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'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'

Goofin' on the 'Grinch': Jim Carrey steals Christmas with a bagful of shtick

Friday, November 17, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch,
"Are you a movie critic?
"Finding every little fault,
"Sucking lemons, eating salt,
"Mr. Grinch ..."

'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'

RATING: PG for some crude humor

STARRING: Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard



The Grinch vs. the Grouch

Every good movie needs a villain, and this weekend brings a formidable pair in The Grinch (Jim Carrey) in "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and grouch Coco LaBouche (voice of Susan Sarandon) in "Rugrats in Paris." Both have evil schemes and small but mighty obstacles. Here's how they stack up:

Defining characteristics
GRINCH: Hairy and green.
Grouch: Pointy and going for the green.

Why so grumpy
GRINCH: Heart's two sizes too small.
Grouch: French.

Devious plot
GRINCH: To steal Christmas.
Grouch: To steal Chuckie's dad.

What's in the way
GRINCH: Sweet little girl.
Grouch:Band of wild babies.

Fair warning
GRINCH: From Cindy Lou: "You need a timeout."
Grouch: From Angelica: "No one messes with my dumb babies except me!"

GRINCH: Soft spot for little Cindy Lou.
Grouch: Trust in little Angelica.

Didn't count on
GRINCH: Spirit of Christmas.
Grouch: Power of Reptar.

Wreaks havoc on
GRINCH: Whoville.
Grouch: Euro Reptarland.

Preferred snack
GRINCH: Glass bottles.
Grouch: Chocolate truffles.

Personal assistant
GRINCH: Reluctant pooch turned reindeer.
Grouch: Mean bumbler turned baby sitter.

Key wardrobe
GRINCH: Santa suit.
Grouch: Purple underwear.

The kids will
GRINCH: Hide behind parents.
Grouch: Blow raspberries.

Chance of survival
GRINCH: You know the book.
Grouch: You know the Rugrats.

-- Compiled by Scott Mervis


In my defense let me say, first of all, that my heart is not two sizes too small -- at least not the last time anyone looked. My spleen was enlarged, probably from venting it so much. The doctors took it out, but I can always raise some bile. By now you're wondering what nasty things I have to say about Ron Howard's movie version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," starring Jim Carrey as the killjoy invented by the late Dr. Seuss and immortalized in the TV cartoon that has become a holiday perennial.

But I like Carrey, even if the movie makes him look like an abominable snowman who fell into a vat of guacamole. I like Dr. Seuss, although among green grouches I prefer Oscar of "Sesame Street" to the Grinch, probably because he's more of an all-purpose party-pooper. I even like most of Howard's films.

This, however, is one of those movies in which the director may be less important than the production designer, who happens to be Michael Corenblith. The movie goes to great lengths to create the plastic Candyland architecture of Whoville, the unfortunate town the Grinch preys upon. The Whos themselves appear rather distorted, a bit like full-size Munchkins with strange hair, animal noses and overbites only an orthodontist could love.

I would love to know what a filmmaker with the visual inventiveness of Tim Burton -- or, for that matter, of Chuck Jones, the legendary animator of the TV cartoon -- would have done with this tale. On the other hand, Burton would have turned this into a full-fledged horror story and I know a few young children who were briefly frightened in the dark, early portions of Howard's version.

The real challenge was in stretching the half-hour cartoon into a feature-length movie. Howard and screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman decided to tell us about the Grinch's background and why he came to hate Christmas.

In the process, they greatly expand the role of little Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen), who becomes the single denizen of the town to sympathize with the Grinch. They also invent a few characters, notably the smarmy Mayor of Whoville (Jeffrey Tambor), Cindy Lou's parents (Bill Irwin and Molly Shannon) and the girl the Grinch once loved, Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski).

All this exposition, much of it shown in flashback, makes us feel more kindly toward the Grinch. But so does the very knowledge that Carrey is playing the role. He is nearly unrecognizable under the makeup, but his eyes and mouth convey his incredible expressiveness -- he often matches the cartoon Grinch sneer for sneer.

He makes the Grinch seem like an oversensitive teen-ager feeling sorry for himself and plotting revenge on his tormentors. Fortunately, he doesn't wear a long black trenchcoat. Besides, he's just too much of a goof. He chews bottles and plays with the gadgets in his mountaintop lair, and he enjoys having us for company.

But in the first half of the film, Carrey seems to be playing in a different movie than everyone else. He's isolated from the other characters except for a brief early scene. Otherwise, he's doing shtick and trying to spout clever dialogue (in the accent of the cartoon voice, Boris Karloff) and grab our attention, like the class clown.

The movie doesn't really jell until the Grinch actually starts stealing Christmas. From this point, the movie follows Dr. Seuss' story fairly closely. Carrey's live-action re-creations of the Grinch's mischief are fun. Anthony Hopkins handles the narration.

But the real Grinch for me in this movie is a certain hypocrisy in its sugar-coated sentiment. The point of the Seuss story comes when the Grinch realizes that Christmas isn't really about the presents. The movie conceives the Whos as grotesque creatures who rush to buy gifts at crowded store sales where they seem to throw money around indiscriminately. At home, they compete over such things as lighting displays and the honor of being holiday cheermeister.

Yet how can this movie pretend to denounce holiday materialism when there are Grinch sweatshirts, games, ties, books, gift wrap, soundtracks and boxer shorts available for purchase as tie-ins to the movie?

I suppose the fast-food tie-in would have to involve green eggs and ham. Bah, humbug!

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