Home > Reviews > HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS – James Horner


November 17, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

howthegrinchstolechristmasOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The problem with reviewing this kind of album is whether to review the score, or the package as presented to us by the record label. Interscope Records’ release is a curious hybrid of pop, dialogue and score that never quite gels together as a product – although the three elements, in themselves, are good, the end result of an album that falls short on virtually all levels, each part never quite complementing each other, and leaving score fans with a definite sense of being short-changed. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, shortened to simply “The Grinch” over here, is the first live-adaptation of the classic children’s story by Theodor S. Geisel, aka Dr Seuss. The story was famously rendered in cartoon form by the legendary Chuck Jones in 1966, and went on to become a perennial Yuletide favorite in the United States, but has never captured the imagination of children in the UK in quite the same way. We know who Dr Seuss was, and all about The Cat in the Hat and so forth… it just never really caught on. Besides, we’ve got Raymond Briggs and The Snowman to keep up happy over the festive period. It’s actually rather surprising, therefore, that the movie has gone on to become a massive smash in this country, sitting at the number one slot for several weeks and taking in millions of pounds at the box office.

Set in the fictional, snow-clad town of Whoville, which is populated by a perennially cheerful race of beings called Whos, Carrey plays the Grinch, a green-furred miser with a heart two sizes two small who, after being bullied as a child, has retreated to a cave deep in the mountain high above the village, and where he now lives, alone except for his dog Max. Christmas is the highlight of the annual Who calendar, and as seasonal fever grips the town once more, the Grinch is lonelier and angrier than ever. Driven close to breaking point by the never-ending goodwill that seeps up to his hovel from the town below, and hurt by the cruel jibes aimed at him by the Whos, the Grinch plots the ultimate revenge: he will sneak down into the town on Christmas Eve, and steal all the presents and paraphernalia that goes with it, thereby ruining the season for everyone. However, little Cindy Lou Who (newcomer Taylor Momsen) sees something in the Grinch which makes her believe that he is not as nasty as he seems, and sets out to save the hairy hermit before he steals Christmas.

To be perfectly honest, I occasionally have trouble sitting through the songs on this album more than once. I admit this is unfair to the talented artists involved, especially vaguely hippyish Barenaked Ladies (who always remind me of the old Canadian group Crash Test Dummies), Ben Folds (without his Five on this occasion) and N’Sync, some of whose work I have enjoyed in the past – but I just find myself completely unable to endure extended exposure to either Busta Rhymes, or Smash Mouth… especially when the former is performing a rap duet with Jim Carrey in full Grinch mode. Having said that, if you’re in the right frame of mind, some of the songs are actually pretty enjoyable, and the delectable Faith Hill’s performance of the score’s main theme, “Where Are You Christmas?” is gorgeous, although its recapitulation in the score proper by child actress Taylor Momsen is less successful – more grating than graceful, cloying than cute.

James Horner’s score is, as one would expect, full of magic and merriment. It’s my opinion that, at some point in their careers, every composer should be given the chance to score a Christmas movie. John Williams had Home Alone, Danny Elfman had Edward Scissorhands, and now Horner is taking his turn to find a new and innovative use for sleigh bells. It’s just a shame there is so little of it included on the album, and that one of the central sequences is almost totally obscured with dialogue. The main theme – from which Faith Hill’s song is derived – is a typically lush and heart-warming melody, and features frequently throughout the score, receiving notably vibrant performances in the opening track, ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, the soft and gentle ‘Does Cindy Lou Really Ruin Christmas?’, and during the finale ‘He Carves the Roast Beast’.

One of the most talked-about aspects of Horner’s work here is the “Whoville Band”, for which he teamed up with regular collaborators Ian Underwood and Randy Kerber to create a whole orchestra full of bizarre instruments that hoot and bang and make flatulence noises. The band’s appearance halfway through the ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ was one of the few occasions where Horner’s music actually made me laugh out loud – listen out for that wacky trumpet solo!

There are also some cute touches dotted here and there, such as the rapid pizzicato string sequence (again in the opening track), while the comedy action music in ‘The Big Heist’, ‘The Sleigh of Presents’, and especially during the opening moments of ‘Stealing Christmas’ is superb, featuring some of the most inventive orchestrations Horner has employed in years, ranging from pipe organs and theremins to piano rhapsodies and trombones that whinny like horses! This style of music is obviously based upon earlier, jazz-based works such as Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Casper, but is still superbly vibrant and entertaining in its own way, driving the action forward in a powerfully, but never resorting to scare tactics or overt dissonance.

In emotional terms, the highlight cue is undoubtedly ‘A Change of the Heart’, written for the sequence where, upon realizing the true meaning of Christmas, the Grinch’s heart begins to grow. Although it once again features Horner’s patented four-note fanfare as its melodic core, the periphery of spine-tingling chimes, magical bells and gorgeous, warm string tones make it appealing, and give it an undeniable dramatic punch. As the first sunbeams of Christmas morning hit the still-sleeping Whoville, Horner introduces a choir into the mix, resulting in a piece of music which gave me bodily chills as I sat in awe in the cinema.

However, I would still recommend investing in the 25-track, 71-minute “special promotional edition” of the score, which should still be available in limited quantities from specialist soundtrack outlets. The sound quality is pretty decent, dialogue-free (mostly), and provides a much more in-depth and well-rounded representation of Horner’s work than Interscope’s chop job. Like many Christmassy soundtracks, it’s really nothing more than a commercial cash in: as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Kids Today (dialogue) (0:20)
  • Grinch 2000 (written by Albert Hague, Theodor S. Geisel and Busta Rhymes, performed by Busta Rhymes and Jim Carrey) (3:35)
  • Green Christmas (written by Steven Page and Ed Robertson, performed by Barenaked Ladies) (2:36)
  • Christmas of Love (written by Rick Chertoff, David Forman and Rob Hyman, performed by Little Isidore and the Inquisitors) (2:19)
  • Lonely Christmas Eve (written and performed by Ben Folds) (3:20)
  • Grinch Schedule (dialogue) (0:41)
  • Better Do It Right (written by Greg Camp, performed by Smash Mouth) (3:10)
  • Whoville Medley (Perfect Christmas Night/Grinch) (written by Paul O’Neill, Robert Kinkel and Jon Oliva, performed by Trans-Siberian Orchestra) (5:00)
  • Reindeer (dialogue) (0:35)
  • Christmas is Going to the Dogs (written by E, performed by The Eels) (2:58)
  • You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch (written by Albert Hague and Theodor S. Geisel, performed by Jim Carrey) (2:31)
  • Christmas Means More (dialogue) (0:49)
  • You Don’t Have To Be Alone (written by JC Chasez, Veit Renn and David Nicoll, performed by N’Sync) (4:34)
  • Where Are You Christmas? (written by James Horner, Will Jennings and Mariah Carey, performed by Faith Hill) (4:07)
  • The Shape of Things to Come Beast (includes Happy Who-lidays written by James Horner and Cynthia Weil) (6:32)
  • Memories of a Green Childhood (3:28)
  • Christmas, Why Can’t I Find You? (written by James Horner and Will Jennings, performed by Taylor Momsen) (2:09)
  • Stealing Christmas (6:56)
  • The Big Heist (4:04)
  • Does Cindy Lou Really Ruin Christmas? (4:10)
  • A Change of the Heart (3:43)
  • The Sleigh of Presents (6:02)
  • He Carves the Roast Beast (includes Welcome Christmas written by Albert Hague and Theodor S. Geisel) (3:12)

Running Time: 76 minutes 51 seconds

Interscope 0694907654 (2000)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Orchestrations by Randy Kerber, J.A.C. Redford, Joseph Alfuso, Steven J. Bernstein, J. Eric Schmidt and Richard Stone. Who-Band sound design by Ian Underwood and Randy Kerber. Dialogue performed by Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen and Anthony Hopkins. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Edited by Joe E. Rand, Jim Henrikson and John La Salandra. Mastered by Christopher Landen. Album produced by James Horner and Simon Rhodes.

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