How the Grinch Stole Christmas


How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Jim Carrey makes a point about Taylor Momsen’s hairstyle; it’s a bit too drab.

(2000) Holiday Fantasy (Universal) Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard, Mindy Sterling, Anthony Hopkins (voice). Directed by Ron Howard

Family movies, particularly those concerning the holidays, have become increasingly marketing-oriented, substituting toys and corporate tie-ins for good storytelling and meaningful lessons. It’s ironic that this live-action remake of a beloved animated classic that espouses the feeling behind Christmas over the commercialism that Christmas has become should be marketed so aggressively – with toys and corporate tie-ins.

Irony aside, most of us who aren’t named Ebeneezer Scrooge know the story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” A mean-spirited, cold-hearted (that heart being two sizes too small) creature known as the Grinch (Carrey) sits in his mountain lair, dreading the coming of Christmas, a holiday loathed by the green-furred curmudgeon. Taking solace by playing mean-spirited pranks on his Christmas-obsessed neighbors down in Whoville (known as Whos, creatures with off-the-wall haircuts and upwardly mobile noses), the Grinch is eventually goaded into a dastardly scheme. He means to eradicate every vestige of Christmas from Whoville while the unsuspecting Whos slumber amid the splendors of pine and light.

With the reluctant help of his adorable mutt Max, the Grinch devises a Santa suit and a rather unlikely-looking sleigh to carry out his nefarious deed. Of course, we all know how it ends – so there’s no need to discuss that here.

Director Ron Howard goes deeper into the background story of the Grinch, exploring the reasons behind his hate affair with the Yuletide, and adds numerous subplots, turning tiny Cindy Lou Who (Momsen) into a central character, whose non-judgmental belief in the goodness of the Grinch proves to be the linchpin the story revolves around. Writer Jeffrey Price adds a love interest (Baranski), a pompous mayor (Tambor) and Cindy Lou’s simple but eventually steadfast dad (Irwin).

The onscreen Whoville appears just as the late Theodore Geisel drew it, only in greater detail. Methinks the film’s designers spent a lot of time examining Seuss Landing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure; the set bears a striking resemblance to the theme park. Much like Never-Never Land in “Hook,” Whoville and the Mount Crumpit Grinch Cave become pivotal to the movie’s success, becoming places that are real and that we want to visit. Whoville may not be the star of the show, but it’s certainly an important cast member.

In one of his most physically demanding roles, Carrey brings the Grinch to life and though he can’t resist the over-the-top mugging that keeps me from being a big fan of his work, I am nonetheless impressed with his commitment to the character. Young Momsen makes a charming Cindy Lou Who, and though it probably wasn’t a wise idea to let her sing, she at least is off-key with heart. Boris Karloff is no longer with us to narrate, but Hopkins is the best person for filling those shoes that we have today, Christopher Lee notwithstanding.

This is a family movie that is actually for the whole family. Young ‘uns will appreciate the simple story, the physical comedy and the wonderful eye candy. Adults (most of us who grew up with Dr. Seuss or reading it to someone who did) will find comfort in the nostalgia that is evoked, and delight in seeing Whoville brought to life.

Add “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to the list of timeless holiday classics that we’ll want to revisit again and again through the years. It’s a marvelous treat for the entire family or share with a date, or even just experience by yourself. Da Queen gave this one sentimental hankie, and for once, I think she underrated it.

WHY RENT THIS: The dazzling Whoville set brings Dr. Seuss to life. Certainly there are moments in the movie when the Christmas spirit really shows through.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Carrey has a tendency to overdo it at times.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a little crude but otherwise this is a holiday classic fit for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Whoville set was built behind the Psycho house on the Universal lot in California. Sometimes during breaks in filming, Carrey would run out of the house while wearing a dress and brandishing a knife, startling the tourists taking the Backlot Tram Tour but nobody ever recognized him.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video of Faith Hill’s performance of “Where Are You Christmas” (the song Momsen sings, sorta, in the film) and some interesting featurettes on translating Dr. Seuss’ world to the screen as well as the instructions that went to the extras on how to be Whos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $345.1M on a $123M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and The Quill concludes with the review of a Holiday Classic and a special Christmas story.

Igor


Igor

Igor looks around for Tim Burton but can't find him.

(MGM) Starring the voices of John Cusack, Molly Shannon, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, Jennifer Coolidge, Jay Leno, James Lipton, Arsenio Hall. Directed by Anthony Leondis

We all want to be the center of attention. Who doesn’t want to be the rock star? There aren’t many of us who dream of being the roadie, after all.

In the far-off land of Malaria, the reigning rock stars are mad scientists. With a climate disaster laying waste to their crops, the country has been forced into a new economic model; the world blackmail model. To that end, it helps if you have an evil genius designing a doomsday device that will bring the rest of the world to its knees, quaking in fear and eager to pull out the checkbook.

Of course, evil geniuses can’t be bothered to do their own grunt work. To that end, they have Igors – the physically deformed assistants who all share the same name so that the evil geniuses don’t have to waste a single brain cell thinking about what their names are. While Malaria hasn’t exactly set the world on fire yet (despite repeated attempts to), the Evil Science Fair still is a highly contested affair that can mean the difference between fame and nobodysville.

Dr. Schadenfreude (Izzard) has won the coveted fair for years and is the fair-haired boy of King Malbert (Leno). Dr. Glickenstein (Cleese) is determined to win the prize for himself, but despite the warnings of his Igor gets sent a one-way ticket to the Pearly Gates (or the flames of Hell – take your pick) in a gruesome industrial accident leaving his Igor (Cusack) in charge.

It turns out Igor has skills and he and his buddies Brain the disembodied brain (Hayes) and Scamper (Buscemi) the suicidal but sadly immortal rabbit do the impossible. They put together a body out of spare parts and give…it…LIFE…!!!!!

Cue the lightning and thunder. Yes, Igor has created a monster: Eva (Shannon) who is quite inexplicably not evil; why she literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. Igor determines to hypnotize her into being the evil monster that would be sure to make him the top mad scientist in all of Malaria, but accidentally puts in a tape of “Inside the Actors Studio” into the hypnosis session instead, so Eva comes out of the room wanting to fill out her journal of sense memories and demanding a bigger trailer.

Still, life is life and it’s a pretty big deal even if Eva is more of a diva than a devourer. Dr. Schadenfreude gets wind of Igor’s breakthrough and determines to steal the secret for himself. To top it all off, Igor has fallen in love with Eva. It’s enough to give you a humpache.

This is one of those movies that tries really hard to be hip; it’s heavily influenced by the Universal horror movies of the 30s and 40s (which, considering it was made by MGM is a bit ironic) and by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. The summary above sounds a lot more appealing than the execution.

The animation was done by the French studio that also gave us “Rolie Polie Olie.” The look of the movie is a bit dark, with industrial landscapes and lots of ochre. It doesn’t stand up to the fare of Pixar, Blue Sky and Sony but it’s still better than some of the cheap animation out there from lesser studios.

This is a pretty impressive voice cast. Think about it; would you see a live action movie with John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Molly Shannon, Arsenio Hall, Sean Hayes, Jennifer Coolidge and Eddie Izzard? In a heartbeat, says I.

The problem here is that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The bits with Scamper and Brain are hysterical, but Igor himself is kind of bland. It’s not the fault of Cusack; it’s just that he doesn’t seem to be much more than a typical plucky animated feature hero. The movie needed a lot more than that.

Honestly I can’t tell you who this movie was supposed to appeal to. It’s a bit too offbeat for the average kid audience, but far too simple for the hipper viewer. It has at least the courage of its convictions and it makes a really noble effort to be different. The problem is that it doesn’t quite get there. It’s a near miss, but an interesting one; it certainly wouldn’t hurt to check it out.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice vocal work and some really funny concepts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Straddles the line between being too offbeat for kids and too childish for adults.

FAMILY VALUES: Although this is far from scary, there are some elements which play on classic horror film imagery and might frighten the very small ones in your household.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Igor was originally supposed to be voiced by Christian Slater, but he was unable to do it due to his television commitments. Instead, he makes a cameo as one of the other Igors.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Last Airbender