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This 'Grinch' Stinks, Stanks, Stunks

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2000


    'Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas' Jim Carrey has a heart two sizes too small and a demeanor like Ace Ventura in "The Grinch."
(Universal Pictures)
Young ones may love Jim Carrey's physical antics and the snow-covered world of Whoville in "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas." And I suppose that may be "success" enough, as far as Universal Pictures is concerned. But like the rapidly diminishing heart of the loveless Grinch, the movie's charm factor is about two sizes too small.

Based on the 1957 bedtime classic by Theodor S. Giesel (a k a Dr. Seuss), the movie is about the Grinch (Carrey), a mean, green, cave-dwelling curmudgeon who lives inside a snowflake on Mount Crumpit and hates the Christmas-loving residents of Whoville below him.

But when he decides, once and for all, to destroy their holiday spirit, his nasty mission is undone by the sweet innocence of Cindy Lou Who (newcomer Taylor Momsen). A charming girl, who sees the warm side of the Grinch hidden under all that foulness, she brings his heart back to size.

Ron Howard's adaptation is obviously designed for kids. They'll certainly respond to Carrey turning his back to the residents of Whoville and waving mistletoe in front of his butt. And they'll dig such jokes as Cindy Lou's suggestion to the Grinch: "Um, maybe you need a timeout."

But even by children's-movie standards, director Ron Howard's sets, makeup and costume design feel heavy-handed and obvious. "The Grinch" has that Universal Pictures back lot look, as if someone merely turned the snow machines on some old "Flintstones" sets. It reeks of big-time artificiality.

And although makeup maestro Rick Baker has created a great-looking Grinch, he's not so successful with the Whos, those pinch-faced, Seussian residents who live in fear of the heartless Grinch. They suggest the cast of "Planet of the Apes" after a brutal waxing session. Who performers Christine Baranski, Jeffrey Tambor, Molly Shannon and others don't exactly bring life to their rubbery parts.

Another huge disappointment: Carrey's face – which amounts to 90 percent of his comic impact – is imprisoned under a thick layer of green rubber. His mouth is free, but it sounds constricted. This makes his quasi-British shtick sound like Fletcher Christian with a three-cornered hat jammed into his mouth. Forced to depend on his green-suited body for most of the comedy, Carrey is effectively muzzled.

There are other problems, as well. Narrator Anthony Hopkins draws more attention to his rich cadences than the work. He has a great voice, but the wonderful rolling gait of Dr. Seuss's poetry gets lost in the translation.

The story, by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, never feels like more than connecting tissue, an excuse for Carrey's increasingly feverish attempts to be funny. And against this industrial-military complex of Whoville sets, the movie's message about the commercialization of Christmas seems hilariously inappropriate. In the end, the movie's too busy with itself to remember to be truly funny and heartwarming. It's not Christmas that's being stolen here. It's the spirit of Dr. Seuss.

"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (PG, 102 minutes) – Contains some crude humor.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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