Talk about a great Grinchy trick.
For generations, the books of Dr. Seuss have played an instrumental role in shaping children’s love of both storytelling and reading. The author born Theodor Seuss Geisel undoubtedly had a way with words, and his whimsical creations have inspired millions. However, that doesn’t mean his work has always translated well to other media.
Some of Seuss’ most popular creations include The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, and Green Eggs and Ham. Yet, perhaps his most famous story is one about a green curmudgeon with a distaste for the holiday season. Adapted for the big screen in 2000, let’s talk about why the live-action Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas just doesn’t work.
Ron Howard’s live-action vision
Taking the whimsical visual style of Seuss’ world from the page to the screen isn’t an easy task. So director Ron Howard had a challenge ahead no matter what he ended up doing. But his Grinch makes it painfully obvious that Seuss’ Whoville is far better suited to animation.
While Howard’s visual style inspired Universal theme parks’ annual Grinchmas event, it is full of questionable design choices. The bug-like residents of Whoville are now essentially mouse-people, and the makeup used to transform actors like Jeffrey Tambor and Christine Baranski is incredibly hit and miss. Moreover, the angular design that makes Seuss’ world so charming and inventive just comes off as gimmicky when translated to live-action.
Aside from the film’s look, the decision to expand the original Grinch story from a simple anti-commercialism parable to a 104-minute runtime means padding it out with superfluous characters and bland, hackneyed subplots. In any case, the live-action Grinch is still a million times better than the horrific 2003 The Cat in the Hat.
How the movie gets the Grinch wrong
Howard tries to imagine — also the name of his production company, natch — what Seuss’ world would look like. But as much as that results in a mixed bag, the real crime against the source material is how it gets the main character wrong.
In the book, the Grinch is depicted not as a mischievous trickster but a sullen grump. Granted, this is hardly the kind of fun character families would be lining up to see. But in its effort to unravel the Grinch’s reason for hating Christmas, the live-action version sacrifices the purity of Seuss’ story in favor of a slapstick-heavy romp that never gets the story it’s telling.
The live-action Grinch weaves in modern humor and sight gags, all of which play to the lowest common denominator. Then, a moment later, it purports to stay true to the anti-commercial sentiment that has made Seuss’ tale such a heartwarming one for decades.
Howard could have adapted the book in such a way wherein this new version of the Grinch would make sense. But his film is too beholden to the text as well as the 1967 animated version. The 2000 Grinch even shoehorns in songs like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” to really lean on what’s come before. At least the 2018 version tries to stand mostly on its own and present something other than a bloated take on the book.
Jim Carrey still delivers an outstanding performance
No matter the issues Howard’s Grinch has, Jim Carrey is unquestionably committed to the material. The actor has discussed at length the strenuous experience of performing the character through the Oscar-winning makeup and full-eye contact lenses. His on-set behavior even made the production infinitely more difficult, traumatizing the makeup artist behind it. While the story around him is fundamentally flawed, Carrey delivers a tour-de-force performance nonetheless.
Even though the 2000 Grinch was far from beloved by critics upon initial its release, Carry nearly won a third consecutive Golden Globe for his performance. Following back-to-back wins for The Truman Show and Man on the Moon, the actor lost out to George Clooney for O Brother, Where Art Thou? Yet, it’s easy to imagine just how much poorer the live-action Grinch would have turned out without a comic genius like Carrey under the green skin.
If anything, the actor makes the character so much his own that his Grinch feels too distinct. Part of that is certainly due to the sloppy screenplay, but at least Carrey’s performance makes the film entertaining to watch, despite its hollow nature. Hardcore Grinch fans, however, will probably still prefer the original animated TV special, as it is the only adaptation to truly honor the spirit of Seuss’ timeless book.
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