Tag Archives: jim carrey

Dec. 16 – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – “The Reindeer Hunter”

Original air date December 9, 1995

The year 1994 feels like it belonged to Jim Carrey. Prior to ’94, Carrey was just another actor trying to make his way through Hollywood. He did some stand-up and even starred in a film, but he had yet to really make it. After being cast on the sketch comedy series In Loving Color, Carrey’s status began to rise. He stole the show, and soon found himself entertaining roles from Hollywood. His first big hit, arriving in February of 1994, was Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The film was largely nonsensical, but the role of Ace Ventura allowed Carrey to basically just do what he did best at the time: act like a screwball cartoon character. There wasn’t much separating the character of Ace Ventura from Carrey’s stand-up or even his characters from In Living Color, such as Fire Marshall Bill. While the film wasn’t exactly a hit with the critics, it was at the box office and Carrey soon found himself among the ranks of the Hollywood A-Listers.

Following Ace Ventura, came The Mask in July and then Dumb and Dumber closed out the Year of Carrey in December of 1994. For Carrey, he began the year as a budding comedian on television and finished it as a big-shot. A sequel for Ace Ventura was fast-tracked for release in 1995 and it too performed well. Though by the time the credits rolled on the sequel, Carrey was likely priced-out of any future sequels for the franchise, just as he was for The Mask.

Whenever a film is a hit, studios naturally look to extract as much money as possible from it. With an Ace Ventura 3 starring Carrey unlikely, Warner Bros. turned to television writer Duane Capizzi to craft a cartoon series based on the character. When a film makes the jump from the big screen to the small screen, there’s always a risk audiences will reject it. Especially when we’re talking about a character like Ace Ventura who was basically just Jim Carrey. Will audiences accept what is essentially a caricature? It’s an important question to ask since there’s virtually no chance of an actor of Carrey’s stature coming with the project, and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective the animated series was no exception. Still, the mere subject of a pet detective leading a wacky cartoon has some promise. Kids like animals and comedy, so perhaps it had a chance? CBS was certainly banking on that when it committed to 13 episodes for the fall 1995 television series and the show did well enough to return for another 13 episodes in 1996. Following that though, CBS apparently lost interest and the Saturday morning block was waning. The show did find new life on Nickelodeon with 15 new episodes produced to air in 1999-2000, along with the returning 26 episodes previously aired. In that sense, the show was a modest success it would seem, though it did fail to get to that magical syndication number of 65 episodes.

The show forgoes opening credits and gets straight to it. Oh, joy.

For the show’s very first episode, it turned to Christmas. This is not unprecedented as the most famous cartoon series ever, The Simpsons, did the same thing. In the case of that more illustrious show, it premiered with the Christmas episode because the show’s first episode was rejected due to how it had been animated. The Christmas episode was ready, and it was also December. It basically had to air on time, so the decision was made to delay the official series premiere to January and air the Christmas episode as a “Sneak Peek” in December of 1989. Fox would repeat the trick with Life with Louie years later. As far as I know, this particular episode of Ace Ventura, “The Reindeer Hunter,” is the first episode in production order. It doesn’t feel like a series premiere though, so it wouldn’t shock me if it wasn’t. It premiered on December 9, 1995 with the second episode not airing until January 20, 1996. I suppose I could have watched that episode to see if it operated like more of a series introduction, but I really don’t want to. And you’ll soon see why.

The cartoon version of Ace Ventura is basically no different from his film counterpart, save for the fact that he’s voiced by Michael Daingerfield (then credited as Michael Hall), a fellow Canadian as well. His voice wouldn’t be confused for Carrey’s, but he seems to have the timing and inflections down. Expect to hear plenty of “All-righty-then” from him. Ace is still a pet detective and he’s joined by his monkey, Spike (Richard Binsley). For this premiere episode, Ace has to take a very important case for someone has abducted perhaps the most famous pets of all: Santa’s reindeer!

This one gets right to the Santa-moon shot, only with a crescent moon instead of a full moon.

The episode begins with a cheery Santa up at the North Pole preparing for Christmas. The image pans out and we see this was just a television. Soon, the real Santa passes overhead and soars past the rare Christmas Eve crescent moon to land on a nearby building. This isn’t exactly an idyllic Christmas image as we’re in hot, sticky, Miami and Santa expresses his displeasure at that almost immediately upon exiting his sleigh. He’s an appropriately chunky Santa, though his reindeer are a bit on the ugly side. It’s sort of in-line with a lot of post Ren & Stimpy cartoons looking to be a bit on the ugly side as the heads of the reindeer are quite triangular with ugly teeth jutting out of their mouth.

Someone wants to abduct these ugly-ass reindeer.

As Santa squeezes his bulbous form down the chimney, a shadow appears over the reindeer. A large figure tosses a sack over them and we smash-cut to the episode’s title card. We’re then introduced to the hero of the show: Ace Ventura. He’s in his apartment and he’s apparently cranked the air conditioner as he has penguins joining him as he’s seated on the couch with his monkey, Spike. It’s so cold in the apartment that there is actually snow falling from the ceiling.

An uncommon sight for Miami, though really, an uncommon sight inside any apartment.

Ace is called upon to answer the door and it’s the building superintendent, Mr. Schickadance (Vince Corazza). He has a problem with the snow, which is something a good super would have concern with. He apparently lives next door as he gestures to his wall which is covered with ice. Ace points out that there’s no “No Snow” designation on the sign for the complex as there is with a “No Pets” (though he has pets, so he obviously wouldn’t feel beholden to such a proclamation anyway). In short: the snow stays.

Old Santa apparently keeps Ace on the speed dial for just such an occasion.

Ace then receives a phone call and he’s skeptical of its source. The gentleman on the other end is claiming to be Santa Claus, so Ace tests him by asking him what he got for Christmas last year. Santa “aces” the quiz as he brought Ace a salon chair for crafting his unique hairstyle. With that out of the way, Ace hears him out. Turns out, Santa’s reindeer have gone missing in Miami and he needs Ace to help him find the reindeer. Surprisingly, the timing of this whole thing isn’t played up as much as it could be considering it’s Christmas Eve. You would think one little hang-up would really throw Santa off schedule, and this is hardly a little hang-up.


Ace agrees to meet with Santa so he heads out to his car with Spike at his side. There we see that his license plated reads “Pet Dick,” and while I understand that dick is another name for detective, I’m still surprised CBS let the show get away with that. Mr. Schickadance is outside as well changing the sign to read to “No Snow. ” He’s on a ladder, so you can probably guess what happens next as Ace drives away…

Don’t worry, kids, we got Ace on the case!

Ace joins Santa at the scene of the crime. Finding no clues, he begins questioning Santa in order to deduce a motive. He asks him who might hate his guts, and Santa seems rather shocked at the mere suggestion someone might dislike him. Ace asks him to produce his naughty list and is then dismayed when he unfurls it and it’s long enough to roll off the side of the building and continue on down the street. He hands Santa the keys to his apartment, noting this investigation could take a while, and then starts with the top name on the list, a certain Akak the Clown.

A good, sneaking, disguise at Christmas time, I suppose.

Akak is apparently the clown mascot of a local burger joint. Ace spots him leaving his restaurant with a bag of food. Declaring they need disguises, Ace emerges from a costume shop dressed as a snowman and stalks Akak through the streets. When the clown removes a large sack from the back of his trunk, Ace pounces on him only to find the bag filled with toys. He then rules Akak out, and proceeds down the list. A sequence of slamming doors is then presented as Ace apparently finds no leads. He them enters a museum looking for a Larry Asta…something. He’s dismayed to find he’s not out of the “A’s” yet, but does find this Larry fellow in the midst of a heist. Pointing his carrot nose like a gun and doing an Al Capone impression, he holds the crook up and demands answers. It would seem there’s a big caper going down tonight, but it’s not related to any reindeer. When Ace asks where they are, the crook is dumb-founded, but suggests he asks the shady looking guys on the roof across the street who are about to get into a getaway chopper.

The monkey is definitely the smartest one.

Ace races over to the roof of the department store and finds three dudes placing a sack into a helicopter. One is kind of green and monstrous looking, another is your typical giant lug, and the third looks like a little scientist type. Ace demands they cease what they’re doing, but they disregard him. As they take-off, Ace grabs onto the lab coat of the science guy. The thug simply pulls the little man into the copter, while letting him out of his coat, causing Ace to plummet to what should be his death. Rather he lands atop a giant Christmas tree, which was on the roof of the building, which then bends causing him to land on the roof of a police cruiser below.

It’s at this point I think I’ll be okay with them killing off the star 8 minutes into the series.

There Ace is confronted by Officer Emilio (Bruce Tubbe) and Sargent Aguado (Al Waxman). They know Ace from around town and aren’t exactly happy to see him. Emilio helps him up and when Ace tells them to put out an “APB” for a helicopter, Aguado laughs at him and taunts him with, “Why? Have Santa’s reindeer been kidnapped?!” between laughs. When Ace confirms that’s exactly what happened, it doesn’t change the situation. Emilio actually tries to tell him when he talks crazy it makes it harder for him to be of any assistance, and Ace responds by talking through his butt. The two officers have a function to attend that night and they drive off with the giant star still lodged in their car leaving Ace alone with his piece of evidence. Ace then notices the lab coat has the unmistakable odor of lady’s perfume on it, so he runs into the department store to conduct some research.

This is Ace Ventura, so expect some ass-play.

At the cosmetics counter, Ace sprays various perfumes in his face trying to find the right fragrance. All the while, a female clerk tries to warn him against perfume overdose, apparently a thing. Ace doesn’t listen and ends up passing out. A doctor has to come help revive him, and when he awakens he notices a display with an unusual looking woman holding a perfume bottle. It’s the fragrance he’s looking for! The clerk is able to tell him that the woman is Atrocia Odora (Pam Hyatt) and it turns out her factory is in town.

That’s no reindeer!

Ace heads over to the Odora plant and finds the helicopter from earlier on the roof. Spike gets to work sabotaging the chopper so it can’t be utilized as an escape route later, which is far smarter a plan than I would have expected of Ace. He then enters the factory from the roof and finds a big, white, sheet with “No Peeking” printed on it draped over a cage. Thinking this is where the reindeer are, Ace triumphantly removes it only to find an albino alligator roaring at him. The goons from earlier then spot him and are surprised he survived the fall. As Ace goes into some posing routine explaining his death-defying prowess, the big guy does a butt stomp on him. With Ace subdued, the green guy puts on a Santa outfit to go alert the boss.

The villain of the episode (series?), Atrocia Odora.

As the fake Santa enters another room, we see it’s a police officer function hosted by Odora herself. Disguised as Santa, the little guy is able to get over to Odora to alert her of what’s happening in the factory. She excuses herself to go check things out. Inside, Ace has been freed from the large buttocks and is using his karate maneuvers on the big guy, to no effect, while Spike is harassing the scientist guy. Once Odora enters the big guys retrains Ace in a more conventional manner than before by simply grabbing his arms.

Odora immediately notices the various odors on Ace’s shirt and warns him about the dangers of mixing fragrances noting he smells “louder than his shirt.” Ace demands to know where the missing reindeer are, but Odora instructs her men to dispose of him. As she walks away, Ace declares he knows her type and that she is eager to reveal her sinister plan. She deadpans it doesn’t bother her and continues out the door. Ace counts down aloud from 3, and she enters on 1 declaring that she does indeed need to tell him all about it.

That is certainly a sight.

Odora then explains she intends to create a treatment for aging. As she goes into her big, villain, speech, Ace plugs his ears and sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” via a sequence of “La’s.” This just enrages and annoys Odora and she has her men restrain him once again. Odora then explains her enemy is aging for as we age things become loose and sag, as she describes the various body parts starting with the face that fall victim to this Ace stops her before she can get past the neck. She then explains that Santa’s reindeer possess the unusual ability to defy gravity and reasons the secret must be in their glands. The professor then wheels in a contraption containing all 8 of Santa’s reindeer. They’re confined with their rear pointing up and a giant syringe is poised above them. It’s pretty kinky, though the reindeer do not look like they’re into these kinds of reindeer games.

At least Spike is enjoying himself.

Odora leaves Ace with an explanation about a death trap she has laid for him as she heads back to the party. As she does though, Spike hitches a ride on the back of her blazer while the goons drag Ace off to certain death. As they do, he reveals to them, out of a sense of moral obligation, that his monkey has escaped and is undoubtedly seeking help. We then cut to Spike at the party stuffing his face with food.

I really don’t like Ace’s character model.

Ace is then dragged away, all the while pleading, and in the process he opens the cage of the albino alligator. The ornery, and surprisingly bipedal, reptile chases the two goons up onto a giant chemical vat. Ace dusts himself off and informs the crooks this is what happens when you mess with him, mistaking the alligator for an ally. It then takes note of him and starts chasing him around the factory forcing Ace to exit into the party. Seeing all of the police in one place, he gets the sensible idea to inform them what’s going on in the other room. When Ace reveals that Odora should be arrested for abducting Santa’s reindeer, the suggestion is met with laughter.

At Ace’s apartment, we check-in with Santa to find him watching TV while one of Ace’s penguins searches for food in his beard. While channel-surfing, Santa stumbles onto apparent live coverage of the function and Ace pleading with the cops to arrest Odora. They’re not taking him seriously, and Emilio tries to reason with Ace by letting him know he’s not helping his cause. Ace then decides they’d probably like to arrest him, and he goads them into doing so while Aguado shouts “he’s disturbing the peace! Arrest him!” As Ace runs off, it’s clear he intends to lead the pursuing officers into the factory. Odora catches wind of the plan and counters in a fiendishly clever way: the dessert tray!

Never fear, Santa is here!

Ace races over to the captive reindeer, but all of the officers have abandoned the chase in pursuit of something sweet. The two other goons have also somehow returned the alligator to his cage, and the third goon still dressed as Santa re-enters the room. With Ace surrounded, it looks like his goose is cooked, but here comes Santa Claus! He swoops in like Tarzan to take out the impostor Santa, then turns his attention to the big guy. He takes him out with a series of kicks, leaving the professor for Ace. He yanks off the little guy’s glasses, and since this is a cartoon, this renders him blind.

Ace living out every kid’s fantasy.

With that guy out of the way, Ace is able to free the reindeer and not a moment too soon as they were about to be “penetrated” by the giant needles. The impostor Santa grabs one of the giant needles and charges towards Ace, but he’s saved by the reindeer. Flying high in the factory, Ace notices the fake Santa has turned his attention to the real Santa. As he charges Santa, Ace swoops in on his reindeer and crashes into him causing the needle to stab into the machinery. This apparently causes an overload of some kind, and the goons beat a hasty retreat.

That’s unfortunate.

Or they would, if it not for the fact that their helicopter was sabotaged! As Ace compliments Santa on his fighting prowess, the copter explodes and the three goons fall from the sky. They land right on Mr. Schickadance, who was still hanging from his sign after Ace took out his ladder. Santa then bids Ace farewell with an uncharacteristic “Heigh-ho, reindeer away!” He thanks Ace, and Ace responds with a “Wait until you see my bill!” He then remembers Spike is still in the building, and he’s been eating this whole time and apparently it’s caught up to him as he gets sick all over Odora’s lap.

I’m surprised we had to wait until the final act for a vomit gag.

Ace stops in front of the giant Odora #5 tank to declare it’s about to blow in a comedic fashion. He then heads into the party to pass this warning on to the police inside, though he’s more interested in making puns. He warns Aguado he’s about to receive a white Christmas as the whole thing blows up covering everyone in white cream. It also frees the rare, albino, alligator which was likely stolen from somewhere and is enough to get Odora arrested.

Ever see an albino alligator covered in cosmetics?

We then catch-up with Ace on the beach as his skin is now bone white. He needs to catch some rays in order to return his skin to some form of normal, and he has Santa along beside him. Ace gives Santa a Christmas present and it’s a shirt just like Ace’s to go along with Santa’s new hairstyle, which Ace reveals by yanking off Santa’s hat. Apparently Santa has co-opted Ace’s signature ‘do, and he goes into a nervous, stammering, explanation as the episode ends.

Now that’s a Miami Christmas.

And that is how Ace Ventura rescued Santa’s reindeer and saved Christmas! All in all, it was mostly what I expected. For better or worse, the Ace Ventura presented here is true to its big screen counterpart. He’s constantly rambling, sometimes its nonsensical, but mostly it’s surprisingly lucid. He’s a far more capable detective, I mean dick, than expected despite his slightly unorthodox approach. It’s a solid premise to incorporate Christmas into the show, and I suppose it was entertaining to kids who liked the films. For me, I was definitely ready for it to be over as a little Ace goes a long way.

The character designs did little for me.

Visually the show is rather ugly. It’s at least bright with a fairly robust color palette, but it’s also super basic. No shading or lighting to speak of and the character designs are a bit crude and ugly. There’s nothing really unique about it as even the three bad guys have a very bland look to them. The voice cast is serviceable, and I think Daingerfield does a good job with what he has, but none of the other cast members do much to stand out. I did like Pam Hyatt’s performance as Odora. And that’s a fun name for a villain too: Atrocia Odora. She has a little Cruella in her and it’s not very subtle.

I think Ace Ventura is just a character you either love or hate, with little room for in-between.

Given all of that, it’s not at all surprising that the cartoon version of Ace Ventura is rarely referenced. The show basically came and went, airing in the waning days of the CBS Saturday Morning before heading to cable to die. I am rather surprised it ever made it to a major network, but that was the power of Jim Carrey in the mid-90s, even if he had nothing to do with the cartoon. This one feels more like a USA show. Regardless, if you like the movies then there’s a reasonably good chance you’ll like this portrayal. And if you want to view it, you’ll probably have to track down a DVD or pay for a streaming option. It’s not terribly expensive, but I also wouldn’t really call it worth it either.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic 2020It was an interesting journey for the world’s most famous hedgehog to go from the small screen to the big screen, but the journey was finally completed Valentine’s Day 2020. Originally set to debut last Thanksgiving, Sonic the Hedgehog famously was delayed when fans reacted unfavorably to the title character’s design. Like Detective Pikachu before it, Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to bring a CG version of the titular character into a real world setting. Fans were justified in their reaction to the debut of the character as he was only vaguely a representation of a character that’s been around for 30 years. The extra time, money, and effort to redesign Sonic has apparently paid off as the film raced out to an impressive debut weekend topping the weekend box office.

From the start, Sonic was always engineered to be pleasing to the eye. He was famously designed as a mash-up of two iconic characters:  Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The fact that someone tied to this film decided to deviate from such a simple and effective premise feels like an ego-driven maneuver, but it’s likely it was just a result of over-thinking. Sonic the character doesn’t fit into the “real world.” He basically has one giant eye with two pupils in it, he’s a  blue hedgehog, but he doesn’t really have visible fur. And his head is bigger than his body in his classic iteration, though he’s since been elongated and given a more sleek figure over the years. The original stab at the character included fur (or quills), which was to be expected. What was odd was the attempt at shaping the face to something more rodent-like, I suppose. The end result was more of a combination of late 90s Michael Jackson and the transformed monkey kid from the original Jumanji. He had an oddly pointed nose and more natural shaped eyes to go along with a toothy smile that seemed to make viewers quite uncomfortable. His body was lean and slightly muscular – a runner’s body. Instead of white gloves he had white fur and was just all-together unpleasant to look at. The redesign basically took things back to the character’s roots. Physically, he’s more Sonic Adventure than Sonic from the Genesis. He still has textured fur as director Jeff Fowler felt that was important for a mostly live-action film, and he has two distinct eyes. He got to put his gloves back on though and his overall facial design is much more true to what fans expected. All in all, he looks nice.

bad sonic

This is not the Sonic fans wanted…

Which is certainly a start. An unappealing lead is hardly a death-knell for a movie, but it doesn’t help when the character is supposed to be visually appealing. It’s not something that can rescue a bad movie though, and I would guess most assumed Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bad movie. It’s not like video game to film adaptations have a good track record. I liked Mortal Kombat as a kid, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film. I did take the family to Detective Pikachu last year and felt it was fine for what it was. I know there are some fans out there that enjoy some of the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider films, but I do not number myself among them. Expectations for a video game movie are low, and will remain low until a Marvel-like run of success so expecting anything out of Sonic felt foolish.

good sonic

Much better!

And perhaps it’s that mindset that contributed the most to my enjoyment of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s certainly easier to be pleasantly surprised by a film when expectations are low, but Sonic the Hedgehog managed to mostly achieve the same level of success as Detective Pikachu. And a lot of that can be attributed to the success of the main character. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz who has quickly established himself as the best Sonic, sorry Jaleel) is charismatic. He has a manic personality as a result of living life faster than anyone while possessing a sense of honor and responsibility which are traits that lend well to heroism. He’s playful, chatty, inquisitive, and also a touch sympathetic. He’s essentially an orphan who was targeted by some bad dudes (who bare a strong resemblance to another Sonic frenemy) for his speediness and forced to flee his home world with the help of his magic rings. The rings in the film are magical devices capable of opening up portals to other worlds, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth as a kid and is forced to live in hiding. He badly just wants to make friends, and he’s taken a liking to a local cop he refers to as Donut Lord (James Marsden) mainly via peeping on his daily life. One night, in a fit of sadness, Sonic goes a bit too fast and produces something akin to an EMP pulse that knocks out power in the community which gets the attention of the US Government.

jim carrey robotnik

Carrey gets to bring his own personality to Robotnik, but he’s also kept in check and turns in a very fun performance.

The film wisely doesn’t focus much on the government stuff and instead uses a very loose scene to have those in charge select one Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the cause of the phenomena. Carrey’s Robotnik bares little resemblance to the video game character (more commonly referred to as Eggman these days), but he possesses a quirky personality. Unlike a lot of iterations of Robotnik, he’s also a capable bad guy at times undone by his hubris. Carrey injects some of his usual comedic antics into the role, but nothing that becomes too over-the-top. He’s entertaining, and the only character other than Sonic capable of stealing a scene.

Robotnik quickly ends up on Sonic’s trail and from there the film turns into a road trip buddy comedy with Sonic forced to come out of hiding and seek the help of Donut Lord, aka Tom. The film does a good enough job of balancing the comedy with action. Tom and Sonic mostly get along from the start so it doesn’t play up tension too much between the leads. Not all of the comedy lands as this is a PG film primarily looking to entertain children. There’s a confrontation at a bar that’s a bit groan-inducing, as well as some jokes that amount to product placement, but the film doesn’t linger on anything long enough for it to grow boring or stale. The main plot beats are simple and easy enough to follow even for younger viewers making this one more about the ride than the final destination.

sonic ring

Sonic’s rings play an integral role in the film acting as portals between worlds for Sonic to escape into.

Visually, the film’s special effects hold up just fine. No, I don’t suppose I ever really bought into the concept of Sonic actually existing in this world like I may have at times with Pikachu, but I didn’t feel that harmed my enjoyment of the movie. The film makes liberal use of the slow-motion sequences popularized by the X-Men franchise when illustrating just how fast Sonic can move. Like Quicksilver, Sonic will appear to move at normal speed while the world around him is nearly frozen in time allowing him to correct a situation or just make mischief. It’s not exactly original, but it’s also not something that needed improving on. The film’s score and sound effects also make use of sounds fans of the game have grown up with. Honestly, the film could have used more of the original music as what is adapted for this film is basically the only music that stands out.

sonic friends

Sonic’s human allies, played by James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, don’t offer much, but they also don’t need to.

Beyond those sounds, there’s actually not a ton of fan-service in this one. There are some easter eggs, mainly the attackers early in the film, but the film mostly keeps everything in check. What’s here is enjoyable and most of it is easy to spot. Perhaps even too easy as I was hoping to come home and find out I missed a bunch of stuff that I could look for on another viewing, but I basically caught it all. I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t able to make use of past voice actors, most notably Jaleel White, but maybe the studio tried and it just didn’t happen. The same can be said of past songs like the theme for the Saturday morning cartoon or the Sega CD “Sonic Boom” track. There is a post credits cameo that’s worth waiting for that all but guarantees a sequel as well, so if you like this then I guess that’s good news.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a competent take on the character that successfully adapts him for the big screen. It’s not a great film, but it is a short one coming it around 99 minutes and that’s all the time it needed. It’s a film worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the character, or if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a movie to take the kids to that won’t bore or annoy you. If you liked Detective Pikachu then I think that’s a pretty good comparison and a solid indicator on if you’ll like this one. Sonic moves at a faster pace and has fewer lulls, but it also doesn’t have as much heart. Its human characters are bland and uninteresting, but they thankfully are not tasked with carrying many scenes by themselves. This is a film that knows what its audience wants, and that’s Sonic. He’s front and center and quite enjoyable to spend time with. If you ever wanted to see a Sonic movie, it’s hard to imagine one turning out better than this.

Dec. 13 – How to Grinch

the grinch teaserChristmas has a number of characters that instantly come to mind at the mere mention of the holiday. The big man, good old S. Claus, is likely number one. Whether you know him as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, or something else, Santa Claus has dominated the holiday for decades now. Other characters commonly associated with the holiday include Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf, Macaulay Culkin, and some guy named Jesus. Another big one has to be the greenest, and I don’t mean Shrek. The Grinch has been a holiday mainstay for over 50 years. He originate in the world of print and came from the mind of one Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss. Nearly a decade after the success of the original 1957 book came the television special in 1966 which was hugely successful. It made the Grinch a household name and a sought after network special each year.

As is often the case, when something finds success in print or on television Hollywood takes notice. We now have two feature films based on the story of a thieving Christmas villain:  the 2000 Jim Carrey vehicle and the 2018 animated film known simply as The Grinch. The character of the Grinch was also popular enough to show up in other books by Seuss and there was even an attempt to make him an icon of Halloween. With all of this Grinch going around it’s hard to know what’s worthwhile and what’s not. And with the holiday season now essentially halfway complete, there’s not a lot of time to get your Grinch fix in 2019.

chuck jones grinch and max

Just hook it to my veins!

A few years ago, I declared How the Grinch Stole Christmas as the best Christmas television special ever. In reviewing that 25 day countdown I see a lot of room for omissions and admissions, but I’ve never wavered on number one. The Grinch is the be all, end all, Christmas special. It looks terrific, features great performances, and also has a memorable song. It’s recommended viewing for this Christmas and every Christmas to come. If you have yet to view it in 2019 then get on that! I watch it multiple times every year and wouldn’t have it any other way.

That television special is the best, but what of the other Grinch media? Should you bother with any of it? The book requires little investment in both time and money, but the films are a different beast all together. With each minute of Christmas time precious, and the films made readily, and tantalizingly, available either on cable or via streaming it can be hard to figure out. Well, I’m here to help set you straight and let you know if these things are worth your time or not. Because I value my own personal time so little, I’ve recently taken in all of these things and am prepared to render a verdict.

Let’s start with that 1957 book. The Grinch was a unique character when he arrived. Dr. Seuss had never made an adult the main character of one of his stories, and certainly had never centered one on a villain. Titled How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, it was written and illustrated by Seuss and while it spans 69 pages (nice) it hardly requires much time to read through as pages often consist of just a few sentences and many just artwork. It’s presented in black, white, and red which is interesting considering how the character of the Grinch is now often associated with the color green. I wish I had encountered the book before the television special just so I could have been shocked to see him surface in green. Would I have assumed he was a different color, and what color would that have been? Those are questions I can’t even ask let alone answer.

wonderful awful idea print

This scene seems dull compared with the animated version.

The story is largely the same as the animated special, just less. There’s obviously no music, and some lines you may recall fondly from the special aren’t present. It’s fun to read though because of the way Seuss rhymes. His books always have a playful rhythm and I rarely tire of reading them to my own children. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is no exception, and if you enjoy the television special then you should own a copy of the book as well, especially if you have kids. In my house, it can be hard to get them to request something other than this book before bed when the Christmas season comes to an end. I don’t really mind, but my wife sure does.

The book is an easy recommend, but the films present a much more difficult challenge. Let’s start with that 2000 film directed by Ron Howard, shall we? It was an interesting time as Dr. Seuss stories had never been adapted for live-action before. That’s because Dr. Seuss had refused all of Hollywood’s temptations. By 1998 though the Dr. himself was long gone, but his widow Audrey was around and willing to listen as long as the price was right. She supposedly handpicked Howard to direct the picture after he delivered a pitch for a film he had no intention of directing and wouldn’t agree to any other director. The studio settled on Carrey for the titular role with some influence of Geisel, while the role of Cindy Lou went to the young Taylor Momsen. The cast also featured a few other names of the era such as Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, and Molly Shannon. Audrey Geisel had a lot of demands of the film, and the acquisition of the film rights lead to a bidding war in which studios basically had to line-up famous individuals to deliver the pitch to Geisel personally. It’s hard not to conjure up images of Geisel seated on a Seuss-ian throne high above network executives feigning disinterest as they frantically try to pitch her on an idea for a movie.

dr. seuss

The man who came up with all of the funny words was not much interested in Hollywood’s overtures.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was tasked with adapting the book and television special authentically, while also stretching it out to a feature length. The TV special was able to adapt the book by filling it with musical bits, but that only filled about 25 minutes. It already felt stretched as far as it could go, so in order for the film to do the same it needed to focus on elements the prior versions ignored. Namely, it needed to explore the main character and why he hates Christmas. Howard also wanted to expand upon the character of Cindy Lou Who and the denizens of Whoville and in order to do so he felt the character needed to be aged-up from 2 to 6. In order to make the Grinch hate Christmas, Howard settled on making him bullied as a child. He looks nothing like the other Whos, so he was an easy target for bullies. He tries to win the affections of a classmate at Christmas time who seems to also have feelings for him, but when he cuts himself trying to shave off his green beard the other kids mock him mercilessly. It corresponds with him wanting to present his crush with a Christmas gift, but when the other kids make fun of him he decides to instead smash the gift and direct his ire at the holiday itself.

Cindy Lou Who learns of this origin story for the Grinch and decides to make things better for him. She nominates him for an ambassador-like position at Christmas. The Grinch does not have any interest, but his old crush and rivals will be present and that’s enough to get him involved. The other Whos are not really keen on the idea. When he shows up for the festival, the mayor mocks him by gifting him an electric shaver and the resulting humiliation is what spurs the Grinch on to carry out his plan to steal Christmas.

audrey geisel

Dr. Seuss may not have been interested in Hollywood, but Audrey wasn’t above taking the money and she was a shrewd negotiator to boot.

When this film premiered, I attended with my family even though I had long since aged-out of the tradition of heading to the movies with my parents. It was probably the last film we saw as a family until one of the Lord of the Rings films when I was home from college. For some reason, my dad was really geared-up to see this one even though I can’t recall him ever displaying any affection towards the television special. He would watch it with us, but I just assumed he was being nice. At any rate, we saw it and I think we kind of liked it? I’m not real sure, but I know it never became an annual holiday tradition in my household in the years that followed. The changes made to the plot are mostly okay. They’re there out of necessity, even if they’re not all that interesting. Does the Grinch need sympathy? Howard seemed to think so and it’s certainly an easier path to take, but part of the original story was we didn’t know why he hated Christmas and it didn’t matter. “Whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes…” goes the famous line, and it’s not even confirmed his heart was the issue as it’s basically just how the account from Whoville has carried on through the years.

carrey grinch and cindy

The live-action film hinges on the relationship between Grinch and Cindy Lou Who. I mentioned that I thought the Grinch looked fine, but he definitely has a Robbie from Dinosaurs thing going on with his hair here.

At any rate, Jim Carrey approaches the character like he did all of his screwball characters from the 90s. He’s loud, obnoxious, and speaks with a goofy voice. The move to live-action is actually not terrible. Yeah, he has these weird, hairy, Grinch-boobs, but he largely looks the part. He’s way less horrifying than Mike Myers’ Cat in the Hat, anyway. Whoville though looks terrible. It’s like a scene from a mall Santa experience. It’s fake, and lacks the Seuss charm. The Whos look like a race of people descended from the transformed kid in Jumanji with these weird, anime, noses. By the time the film gets to the stealing part I’ve grown tired of Carrey’s Grinch. It’s just too much, and it doesn’t help that the soundtrack sucks. By the time the film concludes with Grinch’s redemption (he even gets the girl!) I am way past checked-out and just happy to see the credits role, even if they’re accompanied by an awful Faith Hill song.

ugly whos

The adult Whos are just plain weird looking. It’s like an entire town of people decided Michael Jackson’s 2000 look was something to emulate.

If you can’t tell, I’m not digging on the Carrey Grinch. That’s a film worth passing on. The more intriguing one is the more recently released The Grinch. It was originally slated for 2017, but delays pushed it to November 2018. Christmas movies being what they are, any small delay in production results in basically a year long delay in the release cycle so it’s hard to say just how much re-tooling the film needed without being a part of the production staff. Even knowing that, it’s always alarming when a film gets bumped so severely and rarely does it seem the end result pays off. Recently, X-Men:  Dark Phoenix saw a delay and the end-result was pretty lackluster. Given the quality of the previous film, Apocalypse, I’m not sure if that one really had a chance. One of the latest examples, and still an open item, is Sonic the Hedgehog which got bumped out of a 2019 release and into 2020 when the Internet collectively sneered at Sonic’s appearance in the initial trailer.

The Grinch is an Illumination’s production following 2012’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Animation feels like the proper vehicle for Seuss adaptations, and this being 2018, CG is going to be the medium. Benedict Cumberbatch stars this time around with support from Keenan Thompson, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, and Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who, once again a kid instead of a toddler. Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney co-directed this one and they were tasked with once again bringing a pretty brief story to a feature length. Like the 2000 film, this one provides a backstory for why the Grinch hates Christmas and also seeks to make Cindy Lou Who a bigger part of the film. This time around she just wants to make sure her mom, who is a single mother raising three kids, gets what she deserves for Christmas and to do that she enlists the help of the neighborhood kids to capture Santa on Christmas Eve. This naturally sets up a confrontation with a thieving Grinch who grew to hate Christmas because, as an orphan, he grew to resent the holiday when kids with families had a good time but he did not.

grinch spaghetti

Grinch in the midst of some delicious stress eating in bed.

Cumberbatch uses an American accent when voicing the Grinch and his version of the character is in-line with the Boris Karloff and Jim Carrey versions in that they speak in almost a thin growl. There’s also a nasally quality to the performance, and if I didn’t read the credits I would have sworn that Grinch was being voiced by Bill Hader. This Grinch is not nearly as pompous as Carrey’s, and he’s just a curmudgeon who feels worn down by Christmas. Quite possibly the film’s funniest moment is when Grinch discovers that he’s out of food and a little montage plays showing him stress-eating due to the oncoming holiday. The Grinch does a better job of providing a real personality for the main character without shoe-horning in too much melodrama. I certainly like this character more than I do his other iterations since the film gives me a reason to. Max is along for the ride as well and appropriately adorable.

Whoville is much more enjoyable to look at as well. It’s basically one giant hill that seems to be perpetually covered in snow. Everyone gets around via sled and it looks like a fun place to visit, though totally impractical to reside in. Cindy Lou Who is likeable enough as well, though I found her plight too conventional for a Christmas story to the point that it’s boring. When Grinch isn’t on the screen the picture really struggles to hold my attention.

santa grinch

As a kid, it bothered me that the Grinch didn’t include a beard with his costume, but now that he has one I hate it.

Which wouldn’t be a huge problem if Grinch could carry his own film. He’s close, and I mentioned he’s likable, but I’m not sure he’s funny. To pad the film we’re shown his plans for stealing Christmas which occur over a few days and include the enlisting of a rather large reindeer named Fred. Fred provides some comedic relief alongside Max especially as he tries to work the gadgets in Grinch’s supervillain-like lair, but he’s not around for very long since Max is destined to pull the Grinch’s sleigh so when he leaves it almost feels like the film just wasted our time.

There’s also the Illumination feel projected onto this story. I don’t detest Illumination or anything, but their films all seem to possess things I do not like. There seems to be a drive by either the production company or parent company to make these films feel modern by using licensed music. This often leads to parody as well which I rarely find funny and only serves to date the films down the road. It’s also how you end up with a hip-hop rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” that just doesn’t work. Grinch’s home also feels too similar to that of Gru from Despicable Me as it’s filled with gadgets and gizmos befitting a mad scientist, though Grinch doesn’t display much aptitude for invention. On the plus side, Danny Elfman handled the film’s score and his style actually works well with a non-creepy Christmas movie. I almost didn’t know it was him until one point in the movie that is unmistakably Elfman.

jerk grinch

In addition to that stress eating gag, the early parts of the film featuring the Grinch just being a jerk to everyone in town is pretty great.

When it comes to The Grinch, I’m a bit conflicted. It looks fine, and the story is okay, but it didn’t leave me feeling much of anything. I didn’t yearn for the film to end like I did the 2000 film, nor was I hoping it would go on. I also can’t say I have much of a desire to revisit it making me doubt I’ll be adding this to my Christmas rotation. Not that it’s my decision, as my kids seems to enjoy it so I may be stuck with it as long as it’s on Netflix. As long as they don’t refuse to watch the ’67 special, I suppose I can live with it.

Which basically leads us back to where we were for so many years. Growing up, I was content to have my Grinch in book form and cartoon form and I think I’m fine with leaving the character there. I think both films made an honest effort to adapt the venerable story for movie theaters and the steps both took to lengthen the story were logical, just not always entertaining. And now that we have both a live-action film and an animated one, I don’t foresee anyone else attempting to bring the Grinch to the big screen anytime soon. The Grinch ended up making half a billion dollars at the box office so maybe we’re not done with the character and they’ll bring him back in another story, but probably not in a conventional sequel. For now, if you’re looking to welcome the Grinch into your home this holiday season, just stick with the book and Chuck Jones special.

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