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DR. SEUSS' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!
Widescreen Collector's Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Molly Shannon, Taylor Momsen, Anthony Hopkins
Director:  Ron Howard
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1 (Full Frame version also available)
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  November 20, 2001

“Well, honey, the Grinch isn’t exactly a Who…he’s more of a…a…”

“A what?”

“Exactly.”

Film ***

Let’s face it…the Grinch has become as much a part of the Holiday season as Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, and Charlie Brown’s pitiful little tree.  Dr. Seuss’ classic book with its rich, vibrant illustrations has enchanted children for decades, and so has the Chuck Jones animated television special, which is arguably the most regularly watched Christmas program year in and year out.

It took a leap of faith to bring this classic to the silver screen in live action form, even if the casting of Jim Carrey as the Grinch was a radiant stroke of brilliance.  Producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard didn’t shy away from the task, and the resulting film, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is a visually inventive take on the classic tale, which, like the Grinch himself, manages to shine through with a true holiday spirit despite the façade of meanness.

In order to make the rather short story fill out a feature length film, we learn some background information on the Grinch we never knew before.  Blown in on a strange wind as a child, he was ridiculed for his green skin and for having a beard at only eight years old.  He had a schoolroom crush on Martha May Whovier (played by Baranski as an adult), but kind of wrecks his chance with her via a bad shaving accident.

So the Grinch grew up to hate the Whos and hate Christmas.  Leering down on them from atop a mountain of garbage, he angrily makes his plans to stop the holiday from coming.

In the original story, the Whos were the embodiment of true Christmas spirit.  In this screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, they actually have a lot to learn about the meaning of the season as well.  Christmas for them is a time of joy, but a time of busy commercialism as well.  Little Cindy Lou Who (a wonderful young Momsen) even wonders “Where Are You Christmas?” and doesn’t understand why even a Grinch should be outcast on the happiest of holidays.

The picture meanders a little bit for its first hour, but then, we get into the real meat of the story…how the Grinch stole Christmas.  Carrey, despite heavy makeup, projects everything the Grinch stands for in a performance of wild exaggeration and complete unrestraint.  His manic energy, set against the astonishing visuals and effects, makes the movie what it is.

The humor is mostly visual, and like one of Universal’s earlier productions, The Flintstones, a lot of it is derived from seeing live action versions of pieces of animation we all know so well…the way the Grinch crawls around on his fingers and toes, for example, or getting stuck in the chimney.  Others are new and welcome surprises.  My favorite bit is an inside joke when the Grinch dons Ron Howard’s cap and begins “directing” his dog Max in his motivations as a reindeer!

The sets, which covered an amazing eleven sound stages, are incredible, and really bring the wonderful, weird world of Dr. Seuss to life.  The film looks like a colorful version of an Expressionist’s good dream.  The colors and visual energies are part of what gives the picture its sense of holiday spirit, despite some of the darker scenes and the early nastiness of the Grinch.  The film was enough to get me ready for Christmas, and made me forget that it’s still a long ways off!  Bah, humbug.

The narration of Anthony Hopkins gives the text a classical air, but doesn’t quite come close to Carrey’s own rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”.  Who among us grownups doesn’t know THAT tune by heart?

All in all, there’s much more about the film that works than doesn’t…a little economical trimming might have brought it closer to highest grade, but no matter.  Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas has enough charm, humor, spirit and visual wonder to become a modern holiday classic.  You can even let your kids sit back and enjoy it while you carve the roast beast.

Video ****

For a film that relies heavily on its visuals, nothing less than the best possible DVD transfer would do, and that’s what Universal gives it with this top quality anamorphic offering.  The picture is a cornucopia of colors that sometimes flow and sometimes clash, but every one is rendered beautifully and accurately, with its own distinct hues and no containment problems.  Detail and sharpness is incredibly good throughout, as not a bit of visual information seems lost, distorted or compromised, either in the foreground or the deep backgrounds.  I noticed no grain or shimmer, nor compression artifacts of any kind, and darker scenes play with as much clarity and integrity as lighter ones.  A full frame version DVD is also available, but trust me…widescreen is the way to go here.  This one’s reference quality all the way!

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack…choice of Dolby Digital or DTS…is an impressive mix, as the film boasts many scenes where front and rear stages open up to accommodate a plethora of action.  Crossovers are smooth, as are pans, and there’s plenty of lively dynamic range created by the best action sequences.  There are stretches of quieter scenes, where the rear channels and the subwoofer lay dormant, leaving the dialogue, music and action on the front stage, but there’s always another big sequence around the corner to liven up the audio again.  High marks.

Features ****

Universal Collector’s Edition discs are always loaded, and this one boasts quite a package.  The featurettes are the best part.  The Spotlight on Location is like a quick summary of the others…if you want detail, you can go to the short pieces on the Who School (visually realizing the original book), the wonderful makeup by Rick Baker, the sets, and the special effects.  There is a music video by Faith Hill for “Where Are You Christmas”, an original trailer (but not the teaser, which was a classic in my book), production notes, and talent files.  There is also a DVS (Descriptive Video Service) track for the visually impaired.

The remaining features are pure fun.  There are some Who recipes for you to try, a collection of “By the Numbers” facts and figures on the making of the film (45 makeup artists working together on the busiest days…whoa!), a promo for a Grinch game, some DVD ROM extras, six deleted scenes (some uncompleted, with blue screens still visible) and a three minute gag reel.  The “Grinch’s Special Offer” is a short promo for Universal Studio’s theme parks in Hollywood and Orlando.

Finally, just for the kids, there’s a section called Max’s Playhouse.  Go there and take part in some sing-alongs and read-alongs with Max the dog, or help create some poems in “Rhyme Time”, or even dress the Grinch in a variety of funny costumes!  There’s even a feature to teach kids how to work the DVD remote so they can play along.

In addition, there is a Deluxe Limited Edition DVD Play Set available, which treats you to the disc and all its features, plus a three dimensional pop-up play set with three locations from the movie, the Grinch’s lair, the Whoville post office, and Whoville Square.  There are plenty of doors and windows for your kids to look through, and even a countdown-to-Christmas wheel.  It’s a unique DVD packaging that will sure to bring smiles to the little ones’ faces!

Summary:

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas could easily be a new holiday classic, especially with this colorful, kid-friendly DVD offering from Universal.  Jim Carrey’s uninhibited performance and an amazing visual style should make the Grinch a welcome visitor in your house this Christmas!