There’s a lot you can say about Doctor Seuss. The worlds in his books are creative, his works have inspired a generation of kids, and as far as adaptations go, they have a breed of notoriety to them. Movies like “The Cat and the Hat,” “The Lorax,” and others have been panned by critics and are popular among meme and internet circles. But the live action “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” seems to be the least panned movie. I had fond memories of watching this at my grandparent’s house when I was a kid. I would get most of the second act. But as I got older and obsessed with the Nostalgia Critic, I became more critical towards it. But as I’ve gotten older and discovered better critics, I thought it would be best to come back to this movie from my childhood.
As the classic story says, “Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot. But the Grinch (played here by Jim Carrey) did not.” After a chance encounter with the green curmudgeon, Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) becomes interested in knowing why he’s the way he is. After interviewing other Whos, including Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski) and Mayor Augustus Maywho (Jeffrey Tambor). She learns that the Grinch’s animosity for Christmas spurred from being ostracized and rejected during a class Christmas party. Despite that, she tries to invite him to the Holiday Whobilation. After that goes awry, the story follows the rest of the beats of the classic Dr. Seuss book.
Most of the cast does an average job here. The Whos have their personalities that fit them well. As child actors go, Taylor Momsen does a solid job and brings an authentic performance to Cindy Lou Who; she wants to see the best in everyone and captures the Christmas spirit. Jeffrey Tambor plays the Mayor as an asshole in a way that allows for him to chew the scenery akin to Thomas F. Wilson’s Biff Tannen in “Back to the Future Part II.” But his scene chewing is nothing compared to Jim Carrey as the Grinch. Carrey brings his high energy that comes with the all of his performances. Not a scene goes by where Jim Carrey is at his A-Game and having the time of his life.
Like many modern retellings of Dr. Seuss, most of the movie is padded with subplots and backstory to increase the running time. Here, however, doesn’t feel as egregious as movies like “The Cat in the Hat.” The subplots add more to the story and reveal more about the characters, and the subtext condemning the Whos’ obsession with materialism with the actual meaning of Christmas in being together with loved ones.
Dr. Seuss’ work has always been synonymous with zany designs and highly creative aesthetics; and that style can been seen in this movie. While the color pallet feel drab for a movie based off a children’s classic, the design of Whoville and the Grinch’s lair are creative. Every scene has sets that seem like they would have been in the background of the beloved children author’s illustrations.
While I enjoy the 1966 animated special a little bit more, this version stands well on its own. The cast does a solid job, with Jim Carrey being a joy to watch. The design feels like something from Seuss’ work and the padding for the time doesn’t feel like filler. And it may be the nostalgia talking, but the charm eleven-year-old me had for it still shines in this film.