Growing up, one of my favourite Christmas movies was the 2000 live-action adaptation of Dr Seuss’ beloved Yule tale How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Seeing Jim Carrey embody the holiday hating green creature who cursed the Whos of Whoville was a yearly tradition that always made me smile. However, after recently re-watching the fantasy movie, my nostalgia had to face reality – How the Grinch Stole Christmas isn’t the festive classic I always thought it was.
That’s right. Unfortunately, my 11-year old self’s judgement wasn’t always sound – shocking, I know. While the film isn’t bad, and there are plenty of jokes that still make us laugh today, there are multiple things about How the Grinch Stole Christmas that make it unsettling, and at times a drag to watch instead of a staple holiday film for the whole family. Directed by Ron Howard, the movie is based on the 1957 book of the same name, and to this day, stands as the only cinematic live-action adaptation of the story.
For anyone unfamiliar with the tale of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the comedy movie centres around a green outcast named The Grinch. Looking down at literally everyone from his cave on top of Mount Crumpit, The Grinch hates Christmas and all the Whos in Whoville who celebrate it. His dedicated loathing leads him to form a wicked plan one Christmas eve – dress up as Santa and steal all of the Whos’ presents, ornaments, and destroy the sickly sweet holiday once and for all.
The Grinch didn’t have a backstory to his Christmas theft in the ’60s animated movie of the story or in Dr Seuss’ original children’s book that inspired Howard’s movie. The book itself describes the Grinch’s relationship with the holiday as the following:
“The Grinch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season. Now please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be perhaps that his shoes were too tight, but I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”
The Grinch is simply a mean spirited creature who – like Scrooge in a Christmas Carol – eventually learns the true meaning of the giving season by the end of the story and sees the value of community. It’s a simple plot that is basically a formula for a Christmas classic on a silver platter. But if you try to stretch it out into an hour and 45 minutes, give the Grinch a backstory and incorporate some strange horror movie camera work – things can go wrong even with Jim Carrey as your leading man.
In the 2000s movie, we see a break in Dr Seuss’ straightforward and loveable plot ( its first mistake). The film shows a young Who named Cindy Lou, who tries to get Grinch to come down from his hideout in Mount Crumpit after discovering his tragic past – which involved him being bullied at school and a specific incident with his crush that turned him off from the holiday completely.
However, this bullying backstory doesn’t garner much sympathy considering how the Grinch burns down trees, steals everything, and causes car crashes in the PG movie. Yes, he had a tough life, but his actions are still too extreme for us to consider him a decent person – as the film keeps suggesting.
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Well, try as Howard might, you can’t make the Grinch likeable in two hours; in fact, the long runtime of this movie highlights just how unlikable the character truly is. Watching lengthy flashbacks and Cindy Lou trying to humanise the Grinch is tiring and, as we said, doesn’t work at all. It also strips the fun and villainous charm of the Grinch that makes the character so distinctive in the first place. The character is meant to be nasty and mean to his core.
Dr Seuss himself even said, “now please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason,” because you don’t need context for the Grinch’s mindset. In fact, it is better if there isn’t any in the first place. At the end of the story, his shift in sentiment is designed to hit harder as it shows that the spirit of Christmas is strong enough to make a perpetual grouch happy. This vital point of the original plot is missed entirely in the 2000 version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The final points that make the 2000s Grinch miss that ‘Christmas classic’ mark has to do with its tone. The film on a re-watch is dark and is evidently confused about who its target audience is. The camera is constantly moving, making it disorienting to watch. There are also various strange uses of Dutch angles – you know that camera technique used to portray psychological unease and tension. The Whos’ noses are unsettling and a bit nightmarish.
The editing is bizarre at points, such as the floating head of the Grinch spinning and laughing as he robs houses. And finally, hearing a verbose script with the six-year-old Cindy Lou Who saying the word Superfluous in the first 20 minutes of the kids movie – it all just doesn’t quite fit together.
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What made me love this film as a kid was Jim Carrey. Let’s be honest, he was the perfect casting for the part of the Grinch, and all of his comedic bits made even my cynical adult scrooge self laugh out loud. But as hilarious and perfect for the part as he may be, he just can’t save Christmas in the Whoville of my heart.
From box-office standards, the classic status of How the Grinch Stole Christmas should be a slam dunk. It is the third highest-grossing holiday movie of all time and the second most successful Dr Seuss adaptation after the 2018 animated movie The Grinch, where Benedict Cumberbatch voices the green grump.
However, numbers aside, this version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas just isn’t on the same level as other firm classics like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Gremlins or The Nightmare Before Christmas – as much as it pains me to admit it after a long childhood of adamant Grinch devotion.