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Universal Studios Home Video presents
How The Grinch Stole Christmas: CE (2001)

"They want to get to know me, do they? They want to spend a little 'quality time' with The Grinch. Well, I guess I could use a little social interaction."
- The Grinch (Jim Carrey)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: November 05, 2001

Stars: Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Taylor Momsen
Other Stars: Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Christine Baranski
Director: Ron Howard

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: PG for some crude humor
Run Time: 01h:44m:49s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 025192067723
Genre: family


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-A A-

DVD Review

I can't imagine that there are too many people NOT familiar with the story of Dr Seuss' Christmas-hating, green-furred creation The Grinch, and how he stole the holiday from the good people of Whoville. Depending on your age, you might have discovered Seuss' magical 1957 book long, long ago, and then years later reveled in what would become the eagerly anticipated yearly broadcast of the Chuck Jones animated version from the 1960s, with that perfectly eerie narration by Boris Karloff. As the children of that particular era grew up and had children of their own, the tradition of watching the animated Grinch every holiday season became some kind of wonderful, trans-generational artifact to pass along. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel) had created a literary, seasonal and cultural icon that miraculously withstood the test of time without, any substantially exploitative help from Hollywood.

That is, at least, until director Ron Howard's (Backdraft, Apollo 13) year 2000 big budget re-telling of the classic. Did it need to be redone? That's questionable from a strictly emotional level, but on an entertainment level it seemed that Universal Studios lined up enough creative ducks in a row for a good production. The film is driven, of course, by the always manic Jim Carrey, layered beneath a heaped helping of makeup effects master Rick Baker's latex, rubber and fur. Carrey as The Grinch, as expected, is a case of perfect casting. That is really a no-brainer. Baker's memorable work on An American Werewolf In London to 2001's The Planet Of The Apes has been nothing short of incredible, and he has certainly succeeded here in bringing The Grinch to life, visually. The director himself is no slouch at helming successful, lighter weight mainstream entertainment: just take a look at films like Splash, Willow, and Cocoon. Yet to stretch a quick read of a children's book/animated classic like Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas into an hourand forty-five minute, live-action film is no simple task.

We all know the basic plot: the crusty old Grinch lives up on Mount Crumpit, and for some reason hates the Whos, and especially Christmas. With the unwilling help of his faithful dog Max, The Grinch steals the town's presents (trees and all), and in the process learns that Christmas can indeed come without packages, boxes or bags.

Considering that a majority of the audience already knows the general story before the opening credits roll, it should be no surprise that the Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman screenplay does pad the original story a bit. The scenes with the young Grinch, as we learn how he came to hate Christmas, were a nice touch, and helped to paint Carrey's character a little more sympathetically. Ron Howard keeps a pretty tight directorial reign on things, and doesn't really dwell too long on any particular sequence, choosing to keep the rapid pacing on course. With the exception of a couple of draggy scenes about midway through, the story moves along at a nice clip on its expected track, culminating with The Grinch's comically evil Christmas Eve heist sequence.

I'm glad to say that visually, this film is not a disappointment. Far from it, as a matter of fact. The fantasy world presented here is wonderfully skewed and off-balance; the set design, production and CG effects support that effort in high style. As we learn in the opening narration (by Anthony Hopkins), the world of The Whos exists deep inside of a snowflake. As a result, the magical environment is quite literally a children's book brought to life. The set design does its best to remain true to Geisel's original artwork, with Whoville literally an explosion of strange shapes and bright colors. Similarly, in the lair of The Grinch high atop Mount Crumpit, is a dark, dirty world filled with giant gears, mounds of garbage, and more bizarre contraptions. The whole film has a distinctive, cartoon-like appearance that seems to match the tone and spirit of Geisel's story.

Even under all the impressive Rick Baker makeup, Carrey turns in another trademark performance that surpasses the original animated Grinch in sheer crankiness. Using a voice that is reminiscent of Karloff's, Carrey spouts and snarls an array of great one-liners, most of which will sail harmlessly over the heads of younger viewers. His exaggerated physical humor isn't buried by latex as he flips and leaps and slithers with the dexterity of a pen-and-ink drawing, and becomes a live-action cartoon. Carrey has nailed The Grinch perfectly, and his performance is really the film's anchor.

Seven-year-old Taylor Momsen, as young Cindy Lou Who, is the only other cast member to actually present a character that isn't a caricature of a caricature. With her oversized Who-teeth and ornate wigs, she is a true charmer. I loved her completely contagious laugh when she is sliding through The Grinch's "Dumpit To Crumpit" pnuematic tube. The other primary Whos (Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Christine Baranski, Jeffrey Tambor) regrettably are an anonymous hodgepodge that never muster any real personality.

Howard's final product, while perhaps suffering from a runtime that could have been nipped by a good ten or fifteen minutes, is a film that I found to play much better on DVD than it did in the theater. On the big screen, some of the extravagant Whoville excess was almost too overwhelming, which resulted in an almost dizzying sensory overload. At times, there is just too much of an attempt by Howard and his set designers to excessively parade the quirky charm of Whoville and it comes to the point of distraction. So often the transition from theater screen to television screen can cause a film to lose some of its visual impact; I found just the opposite to be true here.

This is a big, noisy holiday movie. What it sometimes lacks in noticeably padded substance it more than makes up for in visual style. What can I say? I'm a sucker for Christmas movies and Dr. Seuss.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Universal gets high marks for this very beautiful 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. The world of Whoville is presented here on a bright canvas of color, full of vivid reds, greens and blues. The source print is pristine, and without any visual flaws the colorfield really jumps off the screen, with excellent contrast. Compression issues and edge artifacts are almost nowhere to be seen, which only enhances the brilliance of the fantasy world. Blacks do not provide as much depth as I would have liked to see, but that may just be nitpicking on my part.

A beauty.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Universal has issued this disc with DTS (English) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (English and French) tracks that vary only slightly. Both offer a nice dynamic range, with the DTS track not surprisingly showing off a bit more on the bottom end. Dialogue is clean, and the always enjoyable James Horner score comes across nicely, too. Rear channels are used extensively to great effect (check out The Grinch's echo scene, Martha May's machine-gun Christmas light device, and the ever present howling wind), and though directional imaging is not as pronounced as I expected, the overall sound field presentation is very engaging.

The seldom seen Descriptive Video Service feature, wherein a narrator describes scenes in between dialogue, is also included as an option here.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring E.T.
6 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
7 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:06m:48s

Extra Extras:
  1. Faith Hill "Where Are You Christmas?" video
  2. Wholiday Recipes
  3. By The Numbers
  4. Grinch Game Trailer
  5. Max's Playhouse
Extras Review: Much like Universal's DVD release of The Mummy Returns, this disc has, at first glance, an overload of supplementals. While there are far less blatant space-fillers here, the handful of featurettes, though brief, are all worthwhile and include a wealth of fascinating behind-the-scenes footage:

Spotlight On Location (7m:16s)
This is a run-of-the-mill making-of piece, featuring interviews with the primary production crew, including Ron Howard and Rick Baker, basically a collection of behind-the-scenes footage intercut with somewhat generic comments. Oddball highlight is shots of Ron Howard, in full Grinch makeup, directing.

Deleted Scenes (9m:23s)
This is a series of six deleted scenes, shown without music or sound effects. Of the six, only an extended sequence of The Grinch's masked visit to Whoville, and a scene where we get to actually witness the Whos "crying boo-hoo" on Christmas morning as they discover all of their gifts have been swiped, are substantial. The rest seem to have been deleted for obvious reasons.

Outtakes (3m:15s)
A quickie, somewhat grainy, reel of flubs and goofs, set to music. My favorite moment is the scene where Carrey, in full Grinch regalia, bites the prosthetic nose off of Jeffrey Tambor.

Who School (5m:33s)
How do you become a Who? Stunt coordinator Charles Croughwell is the focus of this piece, as he discusses the process involved in creating the choreography of movement for the Whos and the use of the extremely fluid Cirque De Soleil performers in some of the almost animated actions of the good people of Whoville.

Makeup Application & Design (6m:47s)
Rick Baker is a genius. Here he discusses the development of the characters' appearances, as well as featuring a number of early Who and Grinch makeup tests. Some of the early Who makeup really match the look of Geisel's original drawings, but were deemed too Twilight Zone-ish.

Seussian Set Decoration (5m:03s)
This segment is directed at the creation of the "look of Whoville", and includes interviews with the primary production designers. Their ability to flesh out Geisel's line drawings into actual sets is quite interesting, as well as how they remained true to the orignal designs from the book.

Visual Effects (10m:40s)
I found this segment to be the most entertaining of the bunch. Kevin Mack, the film's visual effects supervisor, provides scene-specific comments on some of the over 600 CG effects used. While some of his discussions of the title sequence are a bit technical ("volumetric density functions"), his comments on the various uses of CG are fascinating. The segment wraps with a side-by-side comparison of how they enhanced The Grinch's evil smile.

Faith Hill Where Are You Christmas? music video (4m:04s)
A 1.85:1 widescreen version of this syrupy ballad featured in the film. This is a typical "vocalist intercut with movie footage" video, and unless you are a fan of Hill you will probably avoid this. Personally, I prefer Momsen's simple, more innocent version.

Wholiday Recipes
This segment consists of three recipes inspired by the film. The taste treats include:
Martha Whovier's Designer Onion Wreaths
Cool Mt. Crumpit York Peppermint Pattie Brownies
Cindy Lou Who's Favorite Whobilicious Hershey Peanut Blossoms

By The Numbers
A series of quickie production stats (for example: 443 outfits created by wardrobe!).

Max's Playhouse
Geared toward the kindegarten crowd, this area is divided into two sections:
Music Time:
In addition to another link to the Faith Hill video, there are two sing-alongs, complete with karaoke style lyrics that feature Cindy Lou Who's rendition of Where are You, Christmas? and The Grinch's version of You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.

Fun and Games:
Three sections here (Rhyme Time, Dress The Grinch, and the read-along story, The Care and Feeding of a Grinch). Also features a section teaching the wee ones how to use that DVD remote.

20 chapter stops, widescreens trailer for The Grinch and E.T., a trailer (and PC demo) for The Grinch video game, a cheesy Universal Studios commercial, cast/crew bios, production notes, and English subtitles fill out this packed holiday disc.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Jim Carrey IS The Grinch. Enough said. This is a fun, holiday film, that only sometimes loses itself in its own excess.

Recommended, unless of course YOU are The Grinch.

 


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