- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

One and 1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas"

RATING: PG (fleeting comic vulgarity and ominous illustrative details)

CREDITS: Directed by Ron Howard

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

''Not working," Jim Carrey fumes as the Christmas-hating Grinch, as he attempts to drown out sounds of a Christmas-loving Whoville.

This peevish remark has a boomerang relevance to the movie wherein he utters it. An all too lavish, consistently misguided labor of love, the remake titled "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" emerges as a rattletrap of a whimsical superspectacle, so dependent on illustrative padding and conspicuous overproduction that it more or less strangles the source material in costly, confectionary solicitude.

Blowing the Dr. Seuss holiday fable out of proportion also has the odd effect of contradicting the moral of the tale, which affirms the benevolent integrity of Christmas.

The reclusive, spoilsport Grinch sabotages all the festive or acquisitive trappings of the season, but it doesn't provide him with malicious gratification.

This cartoon crank is forced to relent when he realizes that the Whoville villagers seem intent on rejoicing in Christmas despite the loss of decorations, presents and provisions. The movie foolishly epitomizes the spirit of a commercially suffocating and stupefying Christmas. Grotesquely out of proportion, it has no respect for humble sentiments or economical means of expression.

This live-action remake of "Grinch" is every bit as superfluous as the recent update of "The Miracle on 34th Street." The live-action remake of "101 Dalmatians" probably set the crucial bad example, because audiences failed to reject it.

One also might point to the animated travesty of "The King and I" as an example of blundering in the opposite direction: It abused the spirit of an admirable live-action prototype.

Evidently, we aren't about to see the end of defective tinkering with fondly remembered and exploitable titles.

The Chuck Jones animated version of "Grinch," a holiday special for television in 1966, was essentially an illustrated reading of the Dr. Seuss book, with Boris Karloff as both narrator and the voice of the Grinch, who was not a motormouth at that time. Mr. Jones used a simple but playful cartoon style that harmonized with the book's illustrations.

The two songs written for the half-hour TV show proved more effective than the tentative ditties scattered around Ron Howard's feature.

Mr. Jones even perceived the virtue of letting Mr. Karloff articulate Dr. Seuss' trickiest nonsense words, a jest that somehow vanishes from Jim Carrey's dialogue, which turns into more of an impersonation contest. Who's he doing now? W.C. Fields? James Cagney as the captain in "Mr. Roberts"? Sean Connery? An angry FDR? Richard Nixon?

Mr. Carrey sustains a feat of some kind while capering and mugging in Rick Baker's Grinch suit, admirably contrived in certain respects, especially the flexibility of the facial mask when the Grinch needs to flash his biggest sneaky grins.

Mr. Carrey certainly has his moments. I especially liked the way he ripped up a T-shirt and posed with a tablecloth as an impromptu skirt.

The disguise doesn't immobilize him as much as one might have feared, especially after enduring Dustin Hoffman as Steven Spielberg's Captain Hook. But as a movie fantasy, "Grinch" proves almost as ponderous and mirthless as "Hook." If there's any reason for indulging the picture, it's Jim Carrey, but he isn't nimble enough to carry all its misguided trappings.

Mr. Howard and his designers run smack into the forms of disillusion that also made the live-action Flintstone farces heavy sledding.

Mr. Baker has been allowed to mutate the residents beyond anything Dr. Seuss appeared to suggest. There are so many protruding snouts and snub noses that you fear the handiwork of a crazed doctor. Whoville resembles the alpine village of Dr. Moreau.

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