Carrey's `Grinch' is fun holiday fare
By GUNDER KEHOE
Scene Movie Critic
The Grinch may have stolen Christmas, but Hollywood kidnapped Dr. Seuss.
For the last several years, producers tried to wrestle "Grinch" rights from the author's widow, and director Ron Howard finally succeeded. He's made a respectable holiday kids movie, but it breathes more with Hollywood's stamp than with someone who was dedicated to Seuss' wacked-out universe.
Not that this should come as any surprise, but fans of the story most likely wished for a little less Hollywood and a little more Seussian style. In the end, the filmmakers have probably done this classic the only way possible, and Jim Carrey's presence makes the whole film click.
The screenwriters have invented the Grinch's background, making him a childhood runt who was shunned by all his schoolmates. Thus, Grinch has retreated from Whoville to his mountain cavern (which resembles Batman's, only not as slick). While most people spend time losing weight off their hips, the Grinch devotes his time losing weight off his heart.
He wreaks havoc on Whoville because he wants to ruin their festive spirit with his own holiday cynicism. While everyone in Whoville fears the Grinch, Cindy Lou Who is the one little girl in town dealing with Seussian puberty: What are the holidays really about? Cindy Lou bravely searches for the warmth inside the cold-hearted Grinch and finds that Christmas is about the people and not the presents.
Rick Baker may be the only make-up designer who earns a seven-figure salary, and his Grinch design proves he's well worth the price. Even though Jim Carrey is smothered under make-up, his energy doesn't miss a beat. The green latex fits Carrey like a glove and the actor has more leeway under a thick coating than most actors have with their regular skin.
As the Grinch, Carrey stammers around with a potbelly and long fingers that fray out like worn Q-tips. Watching Grinch slither his hands is like watching Mr. Burns on acid. Even those viewers who don't normally like Jim Carrey's antics will see there's no other way to act when living in Grinch's skin.
Howard's strength is solid storytelling, but he's never had that distinct visual flair. The whimsical world of Whoville is envisioned like Candyland where everything looks round and edible. It stays true to the wacky world of Dr. Seuss but somehow Howard's imagination feels forced. The director just lacks a genuinely bizarre perspective.
It would've been nice to see Tim Burton ("Beetlejuice") tackle "The Grinch," but he might have scared up a few too many nightmares. Besides, Howard's style is more anonymous and he righteously gives credit to the author. There wouldn't be much justice in seeing "The Grinch" under Burton's direction because an auteur would have taken credit.
Luckily, there are enough freaky images in "The Grinch" to make some kids wary of falling asleep. Howard realizes that "The Grinch" can't be all fun and games; he's got to have some real fright to complete his edge.
Some of Carrey's stunts aren't for anyone over the age of 10, but the pint-size characters keep his madness in check.
Taylor Momsen plays Cindy Lou with a nice wide-eyed curiosity. She always laughs when Grinch wants her to cry.
Max is the Grinch's loyal dog and might be the one pet who smells better than his master. The tiny pet is in perfect balance with the energetic Carrey and he handles the pressures of this crazy world with amazing calm. When Grinch gets too hyped up, a simple shot of Max puts everyone at ease.
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is aimed at kids, but the story has enough strength to leave some of the older viewers a little teary-eyed. Who knows if the movie will ever hit TV and be squeezed between "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story." But movies come and go so rapidly that it's the brief two hours that count.
"The Grinch" will never outlast its literary inspiration but, regardless, buy some snowcaps and enjoy the holiday ride.
--3 out of 5 shamrocks
All Scene Stories for Thursday, November 30, 2000