Plot: A seasonal tidal wave of good cheer washes over Whoville as Christmas approaches, with all of the residents excited to celebrate the holiday they look forward to all year long. Well, almost all of the residents. On a cold, isolated mountain outside of town, the Grinch (Jim Carrey) skulks about and curses the very existence of such a loud holiday. His dislike of the season runs deep into his past, when the other Whos were less than kind to him and his eccentric ways, which drove him into seclusion and he has been there ever since. But another resident of Whoville is struggling with holiday cheer as well, young Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen). She loves Christmas, but feels like the true meaning of the season has been lost and after a chance run in with the Grinch, she sees her chance to redeem Christmas. She plans to invite the Grinch to the festivities as the guest of honor, reuniting him with the other Whos and proving that the real spirit of the season is alive and well. But will the Grinch even show up and if so, will his return be a warm one, as Cindy Lou hopes?
Entertainment Value: A live action version of The Grinch faced an uphill climb from the start, given how beloved Dr. Suess’ book was and how well Chuck Jones’ animated take nailed the material. Howard’s vision is an unfaithful one, so if you want a version that sticks close to the book, this isn’t that. But as gaudy and overproduced as The Grinch is, I think it works in some ways, as it comes off like a manic, warped experience that is often just bizarre in nature. The movie is aimed at family audiences, so it is brisk and light in most scenes, but is also prone to bursts of dark humor and mean spirited touches, not to mention adult oriented references. I mean, not a lot of family film involve a swingers’ party or frequent death threats, but The Grinch tosses in those and many other odd moments, without so much as a flinch. But kids aren’t likely to notice, given all the loud lines, pratfalls, and colorful visuals to distract them. The humor is inconsistent, but I think a good amount of the script works, with some sharp lines here and there, as well as fun set pieces. But a lot of the humor also falls flat and given the lame backstory that was tacked on, the emotional resonance never feels earned. So if you want depth or that special Christmas tingle, The Grinch won’t provide those, but it is a silly, consistently weird movie, to be sure.
The world of the Whos is brought to life in grand fashion, through a blend of practical and CGI magic. The sets look incredible, with so much attention to detail and little touches you pick up on with repeat sessions. Not to mention the Whos themselves, a small militia of thespians with varied makeup effects, coiffures, and costumes to make them similar, but also distinct. This is impressive production design work, even if you don’t like the movie itself, you have to admire the craftsmanship put into building the visuals of this world. The CGI isn’t as remarkable, but only a few scenes look actively bad, in my opinion. And when stacked up against other big budget CGI, this has aged better than some movies made over a decade later. I dislike poor CGI, but some of these scenes would be impossible by practical means, so it is hard to complain too much, since they’d not be included otherwise. Jim Carrey endures some cumbersome makeup effects, but doesn’t let that dampen his performance, which infuses the Grinch with a slapstick take on the character. He is fun to watch, especially his interactions with the Whos, but of course, his work here is nuclear level over the top. Taylor Momsen is fantastic as Cindy Lou, while Christine Baranski is red hot as Martha May, with other notable efforts from Jeffrey Tambor, Clint Howard, Molly Shannon, and Bill Irwin. I can see why some dislike this movie, as it does veer from the source material in wild ways, but I appreciate it for the overwrought, imbalanced, but fun mess it is.