But where’s the magic?

Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas

It’s ironic that a movie conveying the message that Christmas is about more than just buying presents needs to employ so much expensive gadgetry – around US$100 million – to get its point across. While Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is certainly entertaining in parts, this contradiction is ultimately the film’s downfall.

The well-worn but well-loved original tale was written by Dr Seuss (aka Theodor S Geisel) in 1957. Soon after, it was turned into a 22-minute cartoon classic, and now, after more than three decades, it’s been expanded upon and audaciously launched onto the big screen by director Ron Howard.

Set in the busy little town of Whoville, the cinematic story begins when a cute little girl called Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen, who does a fine job) gets swept up in the Christmas shopping rush and begins to wonder just what Christmas is supposed to be about.

There’s a kerfuffle when the Grinch (Jim Carrey) is spotted playing games in town, and the townspeople’s fear that the Grinch might be intent on spoiling Christmas leads the curious Cindy Lou to find out more.

She discovers that the Grinch suffered a tormented childhood in Whoville, where his looks and penchant for crunching on crockery kind of set him apart from others. Finally ridiculed once too often while trying to woo the pretty Martha May Whovier (played during adulthood by Christine Baranski) – and at Christmas time, too – the Grinch escapes to live the life of a hermit on nearby Mount Crumpit.

Brave Cindy Lou ventures into the Grinch’s cave to invite him down to town to join in the Christmas celebrations. Although he huffs and puffs and tries to frighten her, she’ll take nothing of it. Finally he relents, but disaster ensues; the film then reverts to the original story, where the Grinch sneaks into town to steal presents and ruin Christmas.

Can Christmas – and the Grinch – be saved?

You won’t be on the edge of your seats during this film, but there are moments of humour provided by Carrey that adults will find mildly amusing. While children might be seduced by the colourful set, they won’t be cheered by it – it’s almost menacing and there’s always far to much peripheral stuff going on.

There are attempts at magic, but in a world of ugly pig-snouted characters they uniformly lack heart. The Grinch himself eventually finds his heart: unfortunately the film doesn’t come close, which is strange indeed in a genre that usually swings way too far in the other direction.

Carrey fans won’t be disappointed. His latex disguise as the green hirsute Grinch isn’t enough to hide the fact that its his comic character beneath; the downside of this, of course, is that those who aren’t Jim Carrey fans will still have to suffer his antics.

Anthony Hopkins narrates competently, but the occasional insertion of Dr Seuss’ poetry seems contrived and superfluous, a mere half-hearted attempt to project some of the story’s original flavour onto the screen. There is, however, an entertaining scene where the Grinch can’t stop talking in rhyme. The occasional shift into musical mode may also make audiences inwardly cringe.

This is a visual assault no less offensive and commercial than that offered in glitzy department store Christmas displays. Yes, it’s a shame that Christmas has turned so commercial; it happened around the time Hollywood did.

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