The Grinch works as a modernized retelling of Dr. Seuss's classic, with some compelling tweaks to the story and characters for plenty of family fun.
Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a classic holiday story book that's been adapted to both live-action and animated media since it was first published in 1957. There was the 1966 animated TV special with narration by Boris Karloff and the first rendition of "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch" sung by Thurl Ravenscroft with lyrics by Dr. Seuss himself. Then, of course, Ron Howard brought the Grinch to live-action in 2000 with the Jim Carrey-starring How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Now, Illumination Entertainment is returning the mean, green creature to animation with their more simply titled The Grinch. The Grinch works as a modernized retelling of Dr. Seuss's classic, with some compelling tweaks to the story and characters, for plenty of family fun.
The Grinch follows the classic story of Dr. Seuss's original book, as narrated by Pharrell Williams, introducing the titular character (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) as a loathsome creature who lives all by himself - save for his loyal dog Max - hidden away in Mount Crumpit. Down in the valley below sits Whosville, a festive little village known for its love of Christmas and everything that comes with the holiday: decorations, food and especially gifts. However, when the Grinch crosses paths with young Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), he starts down the road that will bring this story to the same conclusion as in Dr. Seuss's classic.
That year, the Grinch learns from Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson) - a particularly jolly Who who believes himself to be the Grinch's best friend - that Whosville is aiming to make their Christmas celebration three times bigger. As a result of a childhood trauma, the Grinch hates everything Christmas and after a tree-lighting ceremony that reminds him of his trauma, he vows to steal the holiday from the overly festive residents of Whosville. Meanwhile, Cindy Lou, the daughter of overworked single mother Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones), plots to capture Santa Clause so she can ask him for a very special wish. As Cindy Lou and and the Grinch plot out their respective Christmas plans, they don't realize their paths will cross again and that they'll inevitably change each other's lives - for the better.
The Grinch was co-directed by Scott Mosier (Eddie's Life Coach) and Yarrow Cheney (The Secret Life of Pets) from a script by Michael LeSieur (Keeping Up with the Joneses) and Tommy Swerdlow (Cool Runnings, Snow Dogs). The 3D computer animation of The Grinch is typical of all Illumination's films, which is to say that it brings a great deal of texture to the story. Not only is the setting of Whosville richly animated - with beautiful three-dimensional architecture and realistic-looking food that'll have viewers craving Christmas cookies - but the characters are rendered in incredibly thoughtful ways, none more so than the Grinch himself. From snow sticking in the fur of his green-furred booties to his fur blowing in the wind on top of Mount Crumpit, the animation of the titular character helps the viewer to become more deeply immersed in The Grinch. It's undoubtedly a far cry from the 2D animation of the '66 TV special, but more in line with modern animation styles, and fits perfectly with Illumination's methods in particular.
As for the modernized story of The Grinch, it certainly works within pop culture today. Families with single parents are common enough now that it makes sense for the movie to depict Cindy Lou as the daughter of a single mother, and how that would affect her character arc. To be sure, the original story doesn't give Cindy Lou much character development beyond depicting her as a young girl who manages to break through to the Grinch with her kindness. Illumination's The Grinch expands upon that character trait in a way that roots her in a more modern family situation, but evolves how her kindness - here, it's implied it's part inherent and part learned from her mother - impacts the Grinch. Certainly, making Cindy Lou the daughter of a single mother is the kind of surface change that has become prevalent in modern reimaginings of classic stories (like young girls being interested in STEM), but that aspect of her character is woven deeply into Cindy Lou's story so that it becomes the driving force for her entire arc. As a result, The Grinch earns its modernized aspects through its story.
Similarly, the Grinch's own arc is different in certain key ways to what's previously been presented by adaptations of Dr. Seuss's story. Though he's still a creature with a heart two sizes too small, Cumberbatch's Grinch is a more empathetic character. This isn't an inherently evil creature who hates the joy of Christmas, or a Who who doesn't fit the typical mold and is ostracized because of it. This Grinch is a lonely creature who rejects others before he can be rejected by them; he's someone who isolated himself to prevent the hurt of potentially being left alone by others. As a result, the story is slightly different to accommodate for the slight tweaks to the Grinch's character. This Grinch must learn a more explicit lesson about how Christmas brings loved ones together - friends and found family, not just blood relatives - to spend the holiday with each other. In this theme, too, The Grinch has a more modern message for young viewers: the holidays aren't necessarily about family, but about being with those you love, whoever that may be.
Ultimately, the changes made to the story and characters for Illumination's The Grinch work to set the movie apart from the adaptations of Dr. Seuss's story that came before it. Certainly, it doesn't have the campy aspect of Carrey's performance in Howard's live-action movie, nor does it stick to the classic style of "You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch" (here, the song is performed by Tyler, the Creator). But the modernizations of The Grinch will undoubtedly work for many audience members - though, perhaps some aspects more than others. Cumberbatch is a new Grinch for a new generation, working equally well in the moments of heart as in the more humorous gags. And Max, along with the reindeer Fred, are scene-stealers, bringing some pure family fun to The Grinch to go with its heartwarmingly earnest message about holiday togetherness.
The Grinch may not be a necessary holiday movie, but fans of Dr. Seuss's story or holiday films in general will find plenty to like in this new animated retelling. Plus, with a variety of family-friendly jokes, The Grinch will no doubt entertain viewers young and old, though the 90-minute runtime does stretch thin in the third act of the movie. It's perhaps not worth seeing in IMAX, but The Grinch does provide some rich visuals that will also capture the eye of all moviegoers. The Grinch is holiday fun for the whole family, adapting a classic story with a new twist that makes for an altogether compelling moviegoing experience.
The Grinch is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 90 minutes long and rated PG for brief rude humor.
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