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You're a manic one, Mr. Carrey
Steal away to see the latest 'Grinch'
(CNN) -- Jim Carrey rules the screen as the bad guy in green in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," his latest comedic tour de force.
He's covered from head to toe in what had to be a torturous costume transformation to a hairy green creature, but there's never a doubt for one second that under all that fur and rubber is the capering genius of Carrey. He was born to play this role.
And who better than Ron Howard -- he was Opie, for gosh sakes -- to direct this wondrous confection for kids? The production design by longtime Howard collaborator Michael Corenblith, makeup by Academy Award-winner Rick Baker ("Men In Black," 1997), and visual effects by Kevin Mack, who won an Oscar for "What Dreams May Come" (1998), all add up to a visual feast. Whoville, the movie's mythical location, and the Whos living there, couldn't be in better hands.
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was just one of 44 illustrated children's books written by the late Theodor S. Geisel, known to millions as Dr. Seuss. Fanciful text about magical places, all carrying valuable life lessons, are the hallmarks of Geisel's books, which have been read by legions of parents to countless numbers of wide-eyed toddlers. The 48-page "Grinch" was no exception.
The tale is a disarming, sometimes alarming and other times charming, display of Seuss' uses -- some say abuses -- of language conveyed in a charmingly, rhymingly way. (OK, his word play is a whole lot better than that, but you get the idea.)
'Grinch' comes to film
For years, Geisel steadfastly refused repeated offers to sell his books to the Hollywood dream factories, but he did allow an animated "Grinch" to be released in 1966. It is standard fare on TV every holiday season.
Then, nearly a decade after his 1991 death, his widow, Audrey Geisel, decided to give a couple of guys from Imagine Entertainment a swing at her late husband's dream. Howard and partner Brian Glazer, who had been been seeking her permission since 1995, got to work.
The rule of thumb for anyone working on a film starring Carrey is to get him into his costume, get him on his mark and then get out of his way. This was clearly done, for Carrey carries nearly every scene. In fact, if he's not in the scene, there is no scene.
These lapses occur only a few times, but you'll notice a decided lowering of energy whenever Carrey isn't front and center. That's one of a few elements that keep this great movie from being a great movie.
"Grinch" is a fairly straightforward adaptation of Seuss' 1957 book, a message about tolerance for those who are different, the real meaning of Christmas and the temptations of commercializing the holiday beyond recognition.
Screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman have fleshed out the story a bit, and we see how the Grinch, who was once a Who, became enraged with his fellow Whos and fled into a cave in the mountains when he was still young. There, he grows embittered, saving his real hate for Christmas, the biggest day of the year in Whoville, when everyone buys and buys, bakes and bakes, then buys and buys some more.
Over the years, his only companion has been his Max, his faithful, shaggy dog, and his greatest dream has been to ruin the day of days for all of the rosy-cheeked, gift-obsessed and maniacally caroling residents of Whoville. He has a plan, which hardly needs elaborating here.
The film contains more players than the original book, but the main character interacting with the Grinch remains little Cindy Lou Who, played by Taylor Momsen. Since she's needed to help carry the plot a bit, Cindy Lou is now about 7 instead of the 2-year-old portrayed in the book.
Jeffrey Tambor turns in an overheated performance as Whoville's mayor. Molly Shannon and Bill Irwin are Cindy's parents, Betty Lou and Lou Lou Who. Christine Baranski, as Whoville's bombshell Martha May Whoiver, provides a romantic twist to the plot. Clint Howard, Ron's brother, appears in the film, as he always does in his brother's movies -- this time as Whobirs, the constantly nervous lackey to the mayor. Anthony Hopkins brings his luscious vocal tones to their peak as the film's narrator.
All Carrey, all the time
They are all but secondary, though. This film is all about Jim, Jim, Jim.
He's brilliant, but even his virtuosity doesn't hide the fact that the film is too padded and therefore too long. He's brilliant, but that doesn't change the fact no other characters -- excluding Max the dog -- have anything to do, any plot to carry, or any actual interaction with the Grinch.
He's brilliant, but...
There are lines that only adults will get, and the action is eye catching, but it's doubtful that this movie will appeal to all ages. There just isn't enough going on to keep older kids engaged. Carrey's antics will hold them for a while, but not for the entire time.
This would make a great first movie for any young person new to film and the Christmas holidays. Viewing it could be an annual event -- the amazing antics of Carrey, and the loving message from Dr. Seuss.
... this movie is rated PG, not G! That's bad news for a movie that seems so neatly aimed at young ones. In order to interest older kids, the filmmakers inserted gross-out visual jokes -- people kissing dog's rear ends, to name one. There are only a few, but that was sufficient to change the movie's rating.
Still, if you have little moviegoers around for the holidays, you should still make the trip to Whovillie.
"How The Grinch Stole Christmas" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG.
Carrey courts controversy, co-star in 'Me, Myself and Irene'
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