Director Ron Howard’s lush glitterball, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, is a delightfully updated version of the beloved animated film.
As I entered the darkened multiplex auditorium to see The Grinch – armed with a bag of Twizzlers and a large Sprite in a Grinch cup – I must admit I had my reservations. First of all, the animated television special I’ve been watching for 30 years is an annual holiday event for me. Expanding a 22-minute story into a full-length feature film? I couldn’t imagine it! Just as I couldn’t imagine a live-action Grinch. And to make matters worse, I couldn’t remember the last Ron Howard film that I even remotely enjoyed.
But I pushed my skepticism aside and kept an open mind. And – well – I was pleasantly surprised by the result. Howard brings Seuss’ story to life – and he makes it sparklingly bright. Whoville, now a major Who metropolis, is a swirling cityscape of curvy and abstract buildings adorned with extravagant and outrageous Christmas decorations. Thanks to makeup artist Rick Baker, the residents of Whoville have mouse-like snouts and molars, they’re dressed in wild outfits and have eye-catching hairstyles. Three cheers for Ron Howard for getting every little detail right on The Grinch. Be sure to check out the swirling cloud formations in the background.
Jim Carrey is brilliantly cast as Mr. Grinch, the unlikable creature who loves to hate Christmas; Carrey is dressed in sea-green yak fur, green facial prosthetics and yellow contact lenses, so he really looks the part. And most of the time, Carrey’s wacky antics are welcome comic relief; he has moments that are quick and funny, like a humorous bit involving mistletoe. On the other hand, some of his signature stakes are overdone, proving that whether he’s wearing a green fur suit or not, his banter can get tiresome.
In The Grinch, Carrey has plenty of moments in the spotlight, but he gets tough competition from an impressive newcomer, Taylor Momsen, who plays little Cindy Lou Who. Taylor is so endearing that she often outshines Carrey. That goes for Max the dog, too, by the way – simply because he’s cuter than cute and has an expressive puppy dog face. Perhaps Carrey should adopt W. C. Fields’ philosophy and never perform opposite children or animals.
While all this staging is going on, the Grinch has a story to tell. Of course, Jeffrey Price’s script heavily elaborates on the commercialization of the Christmas season, which was Seuss’ basic story. But the film is enriched with a Grinch story. We learn why Mr. Grinch is so evil – and it’s not just because his heart is two sizes too small. The film delves into the Grinch’s tortured childhood, when he was in love with Martha May Whovier (played delightfully by Christine Baranski) and when the other kids made fun of him and his green skin color. (Who knew Whoville could benefit from a practicing psychologist?)
Anthony Hopkins, who took over the role of narrator from Boris Karloff, recites Seuss’ rhymed tongue twisters with ease. I thought I would miss Mr. Karloff’s narration, but Mr. Hopkins speaks with a similarly relaxed tone. Then there are many elements from the television special that I thought I would miss, but this updated Grinch story is a delight from beginning to end.