I hate it when my well thought out plans get screwed up.
Originally, this piece was going to be a feature about all of the various big screen and small screen adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one of my favorite Christmas stories, and why none of the Hollywood adaptations were able to strike that magic the original 1966 one did. I went out and saw Illumination’s The Grinch, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit, and I thought long and hard about its strengths and weaknesses. Then I checked my local listings, found the 2000 Jim Carrey version, and set it to record. So I made some fresh Christmas cookies, got cozy in a blanket on my couch, and sat down to watch it.
Two hours later, instead of being full of Christmas cheer, I felt more annoyed than the Grinch would ever be at Christmas. It felt like director Ron Howard was more bitter towards the holiday than the Grinch and Ebeneezer Scrooge combined. The worst part? I’m pretty sure a part of my childhood died after I saw it. So screw doing a comparison between the two, let’s instead tear the 2000 movie apart!
Let’s rewind a bit to the early 2000’s first. Back then, I was in elementary school and I distinctly remember The Grinch being one of my favorite movies. I remember that for family road trips to Ohio, where my dad’s side of the family lived, we would bring along a portable VHS player that my brother and I plugged into our parent’s car and we would prop it up between their seats and watch movies and cartoons we recorded for the trip. One movie I remember always bringing with me was, of course, The Grinch. I have distinct memories of watching it as we pulled into a Cracker Barrel for dinner and seeing all of the Christmas imagery and joy before grabbing some Hashbrown Casserole with a handful of dollar candy sticks. The kicker was that I’m pretty sure we never drove out to Ohio in the winter, given the poor driving conditions, so I was most likely watching a Christmas movie in the spring or summer. That’s how much I loved this movie.
I wanted to bring this up so you could have some perspective of my mindset coming back to watch Howard’s The Grinch after over 15 years. My memories of it faded away, but I always knew that I always had a soft spot for it. It’s a weird feeling knowing that something that you loved as a kid turned into something that you hate as an adult. It’s like anti-notalgia and I don’t quite know how to feel about it. All I know is that everything that I love about Christmas and the holidays in general is perverted and cheapened in The Grinch.
If you don’t know the story of the Grinch, he’s a miserable, lonely miser that lives on top of a mountain, hates Christmas, and vows to steal Christmas from the Whos in Whoville because… because. So he steals all of their presents, trees, and food and is about to throw it all off the mountain, but that doesn’t matter to the Whos. They still celebrated Christmas because Christmas is a feeling. It’s goodwill towards men, kindness towards all, and a celebration that we can all be good towards each other every day of the year. The Grinch realizes this, begins to love Christmas, returns the gifts, and everyone has a happy ending.
Jim Carrey’s The Grinch is about how Christmas is all about commercialism and being selfish towards each other instead of showing kindness to one another.
From the very beginning, the movie is draped in a sickly and gross aesthetic where nothing looks natural. No one looks normal and everyone feels and looks fake. I would say that this is some meta-commentary about how the Whos aren’t being authentic and are instead superficial about the true meaning of Christmas, but I think that’s giving the movie way more credit than it deserves. Every frame is unpleasant to watch and makes me actively repulsed by it. Where are the bright lights? The adamant reds? The festive greens? All gone for “realistic” depictions of the Whos and the season.
Those realistic depictions, if I didn’t make it clear before, are the antithesis of the original Whos and how they acted. When the Whos lose their Christmas gifts in the original version, they don’t mind it at all. In the 2000 version, they cry about how Christmas is ruined while some of them blame a Cindy Lou Who, a little girl no more than two, for ruining Christmas. Frankly, it’s disgusting that the movie has the nerve to insinuate that Cindy Lou Who, the little girl that wanted to invite the Grinch to Whoville so that he could feel some Christmas cheer, is at fault. She’s the surrogate for the themes of the original short, stating that Christmas comes from the kindness you give to others, but that doesn’t matter here! What matters is the Grinch took the presents, Cindy Lou Who invited him down, so let’s shame the little girl for a good couple of minutes because this movie hates happiness.
There is an attempt by the movie to sympathize with the Grinch by having an arc dedicated to the town inviting him to their celebration so that he can be a part of the festivities and maybe not be so grinchy, which is a nice touch. It’s frankly the only nice thing I’ll have to say about it, but even that’s undone by how unpleasant most of the Whos are to him over the course of the film. He was bullied as a child, belittled, mocked, and isolated himself on top of a mountain because of how cruel everyone was towards him. When I’m more sympathetic to the jackass that wants to steal Christmas because everyone else is a fucking asshole, your movie is fundamentally broken.
And that’s not even describing how Jim Carrey is the most insufferable I’ve ever seen him. He’s like if the Riddler from Batman Forever decided to wage war against Christmas after doing years of heroin. He occasionally gets a passable one-liner in, but he just spouts so much noise, noise, noise, noise that I had to lower the volume whenever he was trying to be funny because it was just too much. Then you have the subplot about how a milf wants to have sex with him, the constant ass jokes, the aforementioned bullying and I’m left wondering why I ever liked this movie at all? Why did I always want to watch this movie, even when it wasn’t Christmas?
And the more I thought about it, the more that I came to an answer I didn’t want to admit. I liked The Grinch so much because I thought that’s what Christmas was about. I think we all know through cultural osmosis that the Grinch is everything that Christmas isn’t. He hates it. That’s the whole point. That’s why his character change at the end is so powerful and touching. So naturally, I thought the Whos were good guys and the Grinch was bad guy. And what did the Whos represent? Well, they were selfish, only interested in getting bigger and better toys or gifts for themselves. Oh sure, by the end of the movie they realize that Christmas is in their hearts and not in their possessions, but 6-year-old Jesse didn’t know that. And so I thought that Christmas was all about presents and toys and that was it. To be fair, I’m pretty sure that’s what most kids think Christmas is about, at least the young ones, but I was a kid. How was I supposed to know any better?
I hate The Grinch because it’s not what Christmas is about to me now. For all of the lame jokes and the terrible T.I. cover of the classic Grinch song in Illumination’s version, I still think that it retains the spirit of Christmas more than the Jim Carrey version. Both are inferior to the original short, but at least the Illumination version doesn’t counteract any of the major morals from the short.
If you love to watch the Jim Carrey version of the story and disagree with everything I said, please keep watching it. Please keep enjoying it because clearly there’s some magic in it for you that keeps you coming back to it. We all have our Christmas and holiday classics that we come to this time of year, and if this is firmly in your collection of holidays movies you crank out every year, don’t be ashamed by it. This was merely me just coming to terms with how I view Christmas differently from when I was a kid to now. I love Christmas because it’s the one time of year where everyone is more generous, more giving, and more caring to each other. I think there’s really only one way for me to end this little analysis of The Grinch in a positive way; with my favorite quote from the original story.
“Welcome Christmas, while we stand. Heart to heart, and hand in hand. Christmas day is in our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas day will always be, just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas, while we stand. Heart to heart, and hand in hand.”