Universal // 2000 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // October 13th, 2009
Whoville...we have a problem.
Down in Whoville
Liked Christmas a lot...
But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Whoville,
The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small."
Despite the Grinch's (Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) legendary hatred of Christmas, young Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen, Underdog) decides that maybe, just maybe, the old party pooper has a kind heart under all of that green fur. She convinces the Grinch to come down from his ramshackle home on Mount Crumpit and join the Who celebration of Christmas Eve. When Mayor Maywho (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development) humiliates the Grinch in front of his childhood flame Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski, Welcome to Mooseport), the green one retreats to his mountain lair and formulates a plan to stop Christmas from coming at all: With the help of his kind-hearted dog Max, he'll sneak into Whoville under the cover of darkness and dressed as Santa, and he'll steal all of the Christmas presents.
Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13) should have called his movie Chuck Jones' How the Grinch Stole Christmas because it owes more to the famed animation director's 1966 television special than to Dr. Seuss' 1957 children's book. Unfortunately, it does justice to neither work. The screenplay is atrocious, attempting to stretch a thin but thematically resonant story into a movie that goes on and on for an hour and 45 minutes. After over an hour of uninspired Whoville shenanigans and a cookie-cutter backstory involving the Grinch's traumatic childhood, the movie finally gets down the meat of Seuss' story -- the Grinch's Christmas Eve assault on Whoville. By then, any sane audience member has long since checked out.
The problem with the Grinch's backstory (aside from its pop psychological inanity) is that it makes the green humbug too sympathetic too early in the movie. Jeffrey Tambor's Mayor Maywho is pegged as the film's villain from the get-go, while the Grinch is reduced to a bumbling, pitiable buffoon, a Mount Crumpit version of a Mom's basement-dwelling nerd. He's never the least bit menacing, as he is in both Seuss' book and Jones' cartoon. I realize that the source material is a children's book, but Carrey shows no sensitivity to the character whatsoever (or to the fact that, written for children or not, Seuss' book is a classic). Instead, he seems to see the goofy green suit designed by special effects guru Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) as an opportunity to work his standard slapstick shtick, mincing around like a spastic contortionist, dropping pop culture references, and speaking in an inexplicable crook-jawed imitation of Sean Connery. The performance doesn't make a lick of sense except as a shameless act of self-indulgent paycheck collecting on Carrey's part. And I say that as someone who generally enjoys Carrey's work...when he's not talking out of his butt cheeks (and sometimes when he is).
In the audio commentary included on this disc, Ron Howard explains that Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas began as a passion project for producer Brian Grazer. Howard had to be convinced to come on as director, and wasn't initially enthusiastic about the movie. It shows. Not only is the story muddled, but the look of the movie is surprisingly drab considering this is an adaptation of both Seuss' book and Jones' cartoon. With the exception of some green gel lighting inside Mount Crumpit, Howard, cinematographer Donald Peterman (Men in Black), and production designer Michael Corenblith (Frost/Nixon) take a naturalistic approach that results in a Whoville loaded with grays, browns, and flat greens, reds, and blues. The end result on Blu-ray is a 1080p transfer that is reasonably sharp for a movie that's almost a decade old, but is otherwise bland. Black levels are decent but colors are muted. It's a solid transfer of a source that fails to evoke any Seussian whimsy.
On the audio front, we have a DTS-HD 5.1 mix that isn't particularly notable as Blu-ray disc audio mixes go but is noticeably brighter and more detailed than any of the compressed audio formats can deliver. The aforementioned audio commentary by Ron Howard is the same track that appeared on the 2002 Deluxe Edition DVD of the movie. The director is lively and personable. He never runs short on production information and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Frankly, listening to Ron Howard talk about Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas for almost two hours is preferable to actually watching Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The BD's cover prominently touts this two-disc set as a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack, but the DVD is treated about as poorly as the citizens of Whoville treated the Grinch during his childhood. It's tucked into a paper sleeve and stuffed beneath a Universal Blu-ray advertisement insert in the single-disc case.
In addition to the audio commentary, the Blu-ray packs most of the supplements from the 2001 Collector's Edition DVD release of the film (missing are some kids' games, "Wholiday" recipes, a video game trailer, and text-based production notes and cast and crew biographies). "Spotlight on Location" (7:16) is an electronic press kit for the film. "Who School" (5:43) is about the physical training the actors and extras went through to learn how to move like Whos. "Makeup Application and Design" (6:57) covers Rick Baker's make-up effects for both the Grinch and the Whos. "Seussian Set Decoration" (5:16) examines Michael Corenblith's production design. "Visual Effects" (10:50) explores the digital and practical effects created by Kevin Mack. There is also a reel of deleted scenes (9:26), outtakes (3:17), and a music video for Faith Hill's "Where Are You Christmas?" Finally, there's a theatrical trailer for the film. All of the video supplements are presented in standard definition.
The disc is BD-Live enabled, but the feature only leads to trailers for other Universal releases.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a terrible movie. The only way it could be worse is if it was the Mike Myers vanity train wreck adaptation of The Cat in the Hat. The transfer to Blu-ray is mediocre, but even if it was the best high definition presentation I'd ever seen, the movie would still be terrible.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* D-Box Motion Enabled
* DVD Version