How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Guilty Pleasure
Aren't you as relieved as I am that 2020 is finally behind us? With all the chaos spewing about everywhere concerning the COVID-19 crisis, political scandals, and riotous activities that only added insult to injury, 2020 was one of those years that was one disaster after another that I'm sure we can't wait to leave behind forever.
However, as I'm writing this, Christmas has also come and gone as well, and clearly, I will miss the joyous atmosphere I felt of the holiday season as we make way for what 2021 has in store for us. Thankfully, however, as part of my kickoff for Guilty Pleasure month, I decided to provide one whiff of Christmastime with a holiday 'classic’ - depending on your thoughts on it - that my family and I still revisit, and even quote, around the holidays. And that, my friends, would be How the Grinch Stole Christmas...
...with Jim Carrey. Yep, that one.
Based on the classic book by Dr. Seuss and the beloved Christmas special by Chuck Jones, the story is about a green curmudgeon named the Grinch, who lived in a cave on Mt. Crumpet with his dog, Max, as he bemoaned the holiday festivities and community of Whos in a small town called Whoville. Meanwhile, down in town, a girl named Cindy Lou Who was growing uncertain of all of Whoville's holiday debacles, feeling like something was off about the festivities. And, after a run-in she had with the Grinch, she started to suspect that there may have been more to him than met the eye. She decided to put that to the test by inviting the Grinch to become the Holiday Cheermeister in Whoville, much to the concerns of Whoville, and especially those of Mayor Augustus May Who. But, after some things started to go south for the Grinch in town, this started to get the ball rolling on his ultimate plan to dress up in a Santa Claus outfit, ride down on his sleigh with Max to Whoville, and, in his words, 'stop Christmas from coming.'
Now, let me make one thing clear about myself: I adore the Dr. Seuss book and the Chuck Jones special. I grew up on both of those, and they will always be the definitive takes on the story for me.
But when my family and I first saw this take on the movie...I don't know, there were some things about it that my family and I liked about it. And, in some ways, we still do.
But let me make another thing clear. Some parts of the movie, I remember having fun with when I was younger, but when I rewatched it just recently as an adult...I don't know if it was because of the reviews I read about this movie or my creative aspirations and savviness kicking in, but there were plenty of things I caught about this movie that I could easily have changed to make it better. So, for that reason, I will start the review by bringing those up first.
The first and most obvious issue to bring up is that this movie was an hour and a half flick adapted from a children's book that was about forty or fifty pages long. With that in mind, we all may know by now that it would be super tricky to convert a children's book of that length into a feature-length movie without making it feel stretched out. And for what the movie started with, it had some promising additions to the story to make it more interesting to a general audience. At the end of the day, though, I still found it pretty convoluted.
For starters, I remember thinking that the facial makeup on the Whos - mainly the adults - were quirky and reminiscent of the Dr. Seuss drawings. But now...while I still feel like they carried a bit of that charm – somewhat - the makeup also felt off. It pretty much consisted of the inward turning of the cheeks and upper lips, a tinier, cutesy nose, and buck teeth. I know that the Whos were different from humans, but because their methods of society were not that much different from our own, applying the facial makeup to make them look like Whos was a tad bit unnecessary. Instead of making the Whos look like Whos - and I know that was the idea - they made them look unnatural. This was where faithfulness to the source material can become a double-edged sword. While the drawings by Dr. Seuss from the original Grinch were marvelous and imaginative, they also carried some cartoony styles that would've had to be sacrificed for a live-action setting. When you compare the makeup of the Whos with the facial features of the Whos from the drawings and even the cartoon, you'll see by now that not everything needs to be perfectly translated to be good.
Here's where it could have been faithful in the right ways. At one point in the movie, Augustus May Who and Cindy Lou Who quoted verses from a book called the Book of Who. Judging from the verses they quoted in the movie, they sounded like they pertained to the customs of the Whos around Christmas time, and even pertained to something as suspiciously specific as the Grinch himself. The Whos treated the book like it was to them what the Holy books and the Constitution are to us, but the way the book may have been written, it easily sounded like the book could have been, say, The Book of Who: Holiday Edition. So, if The Book of Who was meant to be such a sacred text, maybe it could have talked about how the Who customs would have worked all year round. Anyone savvy about Dr. Seuss may know, as I do, that another story in which the Whos had a role was Horton Hears a Who, and that could easily have occurred any time of the year.
Another thing that I believe was a given for a movie like this was that it only tended to rhyme sporadically, rather than constantly, as was the case with Dr. Seuss and his stories. And while the rhyming was sporadic among the characters, the Narrator, who I'll talk about soon in this review, kept his narrations on a constant rhyming scheme, and only there did it sound like the movie was trying to add onto the story while still maintaining the syntax of Dr. Seuss. I know it would have been tricky, if not difficult, to have the rhyming scheme be applied to the actions and dialogues of the characters throughout the entirety of the movie. And yet, with enough dedication to the script and in the characters, as far as Dr. Seuss' philosophy is concerned, maybe this could have been managed.
And, some of the biggest add-ons to the story was that Cindy Lou-Who's role was expanded, a mayor of Whoville was given more focus, the Grinch had a crush on a girl named Martha May Whovier, and it had a backstory showing what made the Grinch the way he was. This was exposed to us through probably the weirdest orchestrations you would ever see from Cindy Lou-Who as she interviewed some of the Grinch's closest pals and affiliates about his past and present. What happened was that the Grinch was originally raised like any Who in Whoville, but when he suffered from an embarrassing situation by his schoolmates about his looks of etiquette and about a gift he was about to give to Martha May, he snapped, declared he hated Christmas, and left Whoville behind for good, deciding to settle in Mt. Crumpet up north.
Those aspects of the movie had so much potential to be good. However, there were plenty of things about it that just didn't add up to me. One, when he came to Whoville in a pumbersella - or, as I see it, the Dr. Seuss equivalent of the baby-carrying storks - he knocked a Who baby out of the way, ate a Santa plate as a toddler, and fantasized about terrible things happening at Christmas. So, he was already a bit of a scoundrel from the very beginning. And, I'm surprised that he was not mistreated more for how different he was from all the other Whos. He was green, he had a mischievous personality, and he had a very warped intake on the Christmas season. Instead, from what we've seen, he was bullied for his hairiness, and the bully in question happened to be only Augustus May Who. And he would eventually have grown up to be the Mayor of Whoville, but still with a grudge against the Grinch and a pretty deceitful demeanor to him. Not only did I find that silly - I mean, at this point, how was he ever elected as Mayor of Whoville in the first place? - but his behavior sometimes got to the point where he, and not the Grinch, was more fitting of the descriptions 'stink’, ‘stank’, and ‘stunk'. And, something about the black and white mentality enforced through the Mayor just didn't fit. Sometimes, that kind of tactic can work in a Christmas movie, such as with Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story, Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life, and, in more extreme cases, even Hans Gruber from Die Hard. But enforcing villainy through Augustus May Who kind of threw things out of balance, mostly in terms of who the character learning the moral in the story should be.
This also leads us into the film's discussion about the activities the Whos did around the holidays, such as giving presents or lighting up the houses. Bear in mind, the original Grinch by Chuck Jones, plus A Charlie Brown Christmas, was one of the earliest Christmas specials ever made to satirize the over-commercialization of the holiday. But while the special's way of handling the over-commercialization was moderate when put side by side with the story's message, the movie's way of handling it was pretty over-the-top. Sure, it resulted in some attractive shots of the Christmas activities and the presents, but the movie was prone to dwell on them a little too long.
Also, what happened in the past was that the Grinch shaved himself to make himself look nice for the Christmas gift exchange, and after he came in class with his gift for Martha May, he was harassed for his shaving, and this prompted him to abandon Whoville. Me, I just can't see someone like the Grinch developing such a personal grudge against Whoville and Christmas over something so trivial. Maybe, the way I see it, it would have made more sense if the Grinch was harassed for his different appearances for most of his life only for one event to make him snap and make him develop such a hatred for Whoville and of Christmas. If the bullying he had to put up with was more long-lasting, and probably from more people than just Augustus May-Who, then that could potentially have made the Grinch a lot nastier, and in turn, this would have made him become the reviled being in Whoville the Whos made him out to be. And, of course, this would have been interesting to see under Jim Carrey's showmanship.
Not only that but because the only true villain in a story like this is (supposed to be) the Grinch, the Mayor could have been written to be more regretful of his behavior as a bully to the point of being compelled to change his ways. That would, to me, anyway, have explained better how he qualified to be Mayor of Whoville. And when the stuff started to creep up concerning the Grinch, it would have put him in a situation where he was unsure whether to patch things up with the Grinch or if it may have been too late for that.
Martha was the object of the Grinch's fantasies, and in her adult years, as she was in the movie, she was just there to show off as another pretty lady in Whoville and an alleged girlfriend of Augustus May Who, with hardly ever a concern about the Grinch. Perhaps things would have been more intriguing if she had a bigger role in the movie, since part of the Grinch's descent into Mt. Crumpet partially involved her, too.
And, I must admit, Cindy Lou Who looked like she had some promising capabilities as a character who was given a much bigger role. But some of the lengths she went through to make things right was a little too outlandish for a kid her age. I mean, there's being precocious, and then there's being an adult in a child's body. And Cindy Lou, with her motivations, convictions, and courses of action, felt more like she was pulling off what you'd see a vacationing college student doing, and not this kid.
One thing that was fascinating about the movie that I caught was that Cindy's mother, Betty Lou Who, was Martha May's rival for the Whoville Lighting Contest. For most of the movie, all Betty was concerned about was trying to amp up her house's Christmas lights just so she could have had a chance to win for this year. It was nice to see when the movie dove into holiday festivities, but it didn't tie much into the story of the Grinch. I could see Betty and Martha's rivalry being more compelling if they were schoolmates when the Grinch was still around, and became rivals since then, possibly with Betty not wanting to discuss the Grinch with Cindy, while Martha, being closer than others to the Grinch, could've laid Cindy a helping hand in setting things straight with him.
So, yeah, if there were some things I would've changed about the movie, I would've left the actors’ faces alone and let them play the Whos while still looking human, and I would've given more menacing qualities for the Grinch, fewer extremities for Cindy Lou Who, less underhandedness for Augustus May Who, more involvement for Martha May Who and arguably Cindy's parents, more rhyming for the movie, and that would have made the movie feel more interesting and arguably more faithful to the spirit of both the story and Dr. Seuss.
But, of course, the purpose of this review, besides stating the obvious about the movie from my perceptions, is to tell you why I like this movie regardless. So, let's get to it, shall we?
To start things off, I was humbly impressed by the settings in the movie. I know that, to some people, this may remind them too much of the Seuss attractions from Universal Studios, but something about the Whoville in this movie just felt like a nicely crafted Seussian society fit for live-action. This part of the movie tied more to the drawings of Dr. Seuss, and those were what I was the most relieved to see replicated with such attention to detail for the movie. The buildings were a little warped, while still sustaining levels of stability and structure to them, and the exterior and interior shots of the houses and facilities, and even of the Grinch’s cave, continued to carry the whimsical design elements of Whoville.
And speaking of Dr. Seuss, there were some other things the movie did right to establish its connections with the source material. For one, the very beginning and ending shots of the movie had the right idea of setting Whoville inside a tiny snowflake. Besides looking very beautiful, I will wager that this was a deliberate reference to Horton Hears a Who, mostly because of how Whoville took place inside a speck.
For another, the second half of the movie was simply 80% of the original story cinematically translated by the creative setpieces and Carrey’s acting. It followed the same rhythms, the same structure, and the same conclusion as the book, and the special, too, in shades, with bits of the first half of the movie thrown in to tie it all together. I think it could’ve used a little more smoothing out, but it still got the job done the way it should have.
And while I still think the makeup of the Whos was a little off, I will say that their costumes and hairstyling were so Dr. Seuss. They all embodied a certain extravagance to their presentations, pertained to the joyous themes of Christmas, and carried that same whimsical energy from the book and special into the movie. As for the hair, not only did they also carry some of the same extravagances into their presentation with the characters but sometimes, they even added some personality to the characters. For example, look closely at young Martha May's hair. You'll notice that it said ABC on it. And that told me right away that she was probably an A-student in the Grinch's class. Little details like that were very well-done and helped tell some parts of the story not mentioned in dialogue or narration.
Their buck teeth notwithstanding, the Who children, such as Cindy Lou Who and both Martha May and Augustus May when they were children, looked more like how the rest of the Whos could, and maybe should, have looked like: human beings in a very stylized world. No inward cheeks, no cutesy nose, just the actors expressing themselves in all their naturalness, facial expressions and all.
I found the narrator of the movie to have done a pleasant job of telling the story, possibly because of how he stuck to Dr. Seuss’s rhyming schemes. Now, the actor narrating the story, Anthony Hopkins - AKA Hannibal Lecter - sounds like an odd choice for a narrator of a Dr. Seuss movie, but for the most part, he carried the movie through with just the right balance of moods as he told the story. Sometimes, it was delightfully whimsical, and other times, it was unnervingly suspicious, especially when it centered around the Grinch himself.
And, surprising as this may be for me to say about the live-action Grinch, the acting, in general, was very decent. Even though the execution of the Who characters was a mixed bag, the performances from the actors still allowed them to leave small impressions throughout the movie, as well as make me not mind the otherwise faulty aspects of the movie.
The actor playing Augustus May Who, Jeffrey Tambor, also did a nice job playing his character with a sense of debonair fit for a mayor, along with a pompous flair that showcased his personality. And, to be honest, even though the moment in which it occurred was unpleasant, I liked how he delivered this one line:
You choose...to listen...to a little not-to-be-taken-seriously...GIRL.
I don't know why that is, but the way he delivered that line got a chuckle out of me sometimes.
The one actor in the whole movie that I feel deserves some credit was Taylor Momsen. This was her film debut, and I thought she did a splendid job not only in playing Cindy Lou Who but also in trying to give her character a sense of heart and respectability. Even though I think Cindy Lou’s motivations were taken to extreme levels, I also liked how the movie made her try to reason with the Grinch about the misunderstandings between him and Whoville and to find the best in him and the Whos. This just makes her look like a very sympathetic, well-meaning character.
Some of the songs they came up with for the movie were quite nice, such as "Where Are You, Christmas?” and even one of the Who Christmas Carols, “Let There Be Whobilation”. And, the movie was even nice enough to bring back the classic tunes from the Chuck Jones special, including "Welcome Christmas” and the iconic "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (albeit the first half of the song). Those songs, by having them around, also helped the movie carry some of Dr. Seuss's sentimentality and energy into the movie. While this may sound out of style, a part of me wishes that more songs could've been written to match the songs already used in the movie and to make the movie into a musical.
James Horner's musical score was also very well done. Sure, it's not spectacular compared to either John Williams or Alan Menken in general, but he did a nice job of letting the music emphasize or make grander some of the scenarios occurring in the movie, especially the scenes where the Grinch's heart grew three sizes.
When all is said and done, though, there's only one reason this movie was such a guilty pleasure for me and my family. The one part of the movie that held this movie together.
You guessed it: it’s Jim Carrey as the Grinch.
I know, he's no Boris Karloff. And yes, there were times when he showcased his acting to the point where it felt like Jim Carrey just being Jim Carrey. The scene where he was approached in his cave by Cindy Lou Who was among such scenes where his comedic improvisations fell into misuse. But when he hits bullseyes, holy Bizzle-binks does he hit bullseyes!
Even if some of them may not have given the Grinch more characteristic depths, there were plenty of times when Carrey's expressions, one-liners, and physical movements established the Grinch as the grump that he was, while still meshing it all together with Carrey's comedic talents. And there were plenty of scenes I can think of that hit home how much he left a mark as the Grinch underneath his extravagant flair.
Remember that one scene where the Grinch started singing along to one of the Who Christmas songs in his sleep, only to wake up to realize what he was singing along to?
Or how about when he was prepared to ride down to Whoville with Max in his new sleigh, where he said all these witty one-liners in anticipation, and then out of fear, of their trek downwards?
But by far, the best and most quotable part of Jim Carrey's performance and the movie was when the Grinch was reviewing his schedule. Shortly after tracking down the Grinch herself, Cindy Lou Who invited him to join Whoville's 1000th Whobilation as the Holiday Cheermeister, and the Grinch, being the Grinch, took it in with dismissal. But then, it boiled over and left him torn over whether to go or not. So, one of the things he did was double-check his schedule, where he listed off…
Actually, let me rephrase that. In the syntax of Thurl Ravenscroft…
His schedule is a dump-heap-residing treasure trove, overflowing with some of the most absurd, off-the-wall, and hilarious calendar entries imaginable, whipped up thanks to Carrey's ad-libs.
I find it too good for me to simply share with you here in this review. Let’s just say that my family and I could quote that scene forever, it was so funny. When and if you come around to checking this movie out, track this scene down. I believe you will find it as funny and my family and I did…excuse me, do.
Jim Carrey’s acting aside, I found myself admiring what the Grinch was supposed to be like characteristically. While he was a grump and enjoyed his solitude and despising the Whos, there's a part of him who had a bit of the jovial energy that the Whos had over the holidays, even if they were overshadowed by the tragic events in his past and his overbearing prejudice against the Whos. That kind of portrayal of the Grinch, though messy, was still nicely conveyed.
Oh, and the costume design and the makeup of the Whos? As nice as they were, they were second-rate compared to that of the Grinch. The costume work done on the Grinch looked like they were the actual skin and body of the Grinch himself, down to the natural greenness, the hair, and even the extended fingery hairs. It was just amazing. I can tell it took painstaking work to make it just right and flexible enough to synchronize nicely with Jim Carrey's movements. I can say the same thing about the Grinch’s makeup, too, which also looked like it was actual Grinch skin. The wrinkles, the nuzzle, even the color of the Grinch's eyes, they all showed off a thick authenticity to the Grinch's character and even species, if any.
But what's equally as interesting was the story of Jim Carrey's mere tolerance to it all. It was said that this was one of the most uncomfortable suits he ever had to wear, and he even took it out on one of the design artists at one point, he was in that much pain. Judging from how he had to endure the makeup, right down to the eyes…the idea that Jim Carrey was willing to put up with all of that while still doing his absolute best to give a good Grinch performance, just makes me respect him more as a comedian and as an actor.
Don't forget, the makeup and costume designs of the Grinch were put to equally good use on the younger versions of the Grinch, too. And each time, they were all just expressed with the utmost authenticity to his character. I don't know what each of the actors felt about the makeup they had to put up with compared to Jim Carrey, but I think they were very talented, enough so that they pulled off the same mischievous, rascally nature as the Grinch as Jim Carrey did as his adult self.
Something I do remember catching from the reviews of the Grinch, and of which those made me acknowledge more, was that the Dr. Seuss movies had the problem of sneaking in adult humor in an allegedly kid-friendly environment. And in the case of the (live-action) Grinch, most of them involved butt-kissing jokes and even some brief swearing. I can see how those would feel out of place in a movie like this, but I didn't have as much of a problem with those as the others did. Those felt pretty minimal, and, in the grand scheme of things, they felt inconsequential to me.
It's funny how the weakest parts of the movie included the Whos in Whoville, whereas the strongest parts of the movie included the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who. Well, considering the source material, I'd say that's a surprise, and yet that's hardly a coincidence.
Ron Howard's take on How the Grinch Stole Christmas left behind quite a split impression among viewers, and the reasons were quite understandable. Many people complained about the movie's attempts to spice things up about the Grinch, the story being stretched out, its focus on comedy more than on telling a good story in the style of Dr. Seuss, and the moral being undermined by other factors working against it. And they're all pretty valid complaints. And yet, it still spoke to plenty of people who liked the movie anyway, mostly because of the movie's environments, the more faithful telling of the story in the second half, the costume design, the makeup, and even of Jim Carrey's impressions as the Grinch. It's a mixed bag, to say the least.
The heart of this movie may not be guaranteed to grow three sizes anytime soon, and it's sort of obvious why. But because of what it managed to do right…to me, its heart is by no means two sizes too small, either.
My Rating: B-
— Here's another example of where the movie was faithful to the source material in the wrong ways. After the cat was let out of the bag concerning the Grinch and why he hated both Christmas and the Whos, the narrator said:
So, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes,
he stood outside his cave, hating the Whos.
While this was faithful, word for word, to the book, it did not accurately fit alongside the backstory revealed about the Grinch. If they had to tweak it so that it acknowledged the backstory while still maintaining its adherence to the original story, the narrator could've instead said:
So, for those reasons, and not his heart or his shoes,
he stood outside his cave, hating the Whos.
— If you've seen this movie on television, you might remember that this version of the movie had plenty of scenes that were not found in its Theatrical Cut. It included longer sequences of the Grinch scoffing at Cindy's invitation to join the Whobilation, a scene with Augustus May Who attempting to woo Martha May by her front door, more scenes of the Grinch trying on 'suits' for the Whobilation, a lengthy sequence of the Present Pass-It-On at the Whobilation, the Grinch engaging in a Nog-Off - also as part of the Whobilation - and, more memorably, more scenes detailing the ultimate resolution of Betty and Martha's competition at the Whoville Lighting Contest. In the Theatrical Cut, the Whos talked about Betty and Martha's tendencies to light up their houses, and then, it was never addressed again. Here, however, it showed how things went down once they had their houses all lit up. During the actual contest, Betty and Martha continually one-upped each other with their lights, impressing the crowds and judging committees present to see it all every step of the way. And when it was voting time, Augustus May Who was given the ballot saying that Betty Lou Who won the contest. However, out of suspicion against Cindy and her family after her inviting of the Grinch to the Whobilation, and being the suck-up to Martha that he was, Augustus decided to declare Martha the victor instead, with the trophy and everything. In both cuts of the movie, Betty even said that Martha won the Lighting Contest every year prior. That left me torn over what to think of it: on the one hand, this was needed to fill in one of the biggest holes The Grinch had in its Theatrical Cut. But on the other hand, I was glad to see it cut because one, the one-upping between Betty and Martha felt a little too cartoony, and two, the ultimate deciding factors from Augustus May Who on the Whoville Lighting Contest felt unrealistic and left a bad taste in my mouth. What are your thoughts on the Television Cut, if you've seen it, compared to the Theatrical Cut?