“Everyone should be happy, right?”
While the latest version of The Grinch sorely lacks the general grumpiness and meanness you’d expect from Dr. Seuss’ beloved, pot-bellied recluse, this take on the classic property packs razzle-dazzle visuals and more affection than any telling before. Kindness is more of the top priority on this iteration’s agenda than redemption really ever is, which makes the film easy to digest while it also belittles the titular character’s inherent position as an anti-hero. 2018’s The Grinch takes no risks, forfeiting the trademark character flaws to make a picture that’s inoffensively warm, at times even surprisingly sweet, yet never nasty enough to make the niceties stand out.
We all know the story and The Grinch mostly sticks to the script. The Grinch (voiced by an uninspired Benedict Cumberbatch) spends his days holed up in a mountain like a troglodyte, passing the time with his trusty sidekick pooch Max. They don’t really do much of anything, spending their awake time counting the minutes until they’re back to bed. Despite all of the hi-jinks that the film depicts early on, it’s clear that the Grinch is lonely and depressed. Perhaps my favorite bit in the movie finds him at an organ playing Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself,” wallowing in his own misery as Max tries to cheer up this green grump with some lively drums. All the while Whoville’s busy prepping their most extravagant Christmas yet because the Mayor (Angela Lansbury) wants this year to be 3x bigger than normal. Maybe Grinch’s heart will grow at the same rate.
Christmas comes and The Grinch is forced out of hibernation to restock his food supplies, and then immediately overwhelmed by the seasonal cheer spewing through the streets. Meanwhile Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) schemes a risky plot to confront Santa, asking him to help her single Mom (Rashida Jones). It’s a pleasant change-up to the story – albeit the only significant switch I noticed – that adds a level of compassion between Cindy-Lou and The Grinch. Besides this simple change, there really isn’t anything new about The Grinch outside of the effortlessly cool narration by Pharrell Williams. The 1966 original is short, to the point, and expertly darkened by the nefarious voice of Boris Karloff. 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas was largely panned by critics at the time, and although some of the distaste was deserving, it’s still a delightfully bizarre live-action adaptation with depth and backstory and flair. As for The Grinch, I’m not really sure what else it brings to the table besides the ability to appease kids and sell an insane amount of tickets.
From Illumination Entertainment, the same studio that’s brought us The Secret Life of Pets, Minions, and the Despicable Me series, The Grinch dumbs itself down by heavily relying on the kind of ridiculous antics you’d see in an old Looney Tunes cartoon. That seems to be what Illumination does best, and I’ll admit they do it rather well. The end even pulls on a few heartstrings as it shifts over to a scene inspired by A Christmas Carol with a Tiny Tim (Cindy-Lou) and Scrooge (The Grinch) dynamic. The film itself has been animated by artists with an eye for all things Inspector Gadget, bringing the most absurd ideas to life that practically leap off the screen. And although this iteration of The Grinch stuffs details and tinsel into every frame, as well as a heavy dose of heart, it’s all too familiar. It’s a fun, enjoyable movie that somehow has no reason to exist.
“We did mean things and we did them in style.”
Rating: 3 out of 5