Friday, November 17, 2000

Carrey dashes through the snow job

Movie: Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Posted on Fri, Nov 17, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 3.50

As some commentators have remarked about the presidential vote-counting process, does it pass the smell test? A similar question might be asked about "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the $120 million fantasy starring Jim Carrey and featuring Anthony Hopkins' narration, a much-hyped re-imagining of the popular story by late children's author Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

If it looks, sounds, feels and even smells like a major holiday release, one meant to live on as a perennial classic (like the animated version of the tale), does that make it so? The answer: It's too close to call.

Ron Howard's film, his follow-up to 1999's "Ed TV," certainly boasts comic punch, including more than a few items intended for the adult chaperones in the audience. That's thanks to the predictably over-the-top antics of Carrey, virtually unrecognizable in a grotesque, furry, green suit concocted by veteran monster maker Rick Baker, and a knowing script from Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit") and several Seinfeld writers. And the fantasy universe created by Michael Corenblith ("Apollo 13") is a wonder to behold.

Whoville, the land of shiny, happy people with projectile noses and kooky hairdos, is a retro-tech place -- rotary phones, turntables -- where home exteriors seem to have been made of gingerbread and icing. Marching bands, with tiny trumpet players tumbling out of tuba bells, regularly clog the streets, and a countdown-to-Christmas device occupies a prominent downtown position.

The Grinch, complete with green eyes and bad teeth on a face that might be thought of as feline, lives in what appears to be a converted garbage dump stuck in the side of a mountain. Various tubes, piles of sticky food, cast-off goods and odd gadgets clutter the enclave, and the loner attempts to drown out the dreaded sound of Christmas carols with the help of metal-churning blenders, a giant, cymbal-crashing monkey doll and a pneumatic drill.

All that said, it's not clear that this newfangled Grinch and its elaborate backstory will connect with Dr. Seuss fans accustomed to, and enamored of, the streamlined renditions by animator Chuck Jones or in the original book.

The wisecracking, somewhat frightening Grinch, as Howard has it, suffered a severe emotional childhood trauma. Will the hermit undergo a change of heart, with the help of little Cindy Lou-Who (Taylor Momsen) and solid citizens such as her dad (Jeremy Howard) and mom (Molly Shannon)? Those familiar with the story know the answer, but there are new twists. And like the other updated elements, it makes for an OK variation.


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