The Grinch is not very Grinch-y in the newest version of The Grinch. That’s the main takeaway, probably. The film establishes a backstory for him (he grew up in an orphanage and without anyone to love him during Christmas.
So that’s why he hates the holiday season) and lets him have a few mean moments early on in the story (nearly all of which appear in the trailer), and everything else is pretty much true to the book version and the original cartoon version and the Jim Carrey version. But it’s the softness that’s most interesting, and what makes the movie enjoyable to watch.
I took my three sons with me to the theater to watch The Grinch. We go to the movies a lot together. It’s one of my favorite things to do with them. The older ones—11-year-old twins—and I have been doing it for several years now. Most times, it’s great. Occasionally it’s not, but only once has that reason been because the movie we went to go see was so bad that it was unenjoyable. That was when we went and saw that Fantastic Four movie in 2015, easily the single worst movie we have watched together.
Typically, a movie trip gets dropped into the Not Great side of the ledger because the movie I picked for us was too gnarly for them, like when we went and watched Logan, which I realized was a mistake in the first few minutes of it when a woman flashed her breasts, or John Wick: Chapter 2, which I realized was a mistake after he shot his sixth or seventh person in the forehead. But, again: Most times it’s great.
My youngest son, who’s 6 years old, has only recently started going to the movies with us.
That’s probably why I was excited to go see The Grinch. The twins, I knew in my head, were too old to be all the way interested in it (but not so old that they would turn down an invitation to go). The younger one, though—I knew he was going to be all about it.
And so we all went. And, as anticipated, the twins sat there the entire time without making a sound while the younger one had himself a real fucking ball. He was laughing big and eating candy (Sour Patch Kids, but with a great deal of care so as to avoid accidentally picking up a yellow one) and talking far too loud to me (“DADDY CAN YOU BUY ME A REINDEER?). It was fun, and he was fun, and things were fun, as I’d expected.
Reboots and retellings are nothing new in pop culture.
But there seems to be something afoot in retreads of recent years: a meticulous effort to keep the spirit of their original sources. Even sequels like Creed, Halloween and the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns feel like retellings for how closely they hew to the plot beats of their originals (the trailer for the Mary Poppins sequel even comes with its own two-dimensional cel animation of dancing penguins).
The trick, then, is threading the needle between nostalgia and freshness. Creed did it via race, Halloween did it via female empowerment—does this retelling of The Grinch have something essentially different to offer?
Of course not. How much social wokeness can you expect from a Christmas story by Dr. Seuss (apart from the participation of pop star Pharrell Williams as the narrator, which may or may not be the result of an inclusion rider in the contract, but which also results in some weirdly flaccid narration)?
The story is still the same:
The green-furred and persnickety Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) contemplates with irritation the warm, fuzzy excitement that Christmas generates in the town below his mountain aerie, Whoville. He plans and executes a heist of all the town’s gifts and holidays trappings—all the while experiencing a gradual evolution in his thinking—culminating in his encounter with little Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely), whose selflessness and innocence push him to a complete change of heart.
Directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier have the unenviable task of finessing this slight tale into another feature-length movie (at least the beloved 1966 made-for-TV movie had commercials to pad its running time). They mostly do this by adding outlandish stunts, a harmless subplot here and there (like the search for a reindeer for his purloined sleigh), and imitation Dr. Seuss doggerel (delivered by the aforementioned Williams).
But unlike Ron Howard’s critically reviled live-action retelling featuring Jim Carrey back in 2000.
Cheney and Mosier recognize that adding more might actually be less. They’re not setting up the Grinch to be an over-caffeinated lunatic trying to pry laughs from you with a crowbar; this time, the Grinch’s loneliness and isolation are front and center.
There’s a joke-free stretch that establishes his orphan backstory, and the gags that illustrate the Grinch’s psychology are smart and well-placed, such as a binge-eating montage and a sequence where he plays “All By Myself” on his spaghetti-like pipe organ.
Benedict Cumberbatch follows this less-is-more aesthetic with an adroit, American-accented voice performance.
His Grinch isn’t cartoonishly diabolical, only miffed and frustrated, a relatable portrait of how we can all act out when our feelings are bruised. Most importantly, he gives you a sense that, even though he lives isolated from it, Whoville is a part of who he is—and therein lies the key to his salvation. The Grinch will be a fun diversion for your kids right before Christmas, but for those of us who’ve read the book and seen the 1966 movie in ‘70s reruns, it’s a sleek and shiny way to bask in some nostalgia.
Rating: PG (for brief rude humor)
Genre: Animation, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By: Scott Mosier, Yarrow Cheney
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones
Written By: Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow
In Theaters: Nov 9, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Feb 5, 2019
Runtime: 86 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures
[The Grinch] is excessively well-meaning and very tame. No doubt it will please those who will always love the story, no matter what shape it takes, but you have to be a fan.
It’s best for kids and adults who just can’t handle the angry, diabolical monster of films past.
The latest animated iteration of Christmas’ most famous nemesis might not be strictly necessary, but it’s still pretty fun – and revamped just enough to feel fresh.
“The Grinch” is a respectable, if safe, retelling of Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic.