It's scary when Hollywood messes with a beloved story from your childhood -- it's like watching a clumsy acquaintance handle a fragile family heirloom: You hold your breath and pray they don't destroy it.
This is how I felt heading to see "How The Grinch Stole Christmas", an endearing story about curmudgeonly character who tries to squelch the holiday merriment in the nearby town of Whoville. Written by Theodor S. Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, it was first published in 1957 and animated for television in 1966, to the great satisfaction of Geisel and Grinch fans, young and old, who've watched the Mean One repeatedly steal Xmas since then.
I am much relieved to report that this film -- directed by Ron Howard with Jim Carrey in the title role, is a fantastic effort; everyone involved can be proud. Some of you might know by now how I detest high-fructose blockbuster cheezoid movies designed to sell products and knock you over the head with gooey charm and . . . well, you get the idea. Thankfully, "Grinch" does not suffer this fate and, in fact, comes through clean and true.
Jim Carrey actually is
the Grinch - hairy and green, lovable and despicable, hilarious and sad -- but all
the people who brought this movie to life, cared so much about the quality, it showed. The set, the costumes, the make-up, the music, the writing, the performances -- it all came together.
For this we have to thank Audrey Geisel, the good doctor's widow, who finally relented after being courted by Hollywood since her husband's death in 1991. (Dr. Seuss, himself, was steadfastly against a live-action production following a bad experience in the 50s with "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T".) Mrs. Geisel, however, ultimately realized that with the advent of computer technology in filmmaking, special effects had finally caught up with the world of Seuss. Ironically, the special effects used in the film merely enhance the story, not make it. (Howz that for a concept? Are the makers of "Twister" and "Armageddon" writing this down?)
Thank the film gods that this project landed in the capable and benevolent hands of director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer instead of Nora Ephron or Jerry Bruckheimer or even Tim Burton, who would've stained it with his inherent darkness.
Unlike the original, this production actually examines the Grinch as a youngster and the reasons behind his deep hatred for Christmas. Jeffrey Tambor is the spoiled and whiney mayor and the Grinch's lifelong nemesis. Christine Baranski is the fashionable Martha May Who-vier and the Grinch's love interest -- that's right, you heard me -- and Cindy Lou Who's parents are played by Saturday Night Live's Molly Shannon and one of the most versatile performers of our day, Bill Irwin. Narrator Anthony Hopkins does a fine job but cannot replace the spine-tingling magic woven by the original narrator and voice of the Grinch, Boris Karloff.
Another personal fear was that Cindy Lou Who would be played by the annoying dimpled Pepsi girl who is the child-star-du-jour and makes me cringe because she strikes me as an agent of Satan along with the teddy bear in those Bounce TV ads. Thankfully, the unprecocious Taylor Momsen plays Cindy, a smart kid who simply wonders if Christmas isn't really just all about consumerism and takes a liking to the Grinch, who observes, "Nice kid. Baaaaad judge of character" and then steals all her presents.
"How the Grinch Stole Xmas" is an instant classic . . . again
© 2002 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 11/22/00