Rated PG - Running Time: 1:38 - Released 11/17/00

After flirting with quasi-serious roles over the last few years, Jim Carrey returns to his high-energy, high-impact, heavy make-up, bouncing-off-the-walls comic schtick in Ron Howard's How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a tribute to the classic book and TV special about those non-human Christians, the Whos, by the legendary children's author Ted Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. Carrey is in top form, and although the screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (the team behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Wild Wild West) adds some questionable, character-changing material to the story, and Howard's directing and all the supporting performances are designed basically to just stay out of Carrey's way, it's still a hysterically funny film.

Narrated almost directly out of the book by the disembodied voice of Anthony Hopkins and featuring a host of actors made up in freakish Who style, Grinch begins with some backstory involving the Grinch's past in Whoville, in which he is played by 8-year-old Josh Ryan Evans. This section culminates with a return to the present, when the Grinch is nominated for this year's "Christmas Cheermeister" by little Cindy-Lou Who (Taylor Momsen). Though everyone from the town's mayor (Jeffrey Tambor) to Cindy-Lou's parents (Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon) to the Grinch himself is surprised and shocked by the girl's suggestion, Cindy-Lou explains that it is in the spirit of Christmas that everyone forgive and forget. After traveling to the Grinch's home at the top of Mount Crumpit, she convinces him to attend, reminding him of the lasting affection held for him by his old flame, the stylish and beautiful Martha May Who-vier (Christine Baranski). Things go well (and hilariously) at first, but a dubious gift from the mayor brings back an old grudge, and the Grinch goes on a rampage, destroying most of the town's decorations before returning home.

From this point on, the film follows the original story, with the Grinch plotting to stop Christmas altogether, creeping into town under cover of night using his unwilling dog Max as a makeshift reindeer, and stealing everything — only to realize at morning's light that the lack of material possessions has not altered the Whos' celebration at all.

Howard and his writers have made some interesting choices in bringing one of the most well-known American Christmas cartoons to life on the big screen. It is clear that without Jim Carrey, this film would go nowhere; the entire structure of the film is designed to showcase his off-the-wall style (and it does so effectively), but there are times when it seems like a lot of footage is being devoted to just that, allowing him to prance around and act silly for 5, 10, 15 minutes at a time...without moving the plot forward one iota. Also, the characters are somewhat different. The original Grinch (and Boris Karloff's TV interpretation) was just plain evil, but in this version, he gets flustered by attention, he tries to please, he gets hurt feelings — he just seems much more, um . . . Who-man. The real villain here is the mayor, who plots to regain the town's affections for himself while the Grinch and Cindy-Lou watch horrified at the materialism around them. Purists may find these alterations of character unsettling, but Carrey works much better as a bumbling nice-guy at heart than a true villain.

The make-up is quite astounding in this film, as one would expect; I will be surprised if Toni G (department head), Kazuhiro Tsuji (Grinch make-up), Rick Baker (special effects makeup), and their staff are not nominated for Oscars all around. While the Grinch himself is padded, furry, and caked with even more green paste than he wore in The Mask, the Whos are almost frightening in their appearance, with their faces pinched forward and their noses built up like that of holiday-bedecked rodents. The set for Whoville is also impressive, as is the music, featuring the classic number "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" sung by Carrey himself.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas could possibly be renamed How Jim Carrey Stole The Grinch, but his performance is so hysterical, and Howard's direction so appreciative of that, that all can be forgiven. That is the spirit of Christmas, after all. ****½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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