With Benedict Cumberbatch voicing The Grinch in his attempts to ruin festivities for the Who’s of Whoville, this story is an amalgamation of all that came before, with a couple of new ideas sprinkled in. Much like the 2000 adaptation, this Grinch has a tragic backstory, however instead of being raised by lesbians and hating Christmas from the start, he was an orphan whose orphanage stopped celebrating the holiday. Whilst the former opts to keep his Christmas hatred a mystery, amplified by a traumatic childhood event, the latter robs him of mystery entirely. He doesn’t hate Christmas, really, he hates being alone. It robs him of that unfathomable maliciousness that makes the character so great. It isn’t helped by the narration keeping the classic line “The Grinch hated Christmas, The whole Christmas season. Now please, don’t ask why, No-one quite knows the reason.”
His overall attitude is softer too. Near the beginning of the film, he ventures into town to stock up on food and whilst there is treated by the script and the Who’s as a grumpy old curmudgeon. He does some mean things, like knocking over a child’s snowman, but the child merely seems disgruntled, as if this sort of thing happens all the time. In previous iterations, the Grinch either hasn’t met the Who’s (1996) or has his name mentioned in hushed whispers (20000) but here, he seems fairly well known and not disliked. His neighbour Mr Bicklebaum always greets him with a smile and an attempted hug. He’s less of a villain and more of a Town Kook. He also treats his dog Max with much more respect, as a best friend rather than an overly-faithful companion. The plot adds a subplot where The Grinch finds a reindeer named Fred to pull his sleigh and allows him to stay with them. This is clearly meant to set up a rivalry between Fred and Max (a la Feathers and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers) but the Grinch never acts like he has any intention to replace his friend. He continues to use Max as his assistant regardless with the only real moment of tension being Fred making The Grinch’s morning coffee. Fred leaves shortly before the big heist so that Max still has to pull the sleigh, but returns at the film’s end to help prevent the sleigh from plummeting over the top of Mount Crumpitt.
The other big change is Cindy Lou Who, who used to be no older than two. Here she is 5 or 6 years old, like her live-action counterpart, and one of 3 children, like both her previous iterations. However, she is now the child of a single mother and wants to capture Santa to ask for his help in making her mother’s life easier. It’s a cute subplot but often feels like it distracts from the main plot. In The Grinch (2000), Cindy Lou is researching The Grinch’s past to solve her own ‘yuletide doubts’ (in her own words), thus acting as both an insight into his character and into the mentality of the Whos. Here, she is on her own journey, completely separate from The Grinch, with the meeting of the two coming across as more of a coincidence. It’s not that her plot is irrelevant, it’s actually perfectly in keeping with the morals of Dr. Seuss, rather that it pads out an already padded movie. It feels like there are two films here, but neither one is being given the time that they deserve.
The final act of padding comes in the form of narration from musician Tyler, The Creator. Being based on a short children’s book, and given previous adaptations of said books, it makes sense that there would be narration. However, instead of using all the lines from the original source material, the script adapts them and adds to them. Both previous adaptations had used every word, so to replace them here feels utterly absurd. Seuss’ work survives, in part because his writing’s so tight and to change even a single line feels close to sacrilege. Then there’s the remix of You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch, which provides an update to something classic despite it not needing updated, as well as being tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film.
The main issue The Grinch (2018) has is that it is the third adaptation of this tale but that it doesn’t add anything to the mythos. The original 1966 adaptation brought in music and colour whilst the 2000 adaptation was a misinterpreted mockery of capitalism and send-up to classic action movies. The 2019 adaptation seeks only to entertain, which it does but is ultimately inferior when compared to its predecessors. This comparison is the root issue that any adaptation will have to overcome and it’s not something that the Illumination team was able to overcome.
The message of the original (that Christmas is about being with the people we love) is there, and rises to the surface regardless of what gets thrown on top of it., but this feels like it only happens because that original message is so strong. The Grinch is like any other Illumination picture in that it’s very pretty to look at but therein lies perhaps the biggest problem. This is just like any Illumination film and The Grinch shouldn’t be done that way. If you’re looking for a child-friendly take on this story then the old adage is true:
There’s nothing like the original.
Until Next Time…