A grumpy Grinch plots to ruin Christmas for the village of Whoville. (from IMDB)
With the news that Illumination Entertainment was releasing their own version of the beloved Dr. Seuss Christmas story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, most people couldn't help but ask... why? While it already seems too soon to revisit the Grinch's story, it's hard to imagine it's been almost 20 years since Ron Howard directed the live action adaptation that put Jim Carrey in the hairy green suit. That film hasn't aged well, either, and its mixed reception probably hasn't improved in the 18 years since its release.
After the live action adaptation of The Cat In The Hat tanked in 2003, the Seuss estate put the kibosh on all future live action Dr. Seuss films--thank goodness--which led to the CGI animated Horton Hears a Who and the environmentally heavyhanded The Lorax. Now joining the CGI animated collection is a new version of The Grinch, from the same team that brought us Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets. The end result is, surprisingly, almost everything we'd want from a feature-length Grinch story.
At first glance, The Grinch really isn't too different than a Despicable Me entry. Gru pretty much is a Grinch-like character, who is only softened by the love of, in his case, three little orphaned girls. For The Grinch, our titular quasi-villain is the orphan, and his life is turned upside down by the love of one little girl, Cindy Lou. While Ron Howard's Grinch had Cindy Lou take special interest in heaping love and grace on the green menace, this new outing has Cindy Lou be the daughter of a single, working mother who is in desperate need of some time off this Christmas. It ends up being Cindy Lou's selflessness that impacts the Grinch's heart so much. Other changes to the story include the involvement of a new reindeer character that the Grinch tries to enlist to help him steal Christmas. Gone is the ridiculous "Whobilation" subplot, from the Ron Howard version, and weird over-the-top antics (like the exploding mini car or the Who's contest for the best decorated home). Instead, the focus continues to be on the Who's obsession over the Christmas season, and the Grinch's abhorrence of it.
Other new characters include Mr. Bricklebaum, who actually knows the Grinch and is considered to have some of the biggest Christmas spirit of anyone in the town. We also meet Cindy Lou Who's young peers who join her on her quest to capture, and meet, Santa Claus. While each subsequent viewing of the 2000 Grinch reveals just how irritating so much of that film and its characters really are, there's an honest-to-goodness Christmasy heart to the 2018 Grinch that that version greatly lacked. The 2000 film is creative and visually entertaining, but its color palette is drab and dark. It's silly, but in a more bizarre than funny way, and its finale is really the only part of the film that gives the viewer a Christmas feeling. Illumination's take on the Seuss classic is fun, beautiful, and brimming with a Christmas feeling. I can't remember the last time I watched a new Christmas movie that made me feel the way this movie did.
The only thing I wasn't crazy about with this new film is the music. Like with Despicable Me, the film is given a more rap/hip hop kind of vibe, this time by Tyler the Creator, and they butcher the Grinch's original theme in the process. Just because it worked for Despicable Me, doesn't really mean it works for The Grinch (like having "Happy" singer Pharrell Williams assume the role of narrator this time around, which is an odd choice), and I feel it's going to damage the otherwise timeless nature of the film in the Christmas seasons to come. Still, if I'm being honest, it certainly won't keep me from wanting to revisit this film each year around the holidays.
I'd be remiss if I didn't spotlight the incredible animation in this film. While the movie is often cute and funny, it's also truly a marvel to look at. The animation for the snow alone is jaw-dropping. There's a sequence where the Grinch is approaching Fred the reindeer that looks so detailed and realistic, it's scary. And in other scenes, things as simple as the glow of his candy-cane staff is so freakishly lifelike that it helps push this film above average. Sure, spectacle isn't everything, but I can appreciate incredible animation, and Illumination have gone above and beyond to mix a realistic and cartoony feel together gorgeously.
Finally, I have to say Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as the Grinch. The voice he uses is an odd choice (I later read it was his attempt to fit in with the American voice cast), especially since his normal voice is closer to the original Boris Karloff's than what he puts on here, but there is a certain charm to how he approaches the character in this film. This Grinch, while grumpy and mischievous, is still likable, and he never feels quite as "far gone" as the 1966 version did. I'd have to say the moment that causes him to have a change of heart in this story doesn't feel as worthy of the grand epiphany he seems to have, but it still works nonetheless, especially as part of this less volatile version of the character.
The content is what you might expect from The Grinch, although it's really quite tame -- far tamer than the 2000 film in fact. There is no course or inappropriate language, and I was surprised to hear Christmas songs used that blatantly speak of Christ's name -- like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." There is some mild, slapstick violence, and the only real possibly objectionable material would be the instances where the Grinch's behavior is rude or naughty -- like spitting out a pickle back into its jar and putting it in someone's cart, or hitting a person in the face with a snowball, or spitefully breaking the last jar of jam on a store shelf that someone wanted to purchase. The bad behavior is somewhat necessary to illustrate the Grinch's turnaround later, but any impressionable kids who might not know better may need some parental guidance for clarity before or after the film.
All in all, I wasn't expecting to like the new Grinch, let alone love it, so I was pleasantly surprised when my family and I emerged from the theater with hearts that grew a size or two bigger after viewing it. Great new Christmas movies aren't easy to come by these days, but this film is certainly worthy of checking out by anyone who loved the original, was disappointed by the first remake, or just wants a little dose of that Christmas feeling.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/26/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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