Wednesday, December 23, 2020

As Cuddly as a Cactus

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Anthony Hopkins
Released: November 17, 2000

Oscar nominations:
Best Makeup (won)
Best Costume Design (lost to Gladiator)
Best Art Direction - Set Decoration  (lost to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

For some reason, I always want to call this movie "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas", but I know that doesn't sound right. In fact, I even started writing that when I was typing the title, but caught myself after I had written "The Grinch Who"... 

So yeah, most people seem to hate this particular version of this story...and I can't blame them. This is not a very good adaptation. Look, I can understand why Ron Howard (or whoever's idea it was to make this story into a live-version adaption) thought this was a good idea: you take a beloved Christmas TV animated special from the '60s that's based on the beloved Dr. Seuss book. (See, I don't remember the book, although my family must have owned it...I do remember owning other Dr. Seuss books. I do remember watching the animated show, though). You have Jim Carrey play the Grinch which seems like the perfect match. It seems like a win/win situation. I mean, it wasn't a total disaster as I was surprised to learn that this was the highest-grossing movie of 2000. I would have guessed it to in the top ten, but not number 1! But I guess people were curious to see Jim Carrey portray the Grinch in a story that everybody is familiar with. 

This is one of the problems with the movie: the animated special is only 25 minutes long. The movie is about an hour and forty minutes. As you can obviously see, they add a lot of things to the movie. The animated movie is short and sweet and gets to the point: we know that the Grinch hates Christmas, the Grinch does his thing where he steals Christmas, the Whos are sad, the Grinch feels bad and learns the true meaning of Christmas, everyone sings. Okay, it's been awhile since I've seen the TV special from 1966, but I feel fairly confident that was the gist of it. Obviously, I understand that they need to have a feature film be longer than half an hour, so they added a lot of extra scenes such as a backstory to why the Grinch hates Christas so much and we learn more about Cindy Lou Who, who they upgrade to a more important character. The part that we're all familiar with, the part where he steals Christmas, doesn't show up until the very end of the movie. 

Cindy Lou Who is played by Taylor Momsen (probably best known as Jenny from Gossip Girl). She was only seven and this was her first role. I think for the most part, she did a good job, considering everything, but there is one scene I question, but I'll get to that later. Cindy Lou's dad, Lou Lou Who (Bill Irwin), works at the post office and her mom, Betty Lou Who (Molly Shannon), has an ongoing competition with their neighbor, Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski) on who can decorate their house the most festive for Christmas. Martha May has her own machine that shoots lights onto her house, which I admit, seems pretty handy when you need to put lights up on your roofline. 

While the Grinch from the book and TV special seems to prefer to stay in his home up in the mountains and keep to himself, this Grinch seems to like to mess with the Whos. He prank calls them, he goes into town (wearing a mask that seems like it belong in a horror movie) and just messes with them. I suppose this is so he can have interaction with the Whos. Okay, it's totally confusing that the townspeople in Whoville are called Whos, but also that's the surname of the main family. We get our first interaction between the Grinch and Cindy Lou when he's sneaked into the sorting room at the post office and has messed up all the mail.  Cindy Lou''s dad has asked her to get something from the sorting room, so when she goes in there, the Grinch is hiding with his dog, Max (also probably the MVP of the movie...bless the real life dog for what he had to put up with and bless the character for what he had to put up with!) However, Cindy Lou encounters him and he scares her and knocks her into the sorting machine where all the Whoville gifts are sorted. He's about to leave, but Max won't let him and he fishes her out of the machine before she can get crushed. She thanks him for saving her life, but he tells her he did it because she was "improperly packaged" and wraps her up in red wrapping paper and a gold bow. When her dad comes in, the Grinch has left by then. Her dad is proud of her because he thinks Cindy has been practicing her wrapping which makes no sense because how can you wrap yourself and put a bow on top if you're already covered...oh, never mind! 

Personally, I think the best thing to come out of this movie is the song "Where Are You, Christmas?". The version sung by Faith Hill during the end credits. I love that song. Now this song is sung by Cindy Lou in her room not long after she's met the Grinch for the first time. This is the weakest scene for Taylor Momsen. For one thing, her singing voice (I mean, I assume it's actually her singing) is pretty weak. I know seven-year-olds aren't going to be great singers, but if you're going to cast a part of a young girl who is going to sing a song, then maybe cast somebody with a stronger voice. She's also by herself in this scene and doesn't seem to know what to do, while at least she's acting against Jim Carrey or some other actor in her other scenes. No shade at all to her because she was only seven. I think they should have just taken this scene out. It really didn't add anything and doesn't make sense. Why is she singing "Where are you, Christmas?" when the Grinch hasn't even stolen Christmas at this point? As far as she and I and everyone else is concerned, Christmas hasn't disappeared yet. This would make more sense if she sang it after the Grinch did his thing, but by that time the movie is almost over and you're going to hear the Faith Hill version anyway. You know something I learned that I never knew before while going through the IMDb trivia for this movie that completely floored me? I read that Mariah Carey wrote this song and I was like, What? She wrote "All I Want For Christmas Is You" AND "Where Are You, Christmas?", two songs that get so much much air time during the Christmas season on the radio? How could I not know about this? Wow, she really is the Queen of Christmas songs. Also, why doesn't she sing that song for the movie soundtrack? Look, I love Faith Hill and I think she does a great job with the song, but aren't you going to go for the bigger name? So I did some more research and found more information. So the song Cindy Lou sings is just a little bit different than the Faith Hill power ballad. (You know, kind of like Elton John's version of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" is different than the movie's version). From what I gather, the song Cindy Lou sings is "Christmas, Why Can't I Find You?" and that version was written by James Horner. It sounds like Mariah was a co-writer on the radio version, along with Will Jennings. The song is pretty similar to the one in the movie, but has more lyrics and some of them have been changed. Mariah was supposed to sing it, but couldn't because of some legal thing with her ex-husband at the time. Oh, man, now I want to hear her version! But I really do like the Faith Hill version!

To get to Whoville from his mountaintop home, the Grinch uses a chute system. This makes sense when he's going down, but when he's going UP? How is that possible? I guess they just needed a quick way to get the Grinch (and later, Cindy Lou) up and down the hill. I want to say he visits Whoville three different times. 

Cindy Lou has been doing some research to try to find out why the Grinch hates Christmas so much. She interviews these two old ladies who adopted him. We find out that Who children are brought to their parents in flying bassinets.We get two adult jokes within the span of sixty seconds when we see a father receive his new baby and tell his wife that their new kid looks a lot like her boss, then we see a bunch of Whos at the annual Christmas party and they're throwing keys in a bowl and I don't think it's because they don't want anyone driving home drunk...the two ladies tell Cindy Lou that Baby Grinch was still outside when the party was over, so they took him home. I guess he was never claimed by a parent. Baby Grinch reminded me of the baby from that '90s TGIF show, Dinosaurs. You know, "Not the mama!" or whatever it was he said. The two ladies (not sure if they were lesbians or sisters who never married and lived together or what their deal was) tell Cindy Lou they raised him like any other child, "with a deep love for Christmas." Well, there's your problem right there. His expectations on Christmas were probably way too high! 

She also interviews Martha May and the Mayor (Jeffrey Tambor) who were both in the Grinch's class in grade school. Even though Martha was the girlfriend of Augustus (the kid who would become the Mayor), she has a crush on the Grinch. Mind you, they're all eight, so that's kind of weird. I did laugh when Martha, talking to Cindy Lou, says, "Did I have a crush on the Grinch? Well, of course not" and Cindy Lou replies, "I didn't ask you that." Young Augustus tells young Grinch concerning young Martha: "You don't have a chance with her. You're eight years old and have a beard." I mean, good for him for not mentioning he stands out because he's green, I guess. The class is having a Christmas exchange where they're suppose to give a gift to someone special. The Grinch (does he even have a first name or does he just go by that "The Grinch" moniker?) makes an ornament thingofabob for Martha. He also decides to shave that day and it didn't go so well, so he's wearing a paper bag over his head. His teacher makes his remove it and everyone in the class -including the teacher - laughs at him. Everyone, but Martha. The Grinch has a few pieces of tissues to cover his scabs. It's understandable his fellow classmates are laughing at him because kids suck, but the teacher? Yeah, she sucks the most. This whole event is the catalyst for making the Grinch hate Christmas. He becomes super angry and he smashes the ornament he made and he throws the class Christmas tree out the window and basically becomes a mini Hulk (you know, since he's green and all). 

This Christmas in Whoville marks the 1,000th Whobilation where they will nominate someone to be the Holiday Cheermeister at a town Christmas party. To be honest, I wasn't clear if the Whobilation was when they nominated somebody or when they had the party where they announced the Holiday Cheermeister. On their way to hear the nominations, Cindy Lou tells her dad she might do something drastic and she does when the Mayor announces it's time to hear the nominations "for that Who among us who best typifies the qualities of Who-dom and Who-dery, the Whoville Holiday Cheermeister." Cindy Lou is the first one to speak and comes of out nowhere saying, "I nominate the Grinch." It gave me a "I volunteer as tribute" vibe from The Hunger Games. The Mayor is trying to tell Cindy Lou that the Grinch can't be nominated per The Book of Who, but Cindy isn't having any of it. She tells him, "The book says the Cheermeister is the one who deserves a backslap or a toast. And it goes to the soul at Christmas who needs it the most." She believes that would be the Grinch and everyone in attendance claps along in agreement and the Mayor has to go along with the nomination. So I guess only one nomination can be given? 

So interesting fashion tidbit I want to point out in this scene: both Cindy Lou and her mother are adorning a glass of egg nog on their head with a ( fake) candy cane. The eggnog is quite real because it's sloshing around. 

Cindy Lou pays the Grinch a visit and convinces him to come to the celebration where he'll win an award. He's late getting there, but just when they're about to give the award to someone else, he show up claiming he was promised he would get an award and a check, but Cindy denies that last part. He's reunited with his "two old biddies" and it's pretty funny, despite a little cold when he asks them, "Are you two still living?" (I guess it's a legitimate question since they were both pretty old when he was a baby!) After being dressed in a sweater with the words "I [heart] Xmas" on top of a Christmas tree, he is put in the Chair of Cheer and is the judge of a pudding contest, the Fudge Judge, judge of Fruitcake La La La (God, I would throw up having to eat all that food and I think pudding would be the worst!), he leads the Christmas conga and wins the Santa sack race. By the end, he seems to actually be having a good time and the Whos have seemed to accept him. But of course we know we're still waiting for the big scene where he's going to steal Christmas, so something's gotta happen here to ruin everything. It does when the Mayor is about to give the award he was promised. Instead of receiving a plaque or a trophy, the Mayor presents him with "the gift of a Christmas shave" and gives him a razor. This makes everyone (except Cindy Lou and her family and Martha, of course) laugh at him. To make matters worse, the Mayor decides to choose this moment to propose to Martha. He makes this like a game show, telling her if she accepts being his wife, she'll also win a brand new car and she has "twenty second on the clock" to make her decision. Before Martha can give him an answer, the Grinch scrapes the car with his fingernail and tells the Whos the only thing they care about are material possessions and that it all ends up in his garbage anyway. (All the town's garbage ends up near his home). 

He causes havoc in Whoville by shaving the Mayor's hair right in the center of his head and sets the town Christmas tree on fire. All the other Whos are going crazy trying to run away and crashing their cars into each other. The Grinch says, "Oh, the Whomanity", which, honestly, I didn't get the joke util I watched it with the subtitles on. He tries to hail a taxi that won't stop and calls after it, "It's because I'm green, isn't it?" Yeah, the movie went there. He does end up stealing a small car that is being driven by smaller Whos. They run away when they see he's about to sit on them. 

I think this would be a good time to stop and talk about the Whos and how....weird they look. We know from the book and the animated TV special the Whos have a distinct look; they have that Dr. Seuss character look. The actors in the movie are wearing prosthetic chins or noses to give them that particular look and it just looks weird. I do think they did a good job with giving them crazy hair styles. Like I mentioned before, they wear glasses of eggnog as hair ornaments and later, we will see Betty Lou wearing peppermint candies in her hair like hair rollers. The only people who don't wear prosthetics are the young kids (because, as we learn later, they "grow into their noses") or Martha May, who is supposed to be the Beautiful One. (I guess the Grinch can't have a crush on her if she doesn't look like the other Whos?) Also, in the book and animated special, we know that Whos come in all shapes and sizes. The way they did it in the movie is really creepy and unsettling. Instead of casting little people to play the smaller-size Whos (and maybe they did and I didn't notice), they take regular size people and use that trick photography to make them smaller than the other Whos. I don't know, the end product just looks really weird and creepy. It would be like walking around with people who are the size of Barbie dolls; that's what they looked like. 

So now we get to the part that's actually from the TV special and the only scene I remember from this movie (well, I do remember the flashback to when he was a kid): when he hatches his plan to dress up as Santa and sneak into Whoville and steal all their presents and stockings and food. A turkey he takes from a fridge looks so fake; it has that plastic sheen on it like that fake plastic food kids play with. When he's at Cindy Lou's house, she comes down and sees "Santa" stealing the tree and he makes up a lie that he's taking it to fix a light and he'll bring it right back. This tree is super ugly with what appears to be globs of cotton balls place sporadically around it. As Cindy Lou is going back to bed, she tells him, "Santa, don't forget the grinch. I know he's mean and hairy and smelly....but I think he's actually kind of sweet." So....surely she knows that's the Grinch right? He didn't exactly disguise his green body. She's just saying that to soften the Grinch's heart (which it does, if only for a few seconds). When she goes back to bed, the Grinch says, "Nice kid, bad sense of character."

So the next morning the Whos wake up to their Christmas being gone (now would have been a good time for Cindy Lou to sing "Where Are You, Christmas?") and they're all sad that all their presents are gone. They immediately know that the Grinch is the culprit. The Mayor is furious when he tells the crowd, "You chose to listen to a little not-to-be-taken-seriously girl", referring to Cindy Lou, then shames the young girl when he tells her, "I hope you're very proud of what you've done." Geeze, what a jerk. However, Cindy Lou's father comes to her defense and tells everyone that he's proud of his daughter and that he's glad the Grinch took their gifts, which causes everyone to gasp. He tells them, "You can't hurt Christmas because it isn't about the gifts or the contests or the fancy lights. That's what Cindy's been trying to tell everyone." He says as long as he has his family, he has everything he needs. Soon, everyone is nodding in agreement and they start singing and they're all happy and have forgotten their troubles. While all of this is going on, Cindy Lou decides to visit the Grinch who is planning to push the sleigh with a huge bag full of all the stuff he stole all the down the mountain to crash into the Whos. He hears them singing and sees them being happy without their gifts. The singing causes his heart to grow three times bigger, yada, yada, yada, you know the rest. 

When he returns to Whoville with Cindy and all the presents he stole, he does apologize for what he did. However, when Martha chooses that moment to break up with the Mayor and confess her love to the Grinch, he pretty much rubs it in the Mayor's face, though I guess he did deserve that. I did laugh when the Grinch joins hands with the rest of the Whos as they're singing and he doesn't know the words, so he's just making them up. 

A few other thing before I wrap (huh, is that a Christmas pun?) up: Anthony Hopkins narrates the story. I believe every word he says is taken straight from the book. 

While I think most movies that take place during Christmas are quite beautiful, this movie is just really asthetically ugly to look at. Yes, there's a lot of red and greens, but there's also other colors mixed in there and there's something hazy about the screen. It just doesn't look right. Skip this movie and watch the 1966 version instead. Show your kids that version instead; you know they'll like it better. The three words that best describe this movie are, and I quote, "Stink, stank, stunk!" (Yeah, that jab was too easy!) 

1 comment:

  1. We get our first interaction between the Grinch and Cindy Lou when he's sneaked into the sorting room at the post office and has messed up all the mail.
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