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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 49.0° F  Overcast
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Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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There was, of course, no good reason to make a movie version of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, unless you count millions and millions of dollars in merchandising tie-ins as a good reason. Directed by Ron Howard, this third incarnation of Dr. Seuss' very own Christmas Carol has neither the exuberant wit of the 1957 children's book nor the witty exuberance of the 1966 cartoon, which fascinated me as a child with its Yuletide face-off between malevolence and benevolence. Instead, we get Jim Carrey buried under a Mount Crumpit of hairy green latex. As usual, Carrey arrives loaded for bear, or whatever comes closest to a bear in the Seussian bestiary. It's another routinely brilliant performance, but Howard, instead of building a movie around Carrey, surrounds him with a reported two million square feet of Styrofoam.

How do you inflate a half-hour cartoon into an hour-and-a-half movie? Howard and his scriptwriters have gone the backstory route, filling in the blanks of the Grinch's past. It seems he was laughed at by the good citizens of Whoville for being hairy and green--i.e., different. How '90s. But the movie, in typically clumsy fashion, also has the Grinch acting like a dirty rotten scoundrel from the moment the stork mistakenly drops him off. So which is it, heredity or environment? This wouldn't matter much if Howard showed any flair for fantasy. You sense him straining to make a Christmas classic, a work of genius, but he seems to be operating on the principle that genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. The movie's like a sweaty mall-Santa.

Make that a sweaty mall-Santa who cusses. Though Ted Geisel's widow made sure (most of) the bathroom humor got flushed down the toilet, Howard and Carrey have given The Grinch a contemporary pop-culture spin à la Aladdin. (There's even a blink-and-you'll-miss-it joke about a wife-swapping key party; that'll make the cat in the hat come back.) Obviously, we are a long way from the busta-rhymes simplicity of Dr. Seuss' curlicued fantasyland. And I wonder whether kids will respond to this underwritten, overproduced attack on the commercialization of Christmas, especially given the commercialized nature of the movie itself, the promotional juggernaut. I don't mind hearing about a movie in advance, but do we really need to know that Carrey's costume was sewn from hand-dyed yak fur? If it weren't for Carrey's 99% inspirational performance, I'd have to say that yak died in vain.

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