The Twelve Flicks of Christmas
A ben’s TEN Holiday Series
Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]
Review by Ben Koch
Unlike the original Chuck Jones animated masterpiece (1966), which stays remarkably loyal to the Dr. Seuss picture book, Howard’s “live-action” adaptation takes numerous liberties in order to fill the conventional 90 minutes with some extra back-story, a few curious subplots and LOTS of Jim Carrey improv time.
The plot basics are obviously there. In case you missed it, here’s a quick re-hash (no word play on “who-hash” intended!) of our synopsis of the Jone’s flim:
The cranky, self-interested, hairy green man-thing who lives in the mountains above harmonious Whoville is angry, bitter and completely fed up with the Who’s (inhabitants of Whoville) oh-so-happy Christmas celebrations year after year. This time, he’s decided to do something about it. With his unexpectedly cute dog Max as an accomplice, he contrives the ultimate evil plan–pose as Santa and steal Christmas.
Beneath the Surface
Howard’s feature-length film attempts to answer what many of us have perhaps often wondered: Where did the Grinch come from? How did he end up as a grouchy old hermit on Mount Crumpit? Howard’s depiction of the Grinch’s childhood attempts to generate some compassion and understanding for him as a bullied victim—that hairy, awkward green kid who can’t see the futility of his super crush on the blonde prima-donna.
It almost works. He’s harassed for being hairy and goes home to perform a disastrous first shave on himself. Then, when the scrappy but heartfelt handmade gift he’s made for his would-be girl get’s mocked and destroyed, all while he’s got a bag over his head to hide hideous mis-shaven face, we get our first thump in the heart and actually begin to like him.
Unfortunately, however, the moments of likeability are few and far between. Even as a child, Howard’s Grinch is unapologetically mean, grouchy and vindictive, even when unprovoked. And it certainly doesn’t help his cause that the costume and makeup designers made him look like the lust spawn of an orc and Oscar the Grouch. When the above-described incident drives the Grinch into his life-long isolation, the film fast-forwards to his adult version, presumably with us feeling a new depth of understanding and patience for his incessant and obnoxious hatred.
But somewhere the editing, or the script, fell short. We are left with a panorama of characters that range from the shallow and naïve (people of Whoville) to the sociopathically hateful (the Grinch). The only respite for our hope in the residents of this film’s universe is Cindy-Lou Who, who takes a much bigger role in this story-line then she ever did in the original, or maybe Max, the Grinch’s cute but hopelessly oppressed pooch.
Don’t get me wrong—there are some hilarious rants by Carrey. If you ever wondered what your inner Grouch would look like on a free-wheeling, uninhibited rampage, this is it. Yet, although I literally laugh aloud through many of Carrey’s monologues/dialogues, I am laughing at Jim Carrey, and not at anything integral to the playing of the story. It might as well be an SNL skit, and not a thrashing of a cultural classic. The irony is that last year we sung the praises of Carrey’s remarkable self-control in A Christmas Carol (2009). It’s amazing how one of our favorite over-the-top but extremely talented artists matured over 9 years.
As we emphasized last year, the biggest moment of this narrative is the opening of the Grinch’s heart chakra. For this transformation to be believable and powerful, the setup and buildup must be played just right. If the buildup is played too hard or explicitly, it’s sap. If it’s not built up with some baby steps and intermediate touches of humanity, it’s a mockery. Jim Carrey, unfortunately, turns this powerful scene of transformation into an all-out mockery.
Rent it for laughs, but not for that warm Christmas-feeling you could get from so many other films.
Cocoa Factor = 6 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?
Magicality = 4 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”
A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 7 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?
Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 5 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?