Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

        Perhaps the first -- and only -- question is why? Why turn a charming
classic half-hour animated perennial into a megabudget, live-action feature
film? Why would the widow of the man who wrote the original children's book
allow such a travesty to occur? Why would such talents as Jim Carrey,
Anthony Hopkins, Ron Howard, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Molly
Shannon and others get mixed up in such a misguided and foolhardy project?
The bottom line, without a doubt, is money, a very ironic thing given the
message of the story: that crass consumerism has overtaken the spirit of
Christmas.

        The film version of
DR. SEUSS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
may not have been the worst film of 2000 (it would have to go a long way
to beat out
BATTLEFIELD EARTH for that honor), but it certainly ranked as
one of the year's major disappointments. As a director, Ron Howard had
never really demonstrated a flare for fantasy (anyone recall
WILLOW? I rest
my case), but the casting of Jim Carrey as the Grinch boded well. Honestly,
it is impossible to think of another actor who could have portrayed the
character. I mean, think about it, this wasn't the type of flick that would
star Sean Penn or Johnny Depp, and Jack Nicholson and Robin Williams
were a bit long in the tooth. That only left Carrey. Yet, the performer
was virtually unrecognizable buried under layers of latex and a furry,
pear-shaped green suit. Carrey struggled to remind the audience that it is
indeed he and not some computer-generated image playing the Grinch.
The manic quality that has become the comic actor's stock-in-trade was
there, but somehow he never soared in the part. Instead, given the
lackluster script (credited to Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price -- both of
whom worked on
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT), overly busy settings
(designed by Michael Corenblith) and costumes (by Rita Ryack), and
Howard' inept direction, Carrey got lost in the shuffle.

        DR. SEUSS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS purports
to explain just how its title character got to be such a ... well, such a
Grinch. There are flashbacks to the character's youth (the late Josh
Ryan Evans, a diminutive actor who played the doll Timmy on the campy
soap opera
PASSIONS). Without spoiling it for anyone who wants to see
the film, it boiled down to his feelings as an outsider. So the grouchy
Grinch left his hometown of Whoville to live in a mountain cave. While
not a virtual hermit, he ends up spending most of his time alone,
rummaging through the detritus of the Who civilization and wallowing
in his meanness. His only companion is his faithful dog Max, who
occasionally exhibited flashes of having a mind of his own. (If only they
gave awards for animal performances.)

        There's an old showbiz adage of never working with children or
animals and perhaps Carrey should have listened; he is upstaged by the
canine and little Taylor Momsen who portrays Cindy Lou Who. Momsen
was directed by Howard to play the little girl as a wide-eyed innocent,
the only one who sees through the Grinch's frightening exterior, but she
cannot completely skirt a cloying, treacly take on the role. The remainder
of the cast is pretty much wasted in thankless roles. Jeffrey Tambor perhaps
should be grateful he is virtually unrecognizable under the rat-like makeup
that Rick Baker has designed for the denizens of Whoville. Christine
Baranski, however, is not as fortunate as she is forced to fall back on
stereotype, cast as a wealthy, brittle character not unlike her sitcom
persona from
CYBILL.

        Undoubtedly, there will be those duped into believing that this
film captures Dr. Seuss' vision and intent, but I am not one of them. At
the risk of earning the sobriquet of "Grinch" for myself, I would heartily
recommend getting a video copy of the original 30-minute cartoon,
popping it into the DVD player, and enjoying the work of Chuck Jones
and company, people who truly understood the true meaning of Dr. Seuss'
work.

                                   Rating:                D
                                   MPAA Rating:        PG
                                   Running time:       105 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.