Audiences will feel like their own hearts are two sizes too large at the end of this wonderful sugarplum of a movie.
Based, of course, on the classic Christmas story by Dr. Seuss, this is the story of a Christmas-hating Grinch who tries to steal Christmas from the Christmas-loving Whos by taking all of their presents and decorations. But they and he realize that Christmas is in their hearts, not under their trees. The movie seamlessly expands the story to let us explore Whoville and its residents and to tell us just how the Grinch came to hate Christmas in the first place. Both are sheer delight.
Whoville, as imagined by production designer Michael Corenblith, is the most breathtakingly magical setting since Dorothy landed in Munchkinland. Every detail of the town is perfectly Seuss-ian. The structures suspend the laws of gravity, with no stright lines or right angles. Instead, there are a fantastic series of archways, bridges, stairs and spirals. Whoville clothes and hairstyles echo these shapes and then are topped with candy canes, cups of hot chocolate, and frosted cookies.
Jim Carrey and the Grinch were made for each other. In a miracle of costume and make-up design and an even bigger miracle of acting, Carrey’s extraordinarily expressive face and body make the Grinch seem hilarious, touching, and a little scary all at the same time. Newcomer Taylor Momsen, as Cindy Lou-Who, is adorable without being sugary. She confesses to having her own doubts about Christmas. She can tell that the Grinch is lonely and hurt, and much less scary than he would like to appear. Just as the Grinch is less grouchy than he would like us to believe, Cindy Lou is less sweet than the Whos want to think they are. It turns out that both of them know more about the Christmas spirit than anyone else in Whoville.
The settings and costumes and the Grinch himself are so mesmerizing that it would be easy to miss the rest of the cast, but Bill Irwin as Cindy Lou’s harried mailman father, Jeffrey Tambor as the vain mayor, and Christine Baranksi as a Who with Christmas decorations that would make Martha Stewart gnash her teeth in envy all make vivid impressions. The script has some clever lines, including a parody of the film’s director (former “Andy Griffith Show” star Ron Howard) and a dig at those who say that “kids today are desensitized by movies and television.” Another of the movie’s great joys is hearing Anthony Hopkins reads Seuss’ words the way we have always heard them in our hearts.
Parents should know that the movie is rated PG for brief crude humor (the Grinch tricks another character into kissing a dog’s rear end) and comic peril. The movie may be too intense and overwhelming for children under 6 or 7. The movie’s one major drawback is the near-absence of people of color in Whoville, unfathomable and unforgivable. Families that do not celebrate Christmas may also have some concerns about the movie.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it is so easy to forget the simple pleasures of the winter holidays, and how damaging it can be to peoples’ feelings to tease them about being different. The Grinch often does things that he thinks will make him feel better. Do they work? Do they help him forget his loneliness? Why not? Why doesn’t being bad feel as good as you might think?
Families who enjoy this movie should also see the classic animated version, with the unforgettable voice performance of Boris Karloff and the song (briefly reprised in this movie) “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”