. I suppose for a feature length movie it had to be this way, but it’s also because of this that the original spirt of the source material isn’t 100% in the details. However, for me this all balances out thanks to a new side story revolving around the little girl named Cindy Lou Who. This was only a minor character in both the book and the TV special, but now she’s given a bigger character arc. She too isn’t in the holiday spirit, is surrounded by towns people obsessed with the commercialism, and now she wants nothing more than the real spirit of Christmas to shine through everyone … beginning with the Grinch himself. The relationship between the Grinch and Cindy Lou is what’s at the heart of the story, and personally, I think this was a new addition to the movie that still holds up. The scene in the opening in which the Grinch saves her life from the compacter machine is a very important moment that both starts their friendship and gives us our first clue of a potentially good guy in the center of his small heart. Again, it’s a departure from the source material, but I think it’s appropriate for a theatrical movie adaption, and allows me to put up with all the terrible towns people. Also, as far as child actors are concerned, Taylor Momsen is actually quite good in the role of Cindy Lou Who. Every time she’s on screen, I see someone acting with all her heart and never goes too cute, she’s just the right amount. 

       Now let’s finally talk about Jim Carry in the title role, because for all this movies faults, I think he still shines as the Grinch. Let me start by saying that the makeup is phenomenal, and rightfully won the movie the academy award for best makeup. However, this was actually a very difficult role for Jim Carry because all that face makeup, heavy body suit and especially the eye contacts were extremely painful for him. In fact, during the filming, Jim Carry needed guidance from a military doctor who specialized in teaching soldiers how to overcome the pain of torture if they were ever captured. Still, regardless of all the pain working against him, Jim Carry still brings a lot of energy, expression and personality to the role. His face is so expressive that he can act through all the heavy makeup, and I love watching him move in the suit, as he really becomes one with it. You know you’re in the presence of talent when an actor looks perfectly at home in a role, despite some real pain and struggle behind the scenes. Granted, he can be very over the top at times with his delivery, and lacks the subtle charm of the original, but I feel Carry still maintains some spirt of the character, even at his hammiest moments. I can respect if some people find him annoying, but personally, I still love the guy after all these years, and this is still one of my favorite performances of his. On a side note, I love the dog Max, as I honestly think it’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a dog. No seriously, kudos to whoever trained that dog, because every detailed inflection it made was perfect.   

    Speaking of details, there is admittedly a noticeable lack of rhyming in this Dr. Seuss adaption, which is a key ingredient to capturing the magic of his work. Once in a while the film will recreate lines from both the book and the cartoon, and there’s even a handful of original rhyming provided by our narrator Anthony Hopkins ... who by the way is a perfect choice for the films narrator. Still I wish the film was more consistent with the rhymes, in fact, while it would have been challenging to pull off, I honestly think there should have been an effort for all the films dialogue to be done 100% in rhyme. One thing that I have mixed feelings about is the overall look and feel of the film. The set design is outstanding, also quiet refreshing to look back at this film knowing that most of these sets were all hand built and with very little Green Screen backdrops. I should also note that both the set design and costume design also got respected Oscar nominations at the Academy Awards. The film almost captures the same magical feel of “The Wizard of Oz”, at least in regards to a fantasy setting that’s mostly a practical stage and less of a special effect. Unfortunately, while I can praise the craft of the set designs all day … the colors seem to be muted. Seriously, the supposed color scheme of this film is down right ugly at times, the camera angles are strange, there’s foggy streets, and with the exception of select moments, nothing pops with the same warm holiday glow that’s present in other films. There also aren’t enough visuals that make me think of Dr. Seuss, but there are some exceptions like seeing the new born babies floating down from the sky in their umbrella baskets … little things like that definitely felt in spirit with Seuss’s books.    

       I should note that the movie is directed by the very talented Ron Howard, but I honestly think he was on autopilot with this project. I say this because the tone of the film is also very inconsistent. Sometimes it’s trying to be a magical holiday experience, yet other times it’s being a wired dark comedy with immature jokes, and unnecessary gross-out hummer. Even though I loved this film as a kid, I was still questioning why the film contained such ugly moments like the scene with the Who’s shoving multiple foods in the Grinch’s mouth, or seeing termites crawling around his teeth, and even moments from the flashback got really un-pleasant to watch. There’s also a little too much causes and mayhem in the movie, as we get both explosions, injuries, and even a Christmas tree going up in flames, which do nothing but suck the magic out of the experience. Let’s talk about the comedy, because while I admittedly had some good laughs as a kid, some of the jokes feel a little too immature for a Dr. Seuss adaption. We have a scene with the Grinch being flung into a woman's breasts, another scene in which he hangs a mistletoe over his butt and perhaps the most distasteful of all is that moment in which the Grinch has an old man kissing a dogs behind. Thankfully there are some genuinely funny moments, mostly from Jim Carry that still get me to chuckle as an adult. I love it when he calls for a taxi that quickly drives off without him, to which the Grinch responds by saying … “It’s because I’m green, isn’t it!” I also love when the Grinch finds himself subconsciously singing along with some cheerful Christmas music, which then startles him, and little touches like that still work.  

       Now putting aside all the comedy, and Dr. Seuss staples, dose anything in this film put me in the Christmas mood. Well, there’s definitely things going against it, but honestly, some Christmas magic dose still shine though in this film. First of all, I love that the world of Whoville exists within a snowflake, which is a very original concept for the Grinch, while also being a subtle call back to “Horton Hears a Who”. The moment in which the Grinch discovers the true spirit of the holiday absolutely gets me in the warm “feels” every time I watch this film, and I love the colors in this scene. Seriously, this is one of the few moments that the film actually has some warm holiday colors that pop on the screen. I also love James Horner’s instrumental musical score, which absolutely creates a warm Christmas atmosphere. Although I’ll admit some of his music cues (particularly during the action scenes) that do sound like they were lifted right from “Titanic”, which he also composed the music for. Speaking of music, the soundtrack for this film isn’t half bad. There are some dated, even terrible songs, but the good ones stand out. Faith Hills “Where are you Christmas?” is still one of my favorite modern Christmas songs that I love listening to every year. Some of the other songs like “Christmas is going to the Dogs”, “Better do it Right” and “Green Christmas” are all products of the time, but harmlessly enjoyable as time capsules. I was never even a fan of N Sync, even as a kid in the late 90’s, but their song “You Don’t Have to Be Alone” still puts me in a good mood. Finally, I actually enjoy Jim Carrey’s version of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” more so then the original version, but that’s just me.  

       I understand this has been a rather mixed review, but honestly, despite all the problems going against this film … I still love it, and make it a tradition to watch at least every other year. Maybe I can’t see past the nostalgia goggles, but I still enjoy watching Jim Carry in the role, and there’s more than enough little Christmas charms that put me in a good mood. It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to either the book or the original 1966 TV cartoon, but it doesn’t need to be better, just appealing enough on its own. For every joke that’s too cynical, there’s also something that has me smiling from ear to ear. For every ugly moment, there’s something genuinely beautiful that has the spirit of the holiday shining though. Maybe this isn’t a film for everyone, but it’s still something special for me that takes me back to my child hood. I freely admit it’s not on par with the magic of Dr. Seuss, but it is still something unique that’s not without some charm.

I give the 2000 movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” … oh, if I’m being honest with myself … 4 stars out of 5.             

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