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''Dalmatians'' and ''Grinch'' aren't worthy family movies

But ”Rugrats” is a holiday find, says Bruce Fretts

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102 Dalmatians
Dalmation: ©Disney

”Dalmatians” and ”Grinch” aren’t worthy family movies

As many parents have been heard to grumble recently, there hasn’t been a decent family movie in months (Okay, I didn’t see last month’s ”The Little Vampire,” but I heard it sucked). Now Hollywood has released a feast of allegedly kiddie friendly films for Thanksgiving: ”Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” ”Rugrats in Paris,” and ”102 Dalmatians.” But which one is most worth your hard earned moviegoing moolah?

”The Grinch” has the early box office lead, pilfering $55 million in its record breaking opening weekend. Clearly, Jim Carrey drew audiences of all ages, and with good reason: If it’s possible for a title character to swipe a movie, Carrey does it here. His decision to give the creature a Scottish burr is odd, but he impressively replicates the Grinch’s trademark grin. And he wrings laughs out of the film’s limp script (e.g., turning a line about his heart shrinking two sizes into a diet commercial testimonial: ”And this time, I’m keeping it off”).

The problem is, that’s not a joke Dr. Seuss would ever have made. The movie really should be called ”Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” No, make that ”WHY the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Seuss’ storybook is largely ignored for the film’s interminable first hour as we’re treated to flashbacks explaining what turned the Grinch into such a grouch (It turns out he was teased as a child — hey, who wasn’t?).

Director Ron Howard lays on the Hollywood pyrotechnics, or as the Grinch might put it, ”the noise, noise, noise, noise!” The overdone sets make Whoville look like the bad amusement park it’s no doubt destined to become, and although the supporting cast features gifted comedic actors like Jeffrey Tambor and Molly Shannon, nobody but Carrey is given anything funny to do. Parents should note the PG rating — the sheer sensory onslaught might be too much for young children. They’d be better off sticking with Chuck Jones’ vintage animated version, which has just been rereleased on VHS and DVD.

Somehow, Disney’s far more violent ”102 Dalmatians” received a G rating, but that doesn’t mean parents should subject their kids to this mean spirited sequel. The less said about Glenn Close’s return as Cruella de Vil, the better. Maybe if we just ignore it, it’ll go away. In fact, ”Rugrats in Paris” is the movie ”102 Dalmatians” wishes it could be. The sequel to 1998’s ”Rugrats: The Movie” features the best animated villainess since the original Cruella: Coco La Bouche, a hysterically haughty Frenchwoman whom Chuckie Finster must prevent from wedding his widower dad. (Between Susan Sarandon’s Coco and Gérard Depardieu’s evil furrier Jean-Pierre Le Pelt in ”102 Dalmatians,” there’s a master’s thesis just waiting to be written about Francophobia in children’s films). Plus, ”Rugrats” beat ”Dalmatians” to its natural theme song, the Baha Men’s playground anthem: ”Who Let the Dogs Out?” Instead, Disney had to settle for a spotty new song that liberally samples from George Clinton’s ”Atomic Dog.”

While I was recently reviewing a new collection of ”Charlie Brown” holiday specials on DVD, it occurred to me that ”Rugrats” is the ”Peanuts” of Generation Z. Goodhearted Tommy Pickles is like Charlie, with worrisome Chuckie as his best pal Linus, and diva in training pants Angelica as Lucy. There’s even a Snoopy-esque dog, Spike. Like the best ”Peanuts” specials, ”Rugrats in Paris” works on many levels, for both kids and parents. I wish I could say the same about Jim Carrey’s latest movie — but maybe I’m just being a Grinch.