The Grinch (2018) Review
A CHARMING, MODERN
RETELLING OF A HOLIDAY CLASSIC
The stories and books of Dr. Seuss have enchanted readers around the world, seeing multiple generations enjoying the imaginative worlds that Seuss created and of its playful rhyming tales and colorful characters. Of the plethora of books that have been published by him, none is more famously known that Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Since its initially publication release back in 1957, the children’s picture book has received critically praised from its readers, becoming one of the more beloved and recognizable books of Dr. Seuss’s catalogue. Additionally, the book (over the years) has received two adaptations in bringing to Seuss’s story of the Grinch and his wicked deed of stealing Christmas to a new media outlet. The first was the 1966 animated TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was directed by Chuck Jones, with narration by Boris Karloff and the first rendition of the now widely-recognizable “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” sung by Thurl Ravenscroft (with lyrics by Dr. Seuss himself). The second iteration of the Seuss’s book came in 2000 with the live-action adaptation titled How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was directed by Ron Howard and comedian actor Jim Carrey playing the role of the Grinch. The difference between the two iterations has been continuously debated with many favoring the 1966 TV special cartoon over the live-action theatrical motion picture, which did face mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers. Now, Illumination Entertainment (as well as Universal Pictures) and directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney present the third iteration of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas with the animated film The Grinch. Is it “third time’s a charm” for this well-known children’s story is it just simply a redundant holiday retread?
Christmas is fast approaching and the residents of Whoville are preparing for their annual Christmas celebration, with jolly citizen like Mr. Bricklebaum (Keenan Thompson) promising the biggest holiday celebration in the town’s history. Residing inside a nearby mountain lair is the Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch), a cold-hearted individual who hates everything about Christmas, living a disgruntled life with his loyal dog, Max. Unable to avoid Whoville’s enormous decorations and joyous yuletide spirt, the Grinch decides to make a mess of things this year, preparing, with help from reindeer Fred, to assume Santa’s identity and planning to steal everything Christmas from the town, effectively erasing the seasonal cheer from Whoville entirely. However, young Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) is in need of Santa’s magic, hoping to secure a special Christmas wish for her mother, Donna (Rashida Jones), who’s overworked, trying to make ends meet for her three children. As the Grinch begins his plan, a chance encounter takes place on Christmas Eve night and that could possibly change his surly demeanor forever.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I’ll be the first admit that I do love the Christmas holiday season. It’s true…. I love it all. The decoration the house, the Christmas tree, the presents, the gathering of family and friends, Christmas dinner, the holiday music, and (of course) the Christmas themed movies out there. Of course, I’ve do have plenty of my personal favorites like Elf, Polar Express, Home Alone, Die Hard (action movie junkie in me) as well as Bad Moms Christmas and Office Christmas Party (yes, I love that those comedy holiday themed movies). I definitely have more out there, but those are ones that I do watch a lot during the holiday season. Of course, I’ve also watched the classic animated TV special ones as well, including 1969’s Frosty the Snowman, 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and (more prevalent to this blog review) 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Like many, I personally do love 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Maybe it because it was directed by Chuck Jones (done in the same similar style of animation of other Dr. Seuss’s cartoon adaptations of the time) or that it was short and sweet story that capture the essence of Seuss’s work beautifully…or maybe that it was narrated by Boris Karloff. Plus, who could forget (and not fall in love with) the classic song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Thurl Ravenscroft from the TV special. However, 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the second iteration of the story and the first live-action endeavor of it), was a mixed bag of sorts. Despite the movie being directed by Ron Howard (a director that I like) and starring comedian actor Jim Carrey as The Grinch (Carrey was indeed great in the role), the movie just felt pretty “blah” and (like many) I didn’t like a lot of the “added” material to the story. Maybe because Seuss’s world is so wacky and goofy, it’s best to visually see as an animated cartoon project and not so much as a live-action one. Nevertheless, of the two How the Grinch Stole Christmas adaptations, I prefer the 1966 version over than 2000 one.
Naturally, this brings me to talking about 2018’s The Grinch, the third cinematic iteration of Dr. Seuss’s classic tale of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I remember when they (Illumination Entertainment) announced that they were going to do a feature-length movie of Seuss’s classic holiday picture book and (like many) was a bit skeptical about, especially after 2012’s The Lorax (another Illumination Entertainment animated movie), which felt lackluster and stretched its source material a bit too much (the core plot was interesting, the rest wasn’t). So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t too keen on another Seuss-centric theatrical cartoon endeavor. However, after seeing the film’s various move trailers, I was kind of interested to see this movie as the film (giving what was presented in the trailers) looks promising. Plus, the animation for the feature looked great. So, I decided to see this movie in theaters, hoping that it would good animated film for the studio (Illumination Entertainment recent track record proves that) as well as doing justice to Dr. Seuss’s beloved book. So, what did I think of it? Well, I really liked it. Despite some minor criticisms, The Grinch is a delightful and modernized retelling of Seuss’s cherished holiday tale, thanks to some tweaks to the narrative, the overall animation, and some solid voice talents. It may not beat out the simplistic nature of the 1966 TV cartoon movie, but it’s definitely more refined (and enjoyable) that the 2000 live-action iteration.
The Grinch is directed by Scott Mosier, who has a background being more of a producer (most notably in several Kevin Smith directed films…. Chasing Amy, Clerks, Mallrats, etc.) and Yarrow Cheney, who’s background with Illumination Entertainment (most notable for The Lorax, Despicable Me, and The Secret Life of Pets in various roles (i.e. animation department, production, co-director, etc.). Together, the two co-directors approach the movie with kid-friendly approach, with their intent to be directed at the “juice box” crowd (if you know what I mean). Thus, The Grinch (as a whole) as a certain family friendly feel throughout the movie; meaning that the film isn’t too dark or to complex, which in the case of trying to translate a children’s picture book into a theatrical feature, is sort of a good thing. Basically, it’s best to just simply streamline the picture to fit its demographic and both Mosier and Cheney succeed in that regard. In conjunction with that idea, the two co-directors keep the feature on point (mostly) throughout the film’s runtime, which is only 86 minutes in length (roughly one hour and twenty-six minutes long). That means the movie doesn’t get bogged down in trying overstuff the narrative and keeping everything basic and simple…very much like Seuss’s story. Thus, The Grinch runs at a brisk pace, which is good for kid’s animated feature, and rarely feels sluggish or bloated. Plus, I do have mention that film’s humor of jokes and gags are pretty funny as well as I found myself laughing at most of them.
In addition, the film’s script, which was penned by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow, also sees to try and “modernize” Dr. Seuss’s story by adding a few tweaks to the narrative, most notably in trying to “humanize” the Grinch in coming up with a little backstory. Yes, he still is a being who has a heart two sizes too small, but this iteration of the Grinch is a more empathetic one and not must just simplistic evil creature who hates the joy of Christmas (just for the sake of it). LeSieur and Swerdlow project this Grinch to be more of an isolated individual, with the idea of rejecting others before he can be rejected by them. Thus, becoming hurt by being left alone. This, along with a backstory as to “how it all happened” gives us more insight into the character than prior iterations, which I think is a good think, for the lesson that the Grinch must learn is touching and heartfelt…adding a bit more the classic thematic message that Seuss’s intended for the character. Mosier and Cheney adhere to that notion and demonstrate in the movie and the payoff for it all works and works well. Additionally, the script also sort of touches upon the idea of a single parent with Cindy Lou’s mother, which again speaks to today’s day and age of the modern single parent. However, while all of that works, the film’s screenplay still retains the core fundamental narrative of Dr. Seuss’s originals story, which is still a good and meaningful one for both a children’s picture book and for cinematic holiday endeavor.
On its technical presentation, The Grinch looks absolutely gorgeous, creating a beautiful rendered animated world to life. Illumination Entertainment has always been known for their quality level of animation style and design, with each of their feature length movies colorfully detailed and awash with brightness and cartoon-ish glee. That sort of “claim to fame” extends to The Grinch, with the movie’s animation looking incredibly detailed and brightly colored with amazing textures. Also, with the film being based on a Dr. Seuss’s creation, the movie also utilizes that classic creative zaniness (i.e. look, feel, and design) of Seuss’s world, with plenty of imaginative designs of characters, buildings, machine, and devices that are definitely neat to see rendered on-screen, which adds that extra layer of filmmaking creativity to the feature. Thus, I have to give credit to all the animators that worked on The Grinch for creating such a vibrant and beautiful CGI animated world of Seuss’s Whoville and the surrounding areas, including the Grinch’s mountain lair.
Also, while the film’s score, which was composed by Danny Elfman, is light, cheerfully, and musically good for a kid’s animated cartoon feature, The Grinch does boast a healthy dose of Christmas songs in its soundtrack that play throughout the movie. So, be sure to get ready to hear plenty of some tried and true (and familiar) popular holiday song in the film, which is great if (like me) are fan of Christmas music. Lastly, the movie also incorporates the now famous song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the movie and is performed by musician artist Tyler, the Creator. The song, while good (as a whole) is a modern spin of the familiar song, but I still prefer the original song by Thurl Ravenscroft.
While The Grinch does have a lot of positive aspects in its execution and undertaking, they were a few minor problems that I had with the film. The one that is the most prevalent (and most notable) one is the fact of the movie is remade again. Given the reception how the reception for Ron Howard’s 2000 live-action version went, it’s clear that many out there still do love (and adore) the original 1966 animated TV special above else. If to be examine further, perhaps the reason for that is the simple fact that the cartoon TV movie is only 26 minutes long and translates well to Seuss’s picture book of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and seems to be perfect marriage between the two. 2018’s The Grinch, seems to extend that length for a standard theatrical cartoon runtime, which does stretch Seuss’s tale more than it normally should. As to be expected, this is a commonly negative point of criticism when a feature film tries to adapt a children’s picture book (i.e. Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs, The Polar Express, The Lorax, etc.) as, more often than not, these endeavors feel excessive when incorporating additional material (the core parts of the story usually are the more fascinating aspects).
In addition, the movie, more or less, doesn’t really add anything to the classic story that drastically changes the narrative, which (of course) might be viewed as slightly redundant in translating this 2018 iteration. There’re a few added materials to the feature, but not a whole lot. Thus, it really brings up the question of why remake Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas again, especially since the new movie doesn’t really bring anything new to the table?
The new material added does shine light more on the character of Cindy Lou Who (and her mother Donna Lou Who), which gives them a story arc in the movie to follow. However, it seems a little bit half-baked and doesn’t really follow through as much as LeSieur and Swerdlow intended. Thus, their character path come up as more “padding” for the justification of making a Seuss’s story into a full-length animated feature. The same could be said for the reindeer character of Fred, who the Grinch and Max stumble across. Sure, he does add some laughs in the movie (I certainly laughed), but his actually involvement in the movie doesn’t really amount that much and simply removing Fred from The Grinch’s cinematic equation doesn’t change the overall output of the film (just simply reduces the runtime).
Personally, all these problems didn’t bother me as much as I expected an animation studio to eventually produce a newly cartoon feature of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and (to be honest) I kind of like how the movie doesn’t really add that much of new material, which keeps the film streamlined and never feels bloated with unnecessary plot threads and characters. Plus, I do like how the movie modernizes certain aspects of the familiar Seuss tale. Thus, I look at it more of a positive than a negative. And yet… it’s still a minor flaw in the film.
The cast in The Grinch is a small one, but that doesn’t mean that this particular selection of actors / actresses delivers bad performances. On the contrary, most (if not all) the voice talents in the movie are spot on; finding each one excellent in their respective roles for this animated feature. At the head of the pack (and acting as the “big headliner” of the movie), is actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who provides the voice for the film’s main protagonist / antagonist character…the Grinch. Cumberbatch, known for his roles in Sherlock, The Imitation Game, and Doctor Strange, is simply fantastic in the role. He’s definitely the “new Grinch” for the new audience and certainly does imbodied the traits that the movie wants to him project onto this version (again…adding a more kid-friendly spin on the Grinch as well as “humanizing” him). His voice work is solid (kind of interesting to hear a more “high pitch” voice more so than his more lower sounding voice many have grown accustomed to hearing) and certainly does perform it well through the movie…be it humorous rude moments or somber / heartfelt ones. All in all, while he may not match the classic voice work of Boris Karloff in the role, Cumberbatch certainly does have fun in playing the Grinch character and matches the feature’s tone and family fun aesthetic to his portrayal of one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous character creations. Also, while not much of a “vocal” character, I do have to say that character of Max, Grinch’s faithful dog companions, is absolutely adorable in the movie. He’s cute, heartwarmingly expressive, and (to me) steals the scene whenever he appears.
The major players in the movie are mostly supporting ones that fill several important sequences throughout the movie. Most notably (of course) is the character of Cindy Lou Who, who is played actress Cameron Seely (The Jim Gaffigan Show and The Greatest Showman). Seely does a good job in voicing the famous little girl from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, especially during the poignant scene when she and the Grinch comes face-to-face on Christmas Eve night. Like I said above, while some of the new material added for her isn’t quite fleshed out (though the modernized works for what it’s meant to do), Seely still provides enough exuberant and youth energy to the character, making her iteration of Cindy Lou memorable for the part of the film she is a part of. The other two largely supporting character players in the movie are Cindy Lou’s mother (Donna Lou Who), who is voiced by actress Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation and The Social Network) and jolly Whoville citizen Mr. Bricklebaum, who is voiced by actor Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live and Kenan and Kel). These two characters aren’t super important to the narrative story, but just round out the edges of it in order to fill out the movie’s story frame. Still, both Jones and Thompson provided excellent voicework in their respective roles. Lastly (of the major supporting players) is musical talent sensation Pharrell Williams, who provides the narrative voice for The Grinch (and he does a good job in that).
Rounding out the cast are actress Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote and Beauty and the Beast) Whoville’s Mayor McGerkle, and young actors / actress Tristan O’Hare (making his voicing debut in the movie), Ramone Hamilton (Blaze and the Monster Machines and The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants), Sam Lavagino (Bravest Warriors and Puppy Dog Pals), and Scarlett Estevez (Daddy’s Home and Lucifer) who make up Cindy Lou’s friends Groopert, Axl, Ozzy, and Izzy. These characters, though minor supporting ones, still prove effective in their limited screen-time that make-up several of the secondary Whoville citizens.
Dr. Seuss’s classic holiday story gets a new animated treatment in the movie The Grinch. Directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney latest animated feature endeavor for Illumination Entertainment sees the classic children’s book under a new cartoon light by modernizing and tweaking the tale for a new generation of moviegoers. While there were some minor problems with it (most notably in making another iteration of the story as well as some of the extra padding material for the feature in order to fill a full-length feature), the movie ultimately is a rousing success, providing enough family friendly nuances (jokes / gags), some holiday glee with its soundtrack, beautiful animation, all-around solid voice acting talents, and keeping the narrative mostly focus on Seuss’s original story. Personally, I loved this movie. While there were a few minor problems with the film, I felt that the movie itself was definitely heartwarming and entertaining, which is something I personally wasn’t expecting. Basically, it was short and sweet, which it needed to be. Plus, Cumberbatch was excellent in the role as Grinch. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is (without a doubt) a “highly recommended” one as its something worthy seeing in theaters and would consider it a modern classic for the whole family. In the end, while it still might beat out the original 1966 animated TV special (and I think that most will agree on that), Illumination Entertainment’s The Grinch is a delight and charming modern retelling of a holiday classic that surely will enchant moviegoers and speak to the thematical message of holiday cheer and togetherness.
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: November 9th, 2018
Reviewed On: November 20th, 2018
The Grinch is 86 minutes long and is rated PG for brief rude humor