How the Grinch Sold Out
Has Ron Howard been possessed by the spirit of Tim Burton, or what? What in the world was he thinking when he decided to re-imagine the much-beloved animated TV version of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas as a big-screen vehicle for the manic charms of Jim Carrey? For all of his proven strengths as a director of stories about real people (whether it's Parenthood or Apollo 13), fantasy worlds clearly aren't a specialty for him (to wit, Willow).
Howard's live-action rendering of Whoville, while suitably abstract, lacks any tangible sense of magic or wonder. Moreover, like the size of the Grinch's heart at the end of the story, the movie has been expanded to more than three times its former length with a lot of superfluous subplots and boring backstories. So little of Theodore Geisel's original prose survives the transition intact, it might as well be called Jim Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas - if not Ron Howard's Tim Burton's How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The most tactful way of expressing such misgivings during a recent interview is to ask the 46-year-old director if he has ever heard the saying about not trying to fix that which isn't broken. "I don't think we thought we were fixing anything. Not to be deflective or anything, but that was never on anyone's mind. It was more about taking inspiration from the original Seussian tale and preserving as much of the spirit of the book as we could," Howard replies.
"HOW the Grinch stole Christmas is like the third act of our version of the story, and the first couple of acts are about WHY the Grinch stole Christmas," he continues. "We wanted the movie to feel Seussian in a contemporary way. Like a lot of his other stories, The Grinch is like a timeless fable, a cautionary tale, a story about redemption, but it's also a protest against the commercialization of Christmas, and that made it feel even more relevant today."
Geisel's widow, Audrey, approached several of the major studios about bidding on the rights to The Grinch, and most of them pitched her their ideas for developing it into a feature-length film. As Howard recalls, "It was clear during our meeting that she'd been listening to all these various pitches and wasn't much liking anything she'd heard so far. Obviously, we wouldn't have wanted to make the movie without her support and enthusiasm, anyway, but once she gave us her go-ahead, it was like a real vote of confidence."
From the elaborate makeup and costume designs of Rick Baker and Rita Ryack, respectively, to Michael Corenblith's outlandish sets and a host of computer-generated special effects, the film proved to be a visually challenging ordeal unlike any other on Howard's (mostly) impressive resume, which also includes Splash, Cocoon, Backdraft and EDtv. Even so, the director insists that the look of the movie was secondary to imparting the sweet and simple moral of the story.
"Yes, the effects were crucial in terms of creating this parallel universe, and it was fun being challenged like that for a change, but we only wanted the effects to extend certain scenes or give a greater scope to certain scenes. There are a lot of things that precede the LOOK of the movie, starting with the idea of Jim Carrey playing this role. The bottom line for me was always that I really wanted to make a performance movie, not an effects movie," he maintains.
In that case, given Carrey's widely publicized reputation for being such an unpredictable personality on the set, how hard was it keeping HIM from overpowering that sweet and simple moral? "The most surprising thing about his performance isn't that he's created another funny character or that he brings the same level of physicality to it," Howard notes. "What's surprising is the level of expressiveness in the performance, the range of emotions. He made the Grinch enough of a palpable character that you really feel for him when he undergoes his final transformation."
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