With Illumination Entertainment’s release of The Grinch, viewers can now opt to take in their favorite Christmas-cursing green grump in cartoon, live action, or computer animated form. At a meager 86 minutes, this 2018 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s iconic storybook “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” nonetheless adds a menagerie of new material, including a subplot about Cindy Lou Who scheming to ensnare Santa and a handful of new characters including a chubby reindeer named Fred, offering an admittedly adorable – if definitely not superior – update to the classic holiday mainstay.
The nuts and bolts of Dr. Seuss’s story of a dastardly bugaboo remain largely the same. The Grinch is a lonely misanthrope, isolated on a mountaintop overlooking the valley of festive Whos below. Tired of the cheer of the holidays, he plots to steal Christmas out from under from the obnoxiously jolly residents of WhoVille, enlisting his adorable dog Max in the process and eventually learning the true meaning of Christmas along the way.
This new-bangled edition of Mr. Grinch is a sugar rush for the senses, and sure to set kids abuzz with its candy-colored aesthetics, pop/hip-hop-reduxed soundtrack, and its general sense of good spirit. The story’s underlying lesson of forgoing materialism in favor of coming together as a community is as important today as it’s ever been even if The Grinch does still present Christmas as a capitalistic delight, set in a city where bigger is most certainly better. Perhaps the biggest change to the 1966 original, which it bears reminding weighs in at a swift and exceedingly pleasant 26 minutes, is the role of its titular anti-hero.
Gone is the almost blatantly evil rendition of the Grinch, him with all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, and his condescending mockery of the Whos below, replaced by a much more cuddly and misunderstood little monster. I, for one, miss his sheer villany – his intolerant hatred of all things merry; his unchecked distaste for all; the pure vile joy he gets from stealing Christmas and the sadness and chaos doing such will wrought. This Grinch, though despicable in action, is evil in much the same way that Illumination animated movies protagonists are evil – in as cute a way as possible. A kind of “didn’t have his coffee yet” evil. The Grinch’s original 360 transformation isn’t in line with what 2018 audiences are led to anticipate and so a few spiders are surgically removed from his brain, the loads of junk hauled off from his soul. And, for better or worse, the Grinch becomes a more sympathetic character than he ever was before.
Benedict Cumberbatch voices the Grinch with his trademark sinister intelligence, joined by a voice cast that includes Rashida Jones as overworked mother Donna Lou Who, Kenan Thompson as the indomitably joyous Bricklebaum, Angela Lansbury as the Mayor of Whoville, and newcomer Cameron Seely as little Cindy Lou Who, the girl responsible for the Grinch’s heart growing three times in size. Pharrell Williams narrates, borrowing much of Seuss’ original text.
As far as a remake goes, The Grinch follows a fairly rote recipe for success (and will score massive holiday receipts with family audiences, believe you me), producing a well-mounted, visually- and emotionally-pleasing update to Dr. Seuss’s classic, while sacrificing some of the origin’s wickedness along the way. Though some of the humor is intended solely for the youngest kiddos in the attendance (a la Illumination standards, slapstick comes in no short supply), even the adults in the audience will find much to love. Unless your heart is three sizes too small.
CONCLUSION: This 2018 update to Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is more colorful and snappy than ever, losing a bit of The Grinch’s evil edge and termite-filled smile to deliver a more playful and sympathetic – if toothless – rendition of the green, holiday-hating grouch. Cute, if largely inessential for those without children to call their own.