Originally published December 17th, 2011
As I try to catch up on these final days of Christmas we get to a fork in the road with Ron Howard‘s 2000 remake of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I have pretty poor timing since the Nostalgia Critic just recently devoted a hilarious episode to this movie, so I’ll probably be re-hashing a lot of his points. Suffice to say this movie is weak, really weak! The acting is so over-the-top, the story is trounced on, and at times it feels like Ron Howard put several elements into a bag, shook it up and pulled out bits to throw in at random. I know a lot of people love this movie, but I found myself constantly rolling my eyes and just saying “the original is better,” which it is.
The town of Whoville has lost the meaning of Christmas, and little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) is desperate to find it. In doing so, she stumbles on the evil Grinch (Jim Carrey) who lives atop Mt. Crumpit and hates Christmas, especially the Whos. When Cindy Lou tries to get the Grinch involved in Christmas things are a disaster, and in his revenge the Grinch decides to steal the Whos presents and ruin their holiday.
Mind you, up until yesterday I’d never seen the movie nor had an interest in doing so. In looking for a slew of movies I could enjoy during these 25 Days that I’d overlooked, I gave this a chance, and it didn’t work out. The only commendable quality is the makeup effects, created by the legendary Rick Baker, and the set design. I live in California and have visited the Universal Studios a lot and have been lucky to see the Whoville set. Watching the movie I can appreciate the sets a bit more because the detail is intricate. The world of the Whos is whimsical, and just a bit weird.
The biggest problem with this movie is the script attributed to Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. In the original film/book, the Whos were benevolent and loved Christmas for the sense of community and love that could be found. Here, they’re materialistic douchebags who are just as mean as the Grinch. Who are we left to root for when both sets of characters are asshats? It’s established in the narration (by Anthony Hopkins marking the downhill slope this movie would take) that the Whos “really like Christmas” but there’s a difference between loving the holidays and wanting to buy a bunch of crap, and the Whos seems to fall into the latter. Everyone’s running and scrambling for gifts, and out of the mouths of babes, only Cindy Lou is looking for “the true meaning” of Christmas. Hell, they even give her a song to sing on the subject which is out-of-place and one of two moments that had me ask “did this start out as a musical in the scripting phase?” I love Momsen’s music, but her song in this movie is pointless, on par with the song in Hook, and Momsen’s voice is whiny and painful, nice to know she’s grown into it. I believe the scene showing how Who babies are born culminating in a joke where a Who says “Hey honey, our baby’s here. He looks just like your boss” shows we aren’t doing jack to stick to the original.
On to the Grinch himself; Carrey excels when it comes to making faces and, again, Baker’s makeup effects really highlight every facial gesture, but Carrey REALLY overdoes it. His accent is less Boris Karloff, more Sean Connery, and his rants involve him going through a slew of voices while throwing himself around. At times he’s less funny and more mental patient scary. He’s a jerk, sure, but the movie tries so hard to give his character the proverbial cake and eat it, too. In a flashback, you discover the Grinch as a baby, looking how I’d expect a live action version of Shrek’s babies mixed with Quatto from Total Recall would look, and we learn the Who children make fun of him. So when he steals the gifts and is labeled the devil we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, I get that. But then why should I give a shit about the Whos at the end when they’re all a bunch of materialistic asses? The Grinch gives a fantastic speech about how the Whos want everything, but in a matter of time it ends up in the garbage; yet are we not supposed to sympathize with him till he discovers the meaning of Christmas? His speech pretty much calls out the Whos about not appreciating Christmas, so shouldn’t THEY be the ones struggling to redeem themselves?
That’s the problem with this remake, the original had the story contained in a tight run time so you have clearly delineated characters who were good and evil. Here, because we have a bloated hour and forty minute run time, Howard stretches everything out and in doing so makes both casts of characters total douches. When the Whos sing “Welcome Christmas” after the Grinch steals their gifts you never feel like they’ve learned anything, they sing because they’re either shamed or have nothing better to do. It’s the Grinch who learns the true meaning of Christmas, but he’s still surrounded by a town who are only happy they have their gifts back. This should have been titled “How the Grinch Brought the Meaning of Christmas to a Group of Unappreciative Snowflake Squatters.” I won’t be watching this next year, and hopefully I’ll be able to quickly forget a time when I watched this at all.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.