The latest version of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch can be described similarly to the newest version of its most popular song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. It’s a fresh and fun remake of a classic that is completely unnecessary because it’s not better than the previous versions. The one experience wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good enough to be revisited because there are better versions that already exist. To be fair to Tyler the Creator, who remade the song, and co-directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, it has been 18 years since the live action How the Grinch Stole Christmas which is more than long enough to justify a remake in today’s Hollywood. With that being said, news of a remake was both confusing and disappointing. The lead up to the film didn’t do much to dissuade my doubts and after 90 minutes in the theater, I was left with the same question…why?
Full disclosure, the 2000 live action remake is my favorite Christmas movie of all-time. Apart from that clear bias, I think that film is a solid Christmas movie and holds up just fine 18 years later. The same can be said for the original animated classic from 1996. I understand remaking films that don’t hold up or were made as well as they could have been but that is not the case for The Grinch. Which is why I am so confused by this and the film itself didn’t do much to solve my confusion. It is essentially the same story retold with a few tweaks that make it slightly different from its predecessors. The Grinch, who hates Christmas, decides to steal Christmas from the Who’s in Whoville to teach them a lesson and in turn learns the true meaning of Christmas himself. It’s a great story that continues to work perfectly each year and worked again for this film. The problem, which is the biggest problem with The Grinch as a whole, is that the story has already been successfully told, twice.
This version of The Grinch is far from bad and the main reason for that is the animation. It was beautiful, bright, fun and lifelike, everything that this story needs to be properly brought to life. I found myself in awe several times at just how lifelike the snow was. It looked and felt so real, I wanted to reach out and touch it. With that came the bright and beautiful colors. Being a Christmas film there is no real surprise that it was full of color but it seemed to especially pop in this film. The screen would light up and the camera would pan across a beautiful Whoville decked out with Christmas colors and you can’t help but smile and get in the spirit. That is the essence of what makes this story so great; it is a true celebration of Christmas and all the best parts of that. This film got all of that and presented it in an absolutely beautiful way.
Visually The Grinch was a fresh update of the classic story but pretty much everything else was a retread of previous ideas. Most unfortunate was the exploration into the Grinch’s backstory. We saw a version of this in the 2000 remake and it’s a totally understandable idea. The original story is just over 20 minutes long and there needs to be some stretching to get to feature film length and the most obvious idea is to look into how the Grinch became so grinchy. However, this film struggled to make this compelling. The Grinch being an orphan that no Who wanted to adopt could be interesting but strangely enough there wasn’t any real time given to this plot so it ended up falling kind of flat. Also, the Grinch is a more interesting character when he is being mean and villainous, not when he becomes sympathetic which is what happens when you explore his backstory. This story is the rare occasion when more backstory hurts the overall story.
Adding to the disappointment were the main characters of the story. Benedict Cumberbatch provided the voice for the Grinch and most of the time was perfectly fine but it didn’t have anything dynamic to it. Cumberbatch has a good voice for animation but this particular character needs to be bigger and Cumberbatch couldn’t really get there. More frustrating was Cindy Lou Who, which felt more like Agnes from Despicable Me than anything else. Agnes is a charming character that is a lot of fun (she’s my favorite character in that franchise) and some of that translated here but Cindy Lou Who didn’t feel like her own character, just pieces of other characters. Cindy is a big part of what makes the story work. She is supposed to steal our hearts and drive the emotional moments of the story, those don’t work as well because Cindy doesn’t work all that well as a character. Like Cumberbatch, the voice work isn’t bad it just didn’t get to where it needed.
I’ll say again, The Grinch is far from a bad film. If this is the only version of this story you see, then you’ll really love it. It’s a good rendition of the story, it looks great and it’s plenty of fun. Everything that you want in a Christmas movie is present in this film and coming off the heels of a less than spectacular Nutcracker and the Four Realms this is a perfect way to get into the holiday season. The Grinch is a tried and true story that works. The problem with this particular film is that if I want to see the Grinch steal Christmas, this would be my third choice.
3 out of 5 stars
Director: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier Writer: Michael LeSieur (screenplay by), Tommy Swerdlow (screenplay by) Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Kenan Thompson Date: November 9th Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hour and 30 minutes