Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book is now a $123 million dollar movie spectacular. With director Ron Howard behind the camera and star Jim Carrey under a thick green suit, everyone seems convinced it will be the biggest hit of the holiday season. Well, Universal Pictures has definitely left something under your Christmas tree, but you might want to clean it up soon before it leaves a permanent stain.
I’m sure everyone has a few inquiries about where, exactly, everything went so stinky. Hopefully, the answers provided by the following guide of frequently asked questions wil help to identify the source of this unpleasant stench.
[ FILM THREAT’S “HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS” F.A.Q. ] ^ [ WHO IS THIS DR. SUEss AND WHAT IS HIS FIELD OF MEDICINE? ] ^ Dr. Suess is only the pen name for Theodore Geisel. Much like Dr. J or Dr. Laura, Ted was not a “real” doctor. He could, however, make you feel better (Okay, Dr. J could, too).
[ WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE BIG GREEN MUPPET? ] ^ Dr. Suess’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was first published in 1957. As in many of his other books, Geisel’s tale featured characters fantastic in appearance but quite human in temperament. By relating their stories through poetry as catchy as it was silly, the doctor was able to sneak in the odd morale or two. These little life lessons never got in the way of the magic, as his readers would devour these books again and again and again, long after they ceased to be children. Other classics include “The Cat in the Hat” (Spielberg just lost the rights to that one), “Green, Eggs and Ham,” “The Lorax,” “Horton Hears a Who,” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”.
[ HASN’T THIS STORY BEEN ON TV FOR YEARS? ] ^ The “Grinch” first reached the small screen in 1966, courtesy of legendary Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones. ^ Faithful to the source, the only voice required was that of narrator Boris Karloff delivering much of the original text of the book. The rest of the story came to life through Jones’ deeply expressive animation. The results were an instant hit and now a holiday tradition.
[ WHAT’S THE STORY OF THE GRINCH MOVIE? ] ^ Basically, it’s the same as the cartoon. The Grinch retains both his dog and his utter loathing for his shiny, happy neighbors in nearby Who-ville. Unable to stand another year of their Christmas cheer, the Mean One plots to steal the day away from them so that everyone can be miserable together. Of course, expanding a story that was great at 30 minutes to 90 left plenty of room for the filmmakers to add their own “personal” touch. What made Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer believe they could improve upon this classic adaptation is a delusion we may never know.
[ WHAT’S NEW TO THIS VERSION? ] ^ Now the Grinch’s gets his own secret origin story instead of just being a small-hearted freak. Basically, all the other children used to ridicule the weird, hairy green kid, so now it’s time for some payback. Yeah, that’s it. The part of little Cindy Lou Who does get a little more action. Y’see, she is able to sense the good within him. Soon, the two become reluctant friends as they join forces to take down the mob -WHOOPS!! Sorry, wrong movie. No, she just wants to open his heart or something and bring him into the light. ^ Sounds like a story for little kids? That’s because it is. Now let’s take a look at the good, the bad and Clint Howard.
[ THE GOOD-BOBBLES: ] ^ Clint Howard’s New Look: Actors like Jeffrey Tambor and others look strangely disfigured as Who-ville residents. This exaggerated button-nose stiff-upper lip style works in an illustration, but is kind of creepy brought to life. It’s not unlike that Twilight Zone episode in which the beautiful woman wakes up to the land of the bizarrely ugly people. The Who-villagers just look like a bunch of inbred hillbillies. Everyone’s last name is “Who,” so they must all be inbred! Although, in the case of the director’s kid brother Clint Howard, who cameos in all of Opie’s pictures, the Who make-up might actually be an improvement. Compared to everyone else in town, the eerie former child star could actually be quite a ladies’ man. Who knew? At least something good could come out of this. ^ The Running Time: The film does run under two hours, (about an hour and 45 minutes) but feels much longer. ^ The Dog: Okay, the dog is cute – and without one line of dialog!
[ THE BAD-NOOZLES: ] ^ Jim Carrey’s Acting: Carrey’s Grinch voice kind of sounds like Nixon, which leads us to believe that Watergate might have been avoided if only the ex-president had received that Radio Flyer wagon for Christmas. Unfortunately, this imitation only turns out to be grating, not funny. The rest of the funnyman’s performance is mostly out of control and not very funny. It’s all wacky and disturbing, kind of like Carrey’s idol, Jerry Lewis. ^ The Over-Designed Production: Everything looks fake and cheesy. From the costumes to the make-up and the sets, all the elements combine to produce a phoniness that seems to sap any real emotion or power the film might have had. It’s a bad Mall display of Santa at the North Pole – all overlit and plastic. I’m sure this stuff looks good on the action figures, but in the movie it’s only sad and distracting. ^ Boy, I wish Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel’s widow Audrey could direct, because she would have probably done a better job than Ron Howard. She still owns the rights to all of her last husband’s properties and the shining jewel of the Grinch had beckoned much of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest. She settled on Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer as they delivered Jim Carrey. She contractually maintained some amount of creative control, though apparently it was not enough. She did reject gags such as a family of “Who-steins” who did not celebrate Christmas. Maybe they had “Who-nukka”. Thankfully this joke and some strange attempts at toilet humor didn’t make the final cut. You’d think it would have occurred to Howard or Grazer earlier that these kinds of bad jokes were somewhat inappropriate if you were attempting to create a classic, family film.
[ THE UG-SNEEZLES : ] ^ The Who-ville Residents: They’re just darn creepy-looking and seemed to scare the kids who were at the screening I attended. ^ Out-of-Place Pop Culture References: The biggest distraction in the movie is the non-stop barrage of pop culture reference. No film can be one for the ages when most of the jokes feel dated within six months. Carrey’s over-the-top antics are much like Robin Williams’ Genie in “Aladdin”. Remember in that film when Williams broke out of character for an Arsenio Hall imitation? Boy, that aged well. That kind of crap only serves to pull the viewer out of this self-contained fantasy world. Jimbo tops it when the Grinch dons a baseball cap and imitates Ron Howard as he attempts to direct his dog into acting like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I can’t believe this pathetic in-joke ever made it into the film.
[ BOTTOM LINE: IS THE MOVIE BETTER THAN THE CARTOON? ] ^ I would respond to that in my worst Santa Claus imitation and add a hearty, “No! No! No! No!” Definitely not. The Grinch cartoon will remain a classic long after audiences will have finally purged this atrocity from their memory. Without the right people behind this film, no amount of cash was ever going to buy any magic. Thankfully, that magic is still readily available from the animated “Grinch”, or even better, from the book. Dr. Suess may have died a few years ago, the emotional punch of his original work can survive anything Hollywood could inflict upon it. What better gift could you ask for?