Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Film Review: How The Grinch Stole Christmas

"How The Grinch Stole Christmas"  * 1\2 (out of ****)

With the Christmas season nearly upon us I thought it would be a good time to start reviewing holiday themed movies, as I have done in the past. Previously I have reviewed classics such as Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" (1946), "White Christmas" (1954) and modern favorites like "The Polar Express" (2004).

One of the first movies which came to mind to review this year was Ron Howard's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000). Growing up I used to watch the 1966 television animated short with narration by Boris Karloff. It too has become something of a Christmas classic. And I would argue, people who saw this live action version have probably seen the animated short first.

Having seen the classic animated movie may have been a mistake on my part but maybe not. It is true as I watched what Ron Howard and Jim Carrey were up to here I couldn't help but think of the animated version and how much was changed and added. Remember. The animated version is approximately 90 minutes. This live action version is approximately one hour and forty minutes. That is a pretty big time gap.

But even if I hadn't seen the 1966 version I still believe this version of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" would have been a misfire.

The moral behind Dr. Seuss' story was Christmas has been turned into a commercial holiday. This time of year people are preoccupied with spending money. Christmas is a time about buying your children as many gifts as possible and teaching them if they aren't good little boys and girls Santa Clause won't buy them more stuff. But that is not what Christmas is about. If you are religious it is a time of year to celebrate the birth of Christ. In more secular terms Christmas is a time for showing kindness to all.

Dr. Seuss' story presents the secular message. Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones and show good will towards man. The Ron Howard version makes a greater emphasis of this theme, showing the mad cap shopping experience Christmas has become. And I appreciate that Howard's film shows people Christmas is about more than buying gifts on sale. I don't even mind that the movie doesn't give us a religious theme. It was made by liberals after all. But, the secular message is still fine. What's missing from this live action adaption of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" is heart.

Ron Howard is normally accused of making overly sentimental weepers. My favorite Howard films are "Apollo 13" (1995), the Oscar winner "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) and "Cinderella Man" (2005). All three films made my "top ten" list in their respective years. Given Howard's track record it is hard to explain how he couldn't add more emotion to this story. Even the animated version has heart.

The main problem with "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" is tone. The movie has an over kill of juvenile slapstick with Jim Carrey as the Grinch, making silly faces and mumbling to himself. I imagine this was done to keep small children entertained but what about the adults who have to sit through this too? It is not impossible to make a family film which appeals to both parents and kids. Ask Pixar and Dreamworks.

The movie also gives us a background story of how the Grinch became the Grinch. What his childhood was like and why he hates Christmas so much. I won't spoil anything here but the background plot is so predictable and boring and unnecessary. Whatever "original" ideas the screenwriting team of Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman had, were awful. They contribute nothing meaningful to the story. There wasn't one new addition to this movie which I felt really helped me to enjoy this story more. They added nothing fresh. Which is surprising since they wrote "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988) together. They also co-wrote "Shrek the Third" (2007) which in my opinion was a let down.

Howard gives the movie some nice visual touches. Whoville is colorful and has a cartoonish look to it. The makeup wasn't really striking and the performances lacked substance. The rest of the cast includes Bill Irwin as Lou Lou Who, Molly Shannon as his wife, Betty Lou Who. Jeffrey Tambor plays the Mayor, Mayor May Who and Christine Baranski as Martha May Whovier, the girlfriend of the mayor. And of course there is Cindy Lou Who played by Taylor Momsen.

Jim Carrey went back to Dr. Seuss material after this movie lending his voice to "Horton Hears A Who" (2005) and played Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis' animated "A Christmas Carol" (2009), which I thought was an exceptional films. I even placed it on my "top ten" list that year.

"How The Grinch Stole Christmas" for me is an embarrassment. It a low point in Howard's career. To think of all the money and time which was spent making this film and this is the final product. An utter waste of time and talent. A real shame.