Critics can be Grinches. Maybe that’s why this new Illumination film, The Grinch (2018), is getting mixed reviews. I say that, as a self-appointed film critic, that really enjoyed this film. To be honest, I’m a sucker for Christmas movies, and I love both the old cartoon and Ron Howard’s film featuring the furry green menace of the Whos. Still, I went in apprehensive for this one, and walked out very happy with this film’s take on the Dr. Seuss character.
The Grinch is a different take on the familiar story and it resonated with me
The major story of The Grinch is primarily unchanged. The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) hates Christmas, and decides it is time for it to end so he doesn’t have to deal with it anymore. He and his faithful dog companion, Max, begin working out the details to become Santa Claus and steal Christmas right out from under the Whos little upturned noses. If you’ve seen the others, then you know how the end will likely go; it’s a Christmas classic, and that is left intact.
What the original cartoon never did was try to flesh out exactly why the Grinch hated Christmas. Howard’s take on it puts his Grinch (played by Jim Carrey in his version) as a victim of bullying who became so alienated that he hated everyone in Whoville. He went into hiding, and became essentially a mythological creature for the young Whos to fear. The Grinch was then prodded out of hiding by Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen in Howard’s version) and her need to prove that Christmas is more than just presents and lights.
This new version of the film, directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier and written by Tommy Swerdlow and Michael LeSieur, paints a different picture of the iconic green character. There is no big antagonistic force that made the Grinch so bitter; he simply never had anyone to call a family, and pushed himself into an isolated state of being. The citizens of Whoville don’t fear him or even seem to treat him differently, and it appears he lives a relatively normal life. It’s the mayor’s decision to make Christmas three times bigger – a number that fans of the old story will take significance in – that forces the Grinch’s hand.
The other changes to the traditional story come from Cindy Lou’s (Cameron Seely) perspective. There is a modernized take to her family dynamic that I think makes the classic story fit all the better to today’s younger audience. Her mother, voiced by Rashida Jones, appears to be a single parent raising Cindy and her younger twin brothers. Cindy sees how hard her mom works, and just wants her to be happy.
There are a few new characters introduced in this story that stand out as positives as well. Mr. Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson) is overly kind, and considers the Grinch to be his best friend; a sentiment that is not reciprocated though Bricklebaum is oblivious to that detail. He brings some laughter every time he gets to deliver a line of dialogue. The other major addition is an overweight reindeer named Fred. He is super cute, and gets to have some fun – usually at the Grinch’s expense.
I really found this film to be a lot of fun. It looked absolutely amazing, and it made Whoville a fictional destination I would most love to visit during the Christmas season. There are some really great sequences that take you through the parts of the town – especially when Cindy Lou is tubing around the city to get her letter to the post office worker. The animation style is solid, and there are a few other scenes like this that probably would look really cool in the 3D version of the film.
Tonally, I enjoyed this take on the Grinch. I found Cumberbatch’s performance to earn a lot of empathy from me. He is a more relatable character, and since the conflict is primarily internal, I found this take on the story to be quite rewarding. My biggest complaint was that I found the narration delivery by Pharrell Williams to be a bit too muted of a performance, and also inconsistently used. In the end, The Grinch earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating ,though I foresee this film entering my Christmas rotation.