My original thought here was to do the first motion picture version of Dr. Suess’ 1957 classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! which aired on television in 1966. That is less than a half hour long, thus not making it a movie. Since Cameron had already reviewed the apparent debacle that is 2018’s The Grinch, I decided to go with today’s film, the 2000 iteration of How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Jim Carey as the title creature. These more modern adaptations only serve to underscore how much better is the source material. This fact was driven home for me today when I viewed on YouTube Honest Trailer’s rendering of the film, which reminded me that Dr. Suess’ book is only sixty odd pages long. Like making three movies out of J. R. R. Tolkein’s diminutive (no pun intended) The Hobbit, what we do these days with thinly told, yet beloved tales goes beyond squeezing whatever we can out of them. Then again, creative license is such that moviemakers are entitled to do whatever they like with the material they utilize. And to be fair, there are worse movies out there than this one.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas takes place on a snowflake, somehow, where there exists the town of Whoville. Its residents, the Whos, love celebrating Christmas more than anything else. Their entire existence revolves around the holiday. They sing and carry on about their hopes and expectations with a din that reaches all the way up Mount Crumpit to the one denizen who does not share their enthusiasm: the Grinch. Always looking for an opportunity to spoil their cheer, he sneaks down to their post office where the flood of Christmas packages are being sorted. One of the Whos going through these items is Lou Lou Who (Bill Irwin), who is being visited at work by his daughter Cindy Lou (Taylor Momsen). She sees the greediness of her fellow residents of Whoville, who all seem to think that the holiday is solely about getting gifts rather than developing relationships and being kind to one another. Her feelings are reinforced when she has an encounter with the Grinch, and she witnesses the way they treat him like a monster. Curious, she decides to interview people in town to find out why the Grinch lives apart and is so despised. Kermit the Frog once said that being green is not easy, and that seems to apply to the Grinch. He had grown up in Whoville, but after being repeatedly bullied as a child, decided to leave the town behind for the mountain. Cindy Lou believes him to be mistreated, and makes the trek up the slopes to convince the Grinch to come to town peacefully and make friends. Her cute persistence eventually wears down the Grinch. He arrives in time for their annual naming of the “Christmas Cheermeister,” for which Cindy Lou nominates the Grinch. This is much to the horror of the mayor of Whoville, Bully Augustus MayWho (Jeffrey Tambor), who had been one of the Whos that had made fun of the young Grinch. Because he expected to receive the reward now going to the Grinch, the mayor then attempts to give his adversary an electric razor. This brought back memories of all the teasing the Grinch had endured, the last straw of which involved him feeling like he needed to shave as a child. Enraged, the Grinch uses the supposed gift to shave the mayor’s head, and torches the town’s Christmas tree before returning to his mountain lair. Once there, he plots further revenge, wanting to take everything from them they hold dear. He then returns to town in the middle of the night, sneaking into each of the Who houses and taking everything they have associated with Christmas. When the Whos awake the next morning, it is to moans of sorrow when they come down to living rooms bereft of Christmas cheer and, worst of all, presents. The mayor initially wants to blame Cindy Lou. Doing so, though, proves to Lou Lou what his daughter had been advocating the whole time: that the holiday should be more about being together than handing each other material items. This argument seems to sway the rest of the distraught Whos, and they all begin to sing Christmas carols. Atop Mount Crumpit, the Grinch had been waiting for the Whos to gather and hear their screams of horror in having their favorite holiday ruined. He was going to take that opportunity to launch the sled and large sack full of their gifts down at them. Instead, he is knocked to the ground in shock that he had not actually succeeded. Their songs reach his ears, and, as the saying in the film goes, his heart grew three sizes that day. From that point on, the Grinch is welcomed in Whoville, and they all live happily ever after.
I can identify in some respects with the title character in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Bullying is something that causes its victims to want to withdraw from society. From kindergarten through to the fourth grade, I sat alone at lunch because nobody wanted to be around me. These experiences leave scars that only God can see and heal. Christmas is a wonderful time for such undertakings, and I can see a parallel to this when the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes. Our hearts, in the figurative sense, is where Jesus resides. The days leading up to Christmas are meant to be a time when we spiritually prepare that place once more for the Son of God. Unfortunately, like the bustling Whos, we seem to spend most of that time looking for gifts and worrying about the size of our Christmas tree or the lights on the outside of the house. These are all exterior expressions of things that have their root in the true meaning of the holiday. We give gifts not because we want to materially improve the lot of our loved ones, but because it is an expression of the gift of eternal life God gave the world. As such, there is nothing we will receive on December 25th that we can take with us to Heaven. When we face our judgement, how many presents we gave or received will not be taken into account. Rather, we will be assessed on how we lived our lives. Cindy Lou captures the essence of this spirit, if not in exact word.
I was surprised when I saw that Ron Howard directed How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The tendency is to look at him as a more serious-minded director. And then there is Jim Carey. When you put the two of them together, it could have been a recipe for disaster. Yet, I would not give this movie that title. Trust me, I am as tired of Jim Carey antics as the next person. At the same time, there is enough of a heart here to make the film watchable for this Catholic reviewer.