Some things are just not meant to be live action. Dr Seuss must have been rolling in his grave as his second wife sold the film rights of his Christmas hit to Universal Pictures, who then ran with the idea that live action was the way to re-imagine these beloved children's books. They would begin the Dr Seuss cinematic universe and fill their films with big name comedic stars to draw in audiences. They would stretch 30 page picture books into bloated, overstuffed feature length films. They would replace the simple, economical illustrations of the original with grotesque costumes and lurid colour schemes (Bo Welch, the director of The Cat in the Hat, began his career as a production designer in Tim Burton films such as Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, and copy and pasted the same eye-popping style into his own film). Gone was the playful bounce of the Seuss rhymes; a dark menace replaces the atmosphere hanging over Whosville as Christmas approaches.
The town was once a circle of warmth and generosity, until a Christmas ghoul by the name of Ron Howard came along and turned it into the capital of greed and consumerism. The film takes something well meaning and good hearted and turns it into a garish toyland to serve its extended plot. Given the challenge of forcing a hour plus long conflict from a picture book, the script turns the story on its head - it was actually the Grinch who was the original victim, a case of schoolyard bullying, and the Whos who become the villains. Seeing the makeup of these Whos, it's hard not to agree - they've taken quaint cartoon figures and replaced them with life sized humanoids sporting button noses that make them look like some god-forsaken pig-dog mutation out of a secret government lab. Perhaps Howard realised that such monstrosity could not be the heart of the film; no wonder the most innocent of all the Whos, precocious little six year old Cindy Lou, never has to sit in that makeup chair. Her character must over-correct for all the Who buffoonery with a cloying sweetness that by now has become a holiday cliche. If you didn't hate Christmas like the Grinch does during the opening credits, you just might after a little girl keeps popping up to shove tinsel and mince pie in your face.
Creepy as the Whos are, they are no match for the real antagonist of the story, the eponymous green Grinch who lives up in the mountains and is revered as a Christmas legend. The script's attempts to humanise him this time around via flashback only serve to make audiences recoil further; his junior form is propped up on the school chair like a creepy puppet, forced sympathy engineered on strings. His adult self isn't the Grinch. It's Jim Carrey in a green fur suit, with a transatlantic-Connery-esque growl thrown in for good measure. Maybe executives were drawn to the manic energy of a Carrey, of a Myers. They thought they could ride on the screen power of these comic icons and then slap on a Seuss label. Carrey is aggressively twisted, and not in a good way. One could barely stand the sight of him with a pot belly and nothing else (clothing for his bottom half is optional, apparently), gyrating and sashaying all over the place. Seeing him fidget and snarl, seeing him shove those hairy pipe cleaners he calls fingers into his nostrils and crunch beer bottles with his fangs, we can see this isn't the mischievous fiend that Seuss envisioned. This is our drunk uncle in a creepy Halloween costume, belching all the way into December.
Getting Carrey allows them a little mileage for a few elongated action sequences, if only to further press the point that everything the Grinch touches turns to disaster (the camera assumes the position of some drunk bird that can't stop tilting its head). It's too bad that most of this action mimics the same juvenile trash that belongs in cheap sitcoms. You know, crotch humour, exaggerated slapstick, Grinch getting catapulted right into a woman's cleavage, or pinning mistletoe on his behind. Most of it is pitched at a juvenile level but actually aimed at adults; kids won't recognise the Chariots of Fire theme, or register any of his extended stand-up monologues (to himself), and when Carrey winks and talks right into the camera it's just another gag ("And this time I'll keep it off."). They've never seen the Chuck Jones cartoon anyway, for comparison. I'm actually impressed at how atrocious this adaptation is. It takes a great deal of talent and incompetence to turn a cartoon classic into this gaudy, useless trinket. Is there any upside? Well, at least it isn't as bad as The Cat in the Hat.