This article is part of The Daly Planet Presents: The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies, a daily series leading up to Christmas Eve 2015. To see all other entries click here.
I expected to hate Jim Carrey’s The Grinch. My impression before viewing it was that it was merely another exploitation of beloved iconography for quick cash (Nostalgic property + superstar actor + rated G = $$$$$).
What I forgot to factor into my cynical pre-appraisal was Jim Carrey.
Jim Carrey has made a career out of being incredibly fun to watch dancing around like a clown. In fact, Carrey has put more time and effort into the craft and skill of entertainingly dancing around like a clown than Michael Jordan has put into the craft and skill of playing basketball. It’s easy to stop noticing the comedic powers of superstars like Carrey because of his sheer ubiquity. It’s easy to forget that he’s a once-in-a-generation genius as a physical comic, and a world-class actor to boot.
Quite aside from the mirth delivered by Carrey flopping around and making faces, this movie makes a lot of other good choices. The first is to make Cindy Lou Who a main character. In the book, Cindy Lou Who is no more than two, but since Whos are obviously some kind of microscopic insect that breed by releasing clouds of fertilized eggs (see: the explanation of where babies come from in this movie) and live on dust specks (see: Horton Hears a Who), perhaps the Cindy Lou in this movie is actually two in Who-years. This Cindy Lou seems more like a human eight-year-old, and her role is to challenge the lack of cooperation and charity she sees in her community. She takes it upon herself to invite the Grinch, who all the Whos despise, to join in their Christmas celebration.
Actually, let me stop myself there. The plot of this movie is actually pretty complicated. The plot of the original story was that the Grinch hates Christmas for basically no reason, and just up and decides one day that he’s going to ruin it for the Whos. This is a fine plot for a Dr. Suess book or a twenty minute cartoon. A feature-length film will ultimately beg the question as to why the Grinch really hates Christmas, why he lives up on a mountain all by himself.
This movie’s answers for those questions are silly, but they work. The Grinch hates Christmas largely because he tried to be extra-Christmassy once, as a child, and his efforts ended up embarrassing him in front of his crush. The Who who went on to be Mayor of Whoville then rubs it in, establishing him as the antagonist. I wouldn’t have thought that a love triangle would be a plot device that could work at the heart of a Dr. Seuss adaptation, but there you go.
The Grinch then decides to ruin Christmas as a reaction to the Whos (mainly the Mayor, really) embarrassing him a second time, even after he has made himself emotionally vulnerable by accepting Cindy Lou’s invitation. This makes his Christmas-wrecking adventure more of a gleeful act of deserved revenge, rather than the fundamentally unpleasant and unjustified ransacking of Whoville by the book- or cartoon-Grinch.
The emotional climax of the movie occurs when the Mayor is castigating Cindy Lou for ruining Christmas, and Cindy Lou’s father, who has struggled to understand her for much of the film, finally stands up for her (at this point in the writing, there is something in my eye) and tells him, “You can’t hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor.”
Shockingly, the most awkward part of this adaptation is Anthony Hopkins’ narration. He serves the same role as Boris Karloff in reading the actual text of How the Grinch Stole Christmas to the audience, except Hopkins does an almost Christopher Walken-esque reading, emphasizing the wrong words, in the wrong tone altogether. Perhaps the problem is that (1) the Boris Karloff reading is already perfect and cannot be improved upon and (2) I know Hopkins too well from other roles to think of him as the imaginary avuncular narrator of this absurdist story.
Movies like The Grinch are my justification for withholding judgement on films I haven’t seen. A Mighty Morphin Power Rangers reboot could be really good if there are people behind it dedicated to making it work, while a star-studded original picture can still fail to come together. There’s really no telling in advance.
We will leave the metaphysics of why these microscopic arthropods celebrate Christmas for another article.