There are two schools of thought about how to decorate a Christmas tree. One believes in enhancing the tree with a tasteful smattering of ornaments so its natural beauty remains visible. The other finds the ornaments more fun than the tree itself, hanging every branch with as many baubles and bangles as it can hold. Neither school is "correct," and each finds plenty of members as the holiday season rolls around.
If it were a tree instead of a movie, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" would represent the second category. This year's first bona-fide Yuletide entertainment is big, brash, colorful, and laden with so many gimmicks that you can hardly detect the old-fashioned message it carries in its heart.
The message is there, to be sure, along with marvelous flashes of the crazy-quilt wit that makes Dr. Seuss books the family-fun classics they are. But you can't help feeling there's a quieter, more natural kind of cheer that the movie doesn't quite reach, because its makers cared more about dazzling our senses than celebrating the Christmas spirit in itself.
Jim Carrey plays the title character, a mountain-dwelling monster whose grouchy disposition becomes even more so when the residents of nearby Whoville get ready for their annual dose of Yuletide merriment. Visiting the town to make some mischief, he meets Cindy Lou Who, a little girl who wonders why her neighbors greet the season with more hustle and bustle than generosity and joy. Her quest for an answer brings her closer to the green-skinned Grinch, who's hatching a nefarious plot to steal Whoville's holiday goodies.
Carrey is the movie's best asset, making the most of his prodigious comic gifts. Also fun is the eye-spinning color scheme dreamed up by director Ron Howard, and the nonstop sense of movement.
Less appealing are the film's occasional touches of vulgarity, smacking more of Hollywood childishness than Dr. Seuss' heartily clean-cut visions. Also disappointing is the absence of any first-rate comic talent to provide a foil for Carrey's manic acting. It's not hard to name Christmas movie classics with more riches to offer, such as the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol" or Jean Shepherd's hilarious "A Christmas Story."
It's likely that "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" will stand with this year's most popular movies. But deep down, this big-budget holiday blockbuster seems as materialistic as the gift-obsessed Whovillians it pokes fun at. And that's a letdown at this special time of year.
Rated PG; contains occasional vulgar gags.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society