12 Ways of Christmas: #9 ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’

Screen shot 2012-12-24 at 3.00.01 PM

Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. 

Why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when is giving in to peer pressure a bad thing? With little rhyme or reason, check in every day from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.

As unnecessary as “realized” versions of animated classics seem to be — Adventures of Pinocchio, Snow White (or Mirror Mirror), Maleficent — Ron Howard deserves some credit for the sheer imagination he injects into his 2000 live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Not only does Howard flesh out the denizens of Whoville with their elaborate wiry hairdos and puckered noses, but he, along with writers Peter S. Seaman and Jeffrey Price, try to bulk up the original story with biographical information and a dearth of secondary characters.

The story, in its original form, had a primary concern with the Grinch himself, here by man of 1000 faces, Jim Carrey. One might argue that the green-haired curmudgeon’s dog Max is the second most prominent. The Grinch attempts to fatten a very time-honored and lean narrative is a noble cause, but the “new” material clashes with the story we’re all familiar with. Howard presents a strange backstory, explaining how the Grinch got to be… well, the Grinch in the first place.

In addition to upping the presence of Christmas catalyst Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen), the film also devotes time to her two bumbling parents, as well as a so-very-weird love triangle between Whoville Mayor Augustus May Who (Jeffrey Tambor) and Christine Baranski. In Seuss’ original (and the excellent 1966 televised cartoon) the Grinch’s Who-manization comes at the end, when the denizens of Whoville show they don’t need the material wealth to celebrate Christmas. The extra biographical bits attempt to add nuance to our one-note curmudgeon; they end up as nothing more than green fluff.

Carrey might have the only face flexible enough to get anywhere close to the Grinch’s classic grin, and whether his facial structure was exaggerated through some computer wizardry, it remains an impressive blend of makeup and Carrey’s raw talent. His performance on the other hand is puzzling. When Carrey isn’t laying on the melodrama, he garbles quips and insults through his teeth like he’s chewing on concrete in what sounds like a higher-pitched take on Sean Connery’s oft impershonated ackshent. Carrey’s strengths have always been his voice talent and body language, but here it’s too much.

Song numbers feel too polished and while his voice is one-of-a kind, Anthony Hopkins’ narration is more of a distraction than an addition. You hear Hopkins, you think Hopkins, not a tender faceless storyteller. While the camera whizzes about detailed sets with a playfulness that’s appropriate to the source material, Seuss’ tale probably just works best in the pages of a big hardcover collection.

It’s worth noting that Seaman and Price weave in a commentary via Cindy Lou Who’s despondence over holiday commercialism. Ignoring the irony that How the Grinch Stole Christmas remains the second highest grossing Christmas movie of all time, a recurring theme about Whoville weaning itself off the shopping sprees seems hypocritical in light of the ending. Oh, and Carrey’s finger-pointing feels plain wrong. He has no high ground in Seuss’ original, because his plot to steal their holiday presents and trappings misses the larger point about Christmas. Howard and Co. might have made a similar mistake.

Way #1: Christmas Carol: The Movie

Way #2: The Santa Clause

Way #3: Die Hard

Way #4: Bad Santa

Way #5: The Family Man

Ways #6 & #7: Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Way #8: Black Christmas

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