Dreaded Purple Master

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

It has its moments, if you forget there ever was a book or a cartoon.

You have to marvel at the chutzpah of Ron Howard, who apparently feels that the Seuss original is in need of repair.

The whole first half of the film is eminently missable, having something to do with some other holiday, called Whobilation or Whobilee or something, with flashbacks to the Grinch’s unhappy childhood. (He was born the same day as a big Whovian key party, and was somehow overlooked in all the, er, excitement. There’s a mental picture I didn’t need. Fortunately, the kids have no idea what a key party is, so the joke is lost on them. Still it’s an odd thing to find in a film targeted at kids.[1]) And he was raised by two spinster lady-Whos, who presumably missed the party. Where is GLAAD on this issue? Do children raised by lesbian couples turn into grinches? Is that what you’re saying here, Opie?) Anyway, if you must see this thing, feel free to camp out at the video games for the first forty minutes or so.

As it must (or else this movie has a really silly title), Christmas eventually comes to Whoville. The town is caught up in the spirit of Christmas Consumption, where presents and the magnitude of your decorations are What It’s All About – except doubtful, pensive little Cindy Lou Who, who is no more than, well, ten (you can’t trust a two-year-old with a major speaking part, you know).

It is Cindy Lou, alone, who teaches the Grinch that Christmas, perhaps, doesn’t come from a store – and the Grinch who teaches Whoville that Christmas, just perhaps, means a little bit more.

You get that? I almost didn’t, at first look. I couldn’t believe that Howard had upended the story so completely. Every Who down in Whoville did cry out “Boo-hoo”, for with Christmas all gone, that was all they could do.

Oh, eventually the good citizens of Whoville decided to make the best of things and sing “Fa-who-fo-ray” after all, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s when the Grinch put his hand to his ear. If only he’d been listening five minutes earlier, this film could have had a whole different moral.

Anyway, here’s the Grinch on top of Mount Crumpet with every present in Whoville, and as the sleigh starts to slide off the edge, he (quite logically, it seems to me) thinks, Why save it? It’s just stuff, and it doesn’t matter. Didn’t that moral that clonked us on the head just teach us that? Certainly not worth risking one’s life over. Let ‘em go.

So, the simple joy of giving is not enough to make the Grinch save the sleigh. Neither is restitution for damages. No, Ron feels he must arrange additional motivation, and sure enough there it is, for somehow, for no adequately explained reason, Cindy Lou is on the sleigh. “I’ve got ya, Cindy Lou!” cries our newly reborn Grinch, unnecessarily so since he does have her by then.

I’ll tell you one bit I did like. Ron Howard usually casts his brother Clint in his films: In this one, he’s the ineffectual deputy mayor to Jeffrey Tambor’s Mayor. His performance here may be Clint Howard’s finest moment. Just the right touch of self-effacement, earnest helpfulness and utter cluelessness. Bill Irwin (as Cindy Lou’s Dad) sadly underacts; almost everyone else (although Tambor and Jim Carrey deserve some sort of prize) shamelessly overacts. Clint, alone, of all the actors in this film, nails his character exactly right.

I’ve left a few surprises, but really, don’t waste your money. The idea of Jim Carrey as the Grinch is far funnier than the execution. Buy the Chuck Jones version, it’s out on DVD.

[1] Perhaps I should explain that the movies, most recently The Ice Storm, taught me that a key party is one attended by a group of married couples, who each put their car keys in a bowl. The women draw keys out of the bowl, and go home with the men whose keys they have chosen. It’s a kind of wife-swapping by lottery. As I said, not what I expected to find in Dr Seuss.

Daniel Taylor: Monday, January 15, 2001