Photo: Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment
Take the Dr. Seuss holiday classic tale, add in the animation experts at Illumination (home to the Minions-verse), and sprinkle in plenty of holiday cheer that will cure any bah humbug spirit, and you have the latest version of The Grinch tells the predictable story of the grouchy green Grinch.
The film begins with a montage of Whoville in wintertime, with the townies prepping for a colorful Christmas celebration featuring classic holiday melodies and “Happy” singer Pharrell Williams along to narrate the hour-and-a-half journey.
We meet the Grinch alone in his cave dwelling (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch in perhaps an odd choice of casting), grumpy as he awakes to his alarm blaring Christmas music, in classic Grinch form. As the green grump starts his day, a new rap remix of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” sung by Tyler, the Creator, in an attempt to stay current in today’s post-Hamilton world.
The Grinch, who normally plans to stay inside throughout the cheery holiday, found that he ran out of food due to some emotional overeating, and so, he and his trusty pup companion Max must venture through Whoville at Christmastime to stock up on food to make it through the holiday as intended. The Grinch retains his bah humbug spirit as he ventures through town, beheading a child’s snowman and refusing to help Cindy Lou Who find her dropped letter for Santa as he treks to the punny-titled Who Foods grocery store.
A subplot introduces viewers to the overworked and exhausted single mom Donna Lou Who (voiced by Rashida Jones), the mother to the classic character Cindy Lou Who. The film splits its focus between the isolated and lonely Grinch and attempts to steal Christmas with Cindy’s lengthy and impressive attempts to meet Santa to grant her sentimental holiday wish. While both stories told sweet messages, bouncing between the two wildly different stories and experiences made the film seem flighty and the movie’s storyline would have benefited by featuring one in depth.
As the film progresses, every part of attempted humor reads cheesy and predictable, but somehow receives chuckles from the audience of both adults and children. However, nothing is truly funny as it remains a predictable animated, family-friendly tale with no real conflict in its story. Anything with the potential for conflict is resolved within minutes—if not seconds—filling the feature with several almost-plot points that aren’t actually important for the overall story. Maybe I have a bah humbug spirit innately myself, but it’ll take more than cheesy, cutesy puns to get myself feeling the holiday joy.
While Grinch gets angry at the prospect at a three-times-larger Christmas this year, as explained by his optimistic neighbor (SNL’s Kenan Thompson), it is revealed his disdain for the holiday comes from a lifetime as an orphan without a family or any loved ones to celebrate with. So, he begins his classic quest to steal the holiday (or just the entire town’s holiday decorations and gifts). But, when it is discovered what he’s done, he almost immediately feels remorse as the town stands together, sans décor and presents, and sings a carol. Seeing that he couldn’t drag their spirits down—that the holiday’s greatest treasure is each other and love—he feels guilty and wants to set everything right. Cindy Lou Who seems to thaw a piece of Grinch’s heart by being kind, sharing her wish was for her mom, and being a friend. Oh hell, her words have even started to thaw my heart a tad.
In the end, Grinch apologizes to the residents of Whoville and joins them for Christmas dinner, even carving the turkey, because he’s been alone long enough.
The film is less of a story of how he stole the holiday, but rather of Grinch’s journey of morality to be a better person and learning what is right and wrong with a joyous holiday background. While Grinch isn’t the evil antagonist we’ve come to expect from the Seussian character, he is a likable yet misunderstood character who can learn lessons and morals to do better this time around. Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the notorious grump as simply misunderstood lends itself nicely to the genuine, meaningful message of the film, a nice alternative to the story and character that we’ve come to expect from the Seuss tale.