Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)


“I’m all toasty inside,” says the Grinch when he discovers that Christmas isn’t about presents and toys – but about something else that fills us with joy. That seems to be the aim at least behind this live action retelling of Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s book. The movie, sweet but not cloyingly so, is a fine addition to the Christmas canon, and you may find yourself, like the Grinch, getting leaky and reaching for the tissues by the time the credits roll.

Under the direction of Ron Howard, The Grinch lovingly recreates the world of Whoville, where Christmas reigns eternal. The town is a living mall display, a place of fun house proportions that is perpetually festooned in bright holiday colors. It also buzzes with the frantic energy of Black Friday. The residents of Whoville are serious about their celebrations, and it’s a constant race to buy gifts, decorate the house, and ready themselves for the great Whobilation, a town-wide festival that culminates in the crowning of the year’s Holiday Cheermeister.

It’s all a little too much for six year old Cindy Lou (Taylor Momson). She wonders to her postman dad (Bill Irwin) if the preparations aren’t a tad superfluous (because Dr. Seuss is all about rhymes and SAT vocabulary) and if maybe everyone should slow the heck down. When the Grinch (Jim Carrey) leaves his home in Mt. Crumpit and makes an unexpected appearance in town, she decides to spread some Christmas cheer and invite him as her honored guest at the Whobilation, much to the dismay of Mayor May Who (a perfectly priggish Jeffrey Tambor), who wants to be the center of attention yet again. The Grinch isn’t altogether pleased either. Not only will he have to tear himself away from his miserable hobbies, which include eating glass and yelling into the void, he’ll also have to subject himself to an avalanche of holiday cheer.

Naturally, it would fall into the hands of a child to help the big people rediscover the true Christmas spirit. Momsen is delightful to watch and wonderfully captures Cindy Lou’s wide eyed innocence, a quality that allows her to see past both the superficiality of Whoville’s holiday hustle and bustle and the Grinch’s grumpy attitude. Truths somehow ring truer when delivered by a cherubic child, and the filmmakers exploit this at every turn. I was too busy gobbling up the message of anti-materialism and love and good will to care about the opportunism though.

Besides Momsen, a few actors also put in strong performances. Christine Baranski has a small role as Martha May Whovier, the love interest of both the Mayor and the Grinch, and while she doesn’t have much to say, she has a surprising repertoire of suppressed sighs and sidelong glances. Narrator Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, does get quite a few words in even if he doesn’t appear onscreen. If ever you need to be lulled to sleep by a warm Welsh voice, his is the one. Dr. Seuss has never sounded so melodic and his rhymes so whimsical.

Of course this is really Jim Carrey’s show, and your feelings about the movie may be affected by your tolerance for the actor. Mine is generally low, but perhaps swayed by the film’s message of generosity, I thought he was well suited for the role. Carrey gets away with much of his histrionics because the Grinch makes sense as a snarky meanie who is secretly nursing a traumatic childhood wound. But his hysterical asides can be overbearing and not everyone has the patience for his manic showcase. He really redeems himself and the whole movie with the Grinch’s epiphany, however. It ranks up there as one of my favorite Christmas moments on film, a simple, mostly subdued moment of clarity that immediately fills the heart, both the Grinch’s and your own.

Released: 2000
Alt Title: The Grinch
Prod: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard
Dir: Ron Howard
Writer: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Cast: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard
Time: 104 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016