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‘The Grinch’ is Two Sizes Too Small of a Film

Benedict Cumberbatch voices The Grinch in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2018).
Benedict Cumberbatch voices The Grinch in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2018). By Courtesy of Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures
By Sienna R. Santer, Contributing Writer

“Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot; / But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!” So begins Dr. Seuss’s classic tale and the 2018 remake of the 1966 animated film. Narrated by Pharrell Williams, “The Grinch” paints a candy cane-coated Christmas wonderland that lives up to contemporary standards, yet ultimately fails to add nuance to the famous storyline, distracting from the themes and charm of Seuss’s original. While “The Grinch” provides some mindless holiday cheer, this rendition will certainly not remain a classic for years to come.

Directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier don’t stray far from Dr. Seuss’s original storyline, in which a bitter grump (Benedict Cumberbatch) lives alone with his dog, Max, on a mountain overlooking the village of Whoville. Orphaned as a child with no family to celebrate with on Christmas, the Grinch hates the joy of the holiday season. Determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, he fabricates a plan to become Santa Claus and steal Christmas in its entirety, from the lights to the presents to the Christmas trees of Whoville.

While from an adult perspective the execution leaves a lot to be desired, the film is, after all, a children’s cartoon at heart. The Grinch runs into a tree face-first and, of course, walks away completely unharmed. Childish humor, such as a screaming goat that pops up at random moments throughout the film, is added for quick comedic effect. It is a mindless kind of comedy that will have children giggling in their seats, while the parents pick up on the subtle details — such as the Grinch’s “Mold Spray” deodorant and the labels on the hangers of all of his green furry pants, which spell out enough different ways of saying the word “miserable” to make a thesaurus giddy.

The adult — specifically parent — targeted humor dispersed throughout is somewhat refreshing, from a candy cane cigarette dangling from the mouth of a six-year-old boy to a “Who Foods.” reference. One little boy complains that he can’t stay out late, explaining, “My parents set the timer. Don’t ask, it’s new,” poking fun at the diverse and sometimes weird ways in which parents try to raise their children. Even the incessant caroling is a nod to many adults’ stressful holiday experiences, such that parents who are dragged to the movies by their children will be able to sit through the film with a little less agony.

If there’s one thing in the film the directors nail, it’s the colors. Visually stunning, “The Grinch” is a treat to look at, from the wonderland that is Whoville to the saturated cartoon Christmas decorations frosting every inch of the screen. Whoville is every kid’s dream, from inner-tubing to class to zipping down the mountain on bobsleds, with sledding hills substituting for roads. The details and shading make the winter scene pop off the screen in the way that only modern animations can do, yet the almost too-perfect animation is a little unsettling, and a stark contrast from the not-so-perfect story.

Although he only produces two original songs, the real star of the film is Tyler the Creator. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “I Am the Grinch” are the only divulgements from Suess’ original vision that actually bring complexity and a touch of modernity to the film. In “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” the rap track is set over a simple, catchy, beat as children chorus in the background, making for a dichotomy between Christmas carol and hip hop that somehow manages to both fit the holiday theme and offer a refreshing exception to the otherwise childish, mundane soundtrack. “I Am the Grinch,” featuring Fletcher Jones, follows the same theme, but sounds a bit more like a typical Tyler the Creator track, with the exception of the kid-friendly lyrics and the jingle bell beat in the background.

Perhaps the most irritating part of the film is Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely). Depicted as a wide-eyed, sickeningly sweet, innocent little girl, the 2018 rendition of Cindy Lou has lost all of the spunk and originality from her storybook and 1966 film original. Stating that all she wants for Christmas is for her mother to feel less stressed, Cindy Lou is painted as a perfect child who manages to be incredibly perceptive yet ridiculously dim-witted at the same time, noticing her mother’s misery one second but falling down the stairs wrapped up in four coats and three hats the next. No six-year-old child is ever entirely selfless or well-behaved at all times, and to depict her as such is unbelievable. Despite being the protagonist, she experiences no character development, and is ripped of the nuances that make her a realistic child. Subsequently, every such character is depicted as static, defined only by a single stereotypical trait, from the lovely yet overworked mother to the well-meaning yet simple-minded neighbor (à la Ned Flanders of “The Simpsons”). The Grinch’s dog Max is perhaps the most likeable character in the film, and he only barks.

Ultimately, “The Grinch” does offer touching commentary on family and community. The addition of characters such as the overworked mother, the well-meaning neighbor, and even a family of what can only be wooly yaks add several diverse layers to the “family is most important” narrative of the original. While the melancholy depiction of the young Grinch alone in the orphanage will certainly tug on heartstrings, the film fails to produce any conscious emotional reactions other than the occasional rudimentary chuckle. Kids, siblings, and grandchildren alike will enjoy this film — but only if there’s nothing better on this holiday season.

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