Warning: there are SPOILERS for The Grinch ahead!
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! has been a Christmas season staple for decades, and for a long time, there were two ways to enjoy the tale: read the original book or watch the animated 1966 TV special starring Boris Karloff. That changed in 2000 with the release of the live action How The Grinch Stole Christmas movie, and nearly two decades later, now there’s a fourth option available in the CGI movie known simply as The Grinch.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: neither of the theatrical movies can compare to the original Grinch book and TV special. Those both tell the core story, and while short, they’re unquestionably still beloved by many. Having said that, between the two theatrical versions, I firmly believe that The Grinch, i.e. the one from Illumination Entertainment, handles the source material better than its live action predecessor. If you have to pick one or the other to sit kids in front of, this latest movie is the one to choose.
I should note that I’m actually a fan of the Jim Carrey Grinch movie, unlike many other people, as I’ve learned in recent years. It was a tall order turning Dr. Seuss’ original tale into a full-length feature, and naturally that meant taking creative liberties. From a visual standpoint, this movie looks excellent, from the makeup for Carrey’s Grinch and the other Whos to the weird architecture and curvy designs of their everyday objects. And without Carrey as the lead, this movie wouldn’t have been nearly as good. I still find myself quoting some of his perfectly-delivered lines throughout the year (“Kids today. So desensitized by movies and television.”)
But what’s working against the live action Grinch movie, particularly in comparison to the new CGI version, is the subject matter. For one thing, the backstory about why the Grinch hates the Whos isn’t that compelling, particularly since he was already showing sadistic tendencies as an infant. There’s also the fact that the Whos (most of whom are unlikable, Cindy Lou being the big exception) are obsessed with the commercialism of Christmas, and while the Whos ultimately learn the true meaning of Christmas, which is what should happen, the fact that they learn this lesson minutes before the Grinch does just feels weird.
Let’s not even delve too deeply into the humor that’s clearly not intended for young ones. For example, remember how on the night Baby Grinch arrived in Whoville, the sisters who would become his adoptive parents were having a key party? Seriously! Oh well, at least this movie”s content wasn’t anywhere near as atrocious as what was in The Cat in the Hat. That one was rough.
Illumination Entertainment’s The Grinch, on the other hand, in addition to being visually dazzling in its own special way, has a steadier and more faithful grip on How The Grinch Stole Christmas! and has more of a sense of childlike wonder. Starting off, the Whos and Whoville much more closely the ones from the original tale. Sure they’re still keen on going all out on decorating and making a spectacle of the holiday season, but that comes secondary to the presents and enjoying one another’s company. Subsequently, Cindy Lou’s side story is more interesting to watch, as she’s not interested in learning the true meaning of Christmas (which has frankly become cliched), but wants to trap Santa Claus so that she can ask him to do something nice for her overworked mom.
Grinch’s backstory is also much more compelling in his new movie. In this version of events, he basically grew up alone in an orphanage; he’s not considered an outcast among the Whos because of the way he looks, but is nonetheless distant from them. Because of his depressing childhood and not being able to celebrate Christmas with everyone else, it makes sense by the time he gets out of the orphanage and makes his new home on Mount Crumpet, he wouldn’t want anything to do with Christmas. As Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) acknowledges at the end of the movie, he associated the holiday with loneliness.
On the humor side of things, The Grinch feels like it will stand the test of time better than its live action predecessor. There are a few jokes and gags in there that are a little too “modern” (like Grinch wearing exercise pants with writing on the butt), overall the laughs feel timeless. And for those of you particularly protective regarding what your children watch, The Grinch is also more family-friendly, i.e. you won’t find any subtle, adult-oriented humor buried in there.
All of this isn’t to say that The Grinch doesn’t have issues or problems. Like the Jim Carrey version, the narrator (this time Pharrell Williams) recites original poetry with that Seuss feel, which by itself isn’t a bad thing. But when Grinch heads to Whoville disguised as Santa Claus to steal Christmas, then it starts to abandon the traditional Seuss formula and reaches its ending in a slightly different way. As stated earlier, creative liberties are to be expected with an adaptation, especially of a short story, but this choice feels a little too divergent from what came before.
Along with the latter half of The Grinch dragging, there’s also an instance where, like in the live action movie, Grinch shows signs of decency long before his heart grows three sizes, like when he lets his pet reindeer Fred go back to its family. This pays off in the climax, but it softens the ultimate impact of seeing him reform. The anti-commercialism message at the end is also slightly toned down, and while we still get to see Grinch enjoy the holiday with his new friends at the end, the moral that Dr. Seuss was passing on in the original How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is diluted.
Overall though, The Grinch feels closer in spirit to the story Dr. Seuss gave us than the live action movie did. Who knows if decades from now another studio will give us yet another live action or animated version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, but as things stand now, Illumination Entertainment has delivered the cinematic adaptation. But again, there are enjoyable elements from the Jim Carrey version, and there’s nothing to say that you can’t enjoy all of these Grinch stories. The CGI movie just has the edge between the two in terms of appealing to the widest audience possible.
You can judge The Grinch for yourself now in theaters, and be sure to read CinemaBlend’s review of the movie. Don’t forget to look through our holiday movie guide to learn what movies are coming out in the final weeks of this year, as well as our 2019 release schedule to get an early start preparing for your theatrical experiences next year.
Which version of The Grinch do you prefer?
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