Christmas movies, by and large, are movies you need to watch through a child’s eyes. They tend to be feel-good, gooey, sentimental ventures, and the cynical modern man might want to look down on all that. But then… It’s Christmas, darn it, happy happy joy joy is what it’s all about. And then again, there’s the occasional Yuletide tale like Dr Seuss’ classic Grinch book (which also inspired a Chuck Jones cartoon) which cheers you up while remaining a bit edgy. After all, it does revolve around a character who DOESN’T like Christmas and takes upon himself to steal it away from the Whos of Whoville. Of course, as we all know, the Grinch will end up realizing that the holiday spirit isn’t something you buy in a store and his heart will grow three sizes, but before that he does get to instigate mucho mayhem and revel in his own evilness, and that’s gotta be cool… Especially when the Grinch is portrayed by Jim Carrey in a manic (even by Carrey standards) performance!
But then again, what was a perfect story for a little book with lots of pictures or a 22 minute animated TV special can’t possibly sustain a feature length picture. Hence, director Ron Howard had to bring a lot of new stuff in, and for the most part, he succeeded beautifully. What he did was spend a lot more time with the Whos. In Dr Seuss’ book just a bunch of odd looking people who dig Christmas, but in Howard’s version, they’re regular people who just happen have snouts and to live in a gorgeously designed, Tim Burton meets Candyland style town in a snowflake. They can be mean and selfish sometimes, they cheat on their wives, they are careless… And when Christmas time comes, they get lost in the stockings and ribbons and presents and decorations and shopping madness, and sorta forget what it’s all about. Something little Cindy Lou Who is aware of, and she wants to do something about it. The way she sees it, how good can Xmas be if there’s a Grinch left out in his mountainside lair? She feels that in the spirit of the season, the Whos should try to include him.
But who is the Grinch anyways? Here’s the other place where Howard exponiates on the source material, by giving the Grinch a back story. Not only was he born with a heart two sizes too small and green fur all over, but it turns out that he got picked on in grade school, that he had a crush on a classmate but only made a fool of himself and chose to leave the world behind and go immerse himself in resentment and self-loathing in the town dump. Mmm, I know, it’s a bit annoying how there’s always has to be a damn Freudian motivation to everything, like oh, the Grinch was humiliated on Christmas as a kid, so now he hates the whole thing, and he’s even gonna steal it! As for the stuff with the Whos, it sometimes feels like just what it is, filler, but I enjoyed the design of Whoville, with the endless holiday decorations, the cute little pastel houses, the countless lights, the bright colors, the snow… Then the Whos themselves, who are very peculiar and colorful in their own right, with the bizarre make up job that gives them snouts and big teeth.
Last but not least is Jim Carrey’s Grinch, who lights up the movie every time he’s on screen. Sure, there’s the brilliant make-up job done by Rick Baker, hiding Carrey under all that green fur, a doggish face and yellow eyes, but what’s really surprising is that Carrey still comes through, as if e truly morphed into the Grinch’s skin. He remains exceptionally expressive and natural, and Carrey is free to chew up a whole damn lot of scenery and be gleefully mean, playful and sarcastic. For a harmless little family film, the movie can be quite offbeat and laugh-out-loud hilarious, especially in the scenes where the Grinch is by himself in his cave being self-conscious about his state of reclusion, arguing with his echo and going around hating intensely the Whos, alphabetically! I sometimes felt shades of Tony Clifton beaming through the Grinch, with a good helping of the Mask. If only for Carrey’s hyperactive, larger than life performance, this “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a must see, but even beyond that, it’s a fine Christmas film that will delight kids and grown-ups alike.