Friday, December 23, 2016

Theory Thursday: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is the Worst Christmas Movie Since 2000

Scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Sunday is Christmas Day.
Theory: Director Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the worst Christmas movie of the 21st century.

With the holiday season approaching its biggest day, many are pulling out their favorite Christmas movies to share with loved ones. There are countless choices out there, and it's frankly impossible just to pick one. There's something about the holiday spirit that warms everyone's hearts, and the right film can elevate that to the form of elation. With that said, it's pretty difficult to come to a general consensus among almost every movie fan what the best one of the bunch is. Sure, there are some designated choices that are read as obvious. A Christmas Story, It's a Wonderful Life, even Christmas Vacation all have their fans. While I wished not to spoil people's good feelings this holiday season, I couldn't come up with a Theory Thursday topic that wouldn't just dive into familiar hyperbole. There's so many great films out there that to pick one is to just write in a large font the word "Duh!"

I decided, unfortunately against the holiday spirit, to tackle the opposite question. What is the worst holiday film? To be honest, there are many that could raise flags immediately. I think that Christmas Vacation is bad and that Chevy Chase should've only made one of those movies. A Christmas Story is trite and slow. However, I decided that if I were to tackle it, I would choose to argue which film personally offends me beyond a benefit of doubt. You see, I get why the aforementioned titles are likely to remain in your DVD player for most of the month. There's a nostalgic charm to them. Instead, I chose to tackle just the 21st century, which has had its fair share of masterpieces and failures. 

However, I don't know that many failures quite approach the level of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If you're already offended, I'm glad you're thinking of the 1966 classic. The half hour special manages to pack so much perfect iconography into that time frame that I am unashamed to still reference it from time to time. No, I am referencing 2000's version directed by Ron Howard, who was only a year off from the Best Picture-winning A Beautiful Mind. Whatever demons he had to excise to make that film seem to have popped up in the bloated adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic that features too much unnecessary story and features an official turning point for Jim Carrey's rise of power. Despite being pointless from the beginning, it was a film that should've been better given its cast and crew.

There was Howard: the crowd pleasing studio director who knew how to make cinema for the masses. Carrey was at the top of his game, managing to turn absurdity into box office gold. Add in music by James Horner and make-up by Rick Baker and you have the beginning of something that should be mediocre family fun. For the most part it was sold as such. After all, who didn't want to see Carrey mug it up for the camera and become an iconic comical folly for the holiday season? One could argue that it wasn't entirely Carrey's fault that the film failed. Yes, he was obnoxiously overplayed, but there was the improper balance in the script department that never allowed the tone and the subject matter to ever coalesce. All Howard wanted to do was ramp up the energy and make it feel manic for an audience that was eager to see The Grinch on the big screen.

It almost seems right that every child who put their parents through the film deserve to give them a great apology. It's one thing if they were dragged to a film whose production values suggested that they didn't care, but to have a big studio film where everything was intricately designed with promise of holiday wonder only throws viewers into a denial that the film's narrative quality is acutely missing. Instead there is a mix of potential beauty with the ugliness of character designs that are likely to annoy parents who have kids who watch the film out of nostalgia on an annual basis. There may be more annoying Christmas movies, but how do you argue against one that is intently shallow and unfaithful to its source material at the same time? The only advantage it has is not being the one to finally kill off movie adaptations of Dr. Seuss.

In theory, there's not much wrong with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It was zany and full of energy. Some of Carrey's dialogue managed to rise above needless hamming. Even the idea of putting in emotional subtext wasn't terrible in theory. However, there was no balance between its intentions and what the film ended up being. It starts off well enough with The Grinch's sidekick dog getting a few comical moments as Carrey messes with the mailing system. The mean spirited nature is common to Seuss' popular character. It's hard to imagine an adaptation without some cantankerous remarks. Of course, it's buried underneath make-up that looked like good ideas on paper, but were grotesque and proved why some stories don't need live action adaptations. Considering that this was back-to-back with Baker's Planet of the Apes work (which was better, but far from great), there was an overwhelming sense that the 1960's didn't need a millennial update.

A lot of the faults come from The Grinch himself. Along with being make-up that famously caused Carrey to have panic attacks, his character has a droll trajectory. With a backstory that tries to sympathize him, there was hope that his character would become something more than an evil, obnoxious, hate-spewing piece of work. It stopped being a character trait and began to fail at what Howard was usually decent at. There was no redemption because The Grinch was a bully first and foremost. He doesn't "Steal Christmas" right away, meaning that the character development is overbearing in his meanness and the quest to make him nice is not given its proper due. Had it been a streamlined film that followed the book closer, maybe it wouldn't be as remembered, but it would be more interesting as a Carrey vehicle. Instead, one has to work through Howard's insane reimagining of classic works to find some semblance of charm.

What's more obnoxious is that it does have that familiar happy ending tacked on. There is the sense that everything is supposed to be right. The only difference is that over 100 exhausting minutes, there has been one mean-spirited, selfish character not really earning any entitled respect. All we get is grotesque gags that paint him like your cliche mustache-twirling baddie. There's so much wasted potential in this film that it becomes disappointing in a barrage of ways at once. It's something that feels like it should be better, but inevitably fails to do more than stroke its ego. It could be that Carrey's mugging inevitably hurts the film and reflects the limits to his appeal. Even then, this isn't a failure because of one person. It's a group effort, which makes it all the more heartbreaking in it shallow, empty message of holiday cheer.

I'm sure that there's other films out there that could be argued as worse, but be honest with yourself. Do you watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas and get that inspiration that the original did (the newer one doesn't even have good music)? No. What you get is a film that has unfortunately become enough of a Universal Studios staple that you can see the sets on the Universal Studios Theme Park tour and currently see a Carrey impersonator in their ads for the holiday season. Admittedly, The Grinch is a fun character to have walking around a theme park. Who doesn't want him to sass off at you? It's more that Howard's film fails to bring that fun nature to life on the screen in ways that make for good story telling. All that's there is the reminder that a studio dumped money into this garbage and that they should've been more reverent to Dr. Seuss if for no other reason than to acquire rights to make all of the stories. 

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