Movie Review: ‘The Grinch’ (Second Opinion)


Director: Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Cameron Seely, Angela Lansbury

Plot: On the outskirts of fantasy village Whoville lives The Grinch, a mean-spirited individual who wants to steal Christmas from the locals.

Review: For those who only want to know if they should take your kids to this…yeah, why not. It stays on message and the slapstick comedy works for the younger set. We saw it with a 6 and 8 year old, and they both reported having enjoyed it.

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Now to the grumpy old bastard review. I did not have high expectations going in, nor did I have mediocre expectations. I thought this would suck. This was in part due to the previous adaptations of Dr. Seuss stories, especially the disgraceful The Lorax effort, and because I generally don’t enjoy Illumination movies. This is a company whose business philosophy is built around putting out films as quickly and cheaply as possible so you can imagine my wariness.

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No, I haven’t forgotten this bullshit.

With that track record I half expected this to be a movie about embracing the great savings at Walmart, but they did their best to stay on message. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is ultimately about Christmas being about the closeness of a community not the material goods associated with it. Rather than The Grinch being swayed by the community singing effort it’s more a single child making a selfless request of Santa, but regardless of how they got there the final message is clear. Unlike some of the other Dr. Seuss adaptations of recent times they have done better by not making a mockery of the original classic.

As to my problems with Illumination as a production house, who put marketing and the bottom line ahead of artistry and storytelling (they’re like Pixar with an evil goatee), their usual problems are still present. There’s plot holes that could have been resolved with a reworking of the script, celebrity names on the poster outweigh suitability and the animation is so restricted that THEIR NOSTRILS DON’T GO ANYWHERE. THEY’RE JUST LITTLE DENTS IN THEIR FACES. IT WEIRDS ME OUT.

Directed, perplexingly, by Kevin Smith’s old producer and podcast co-host and a Illumination house director. They’re faced with one of the biggest problems facing these adaptations, and that there’s not enough content in the source material to fill out a 90 minutes run time. The solution to this is to pad things out with nonsense. Cindy-Lou (Seely) is coming up with a scheme to trap Santa because she wants help for her overworked mother (Jones). What’s weird is that Jones is second billed in the credits but stops appearing about 20 minutes into the movie and only returns at the end, so they had no idea how to write this plot.

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The other big addition to story is The Grinch’s (Cumberbatch) backstory to explain why he hates Christmas. This is the most obvious and lazy way to add to the story, so it’s on par with Illumination’s business model. This is a dumb idea, sure, but it’s made all the worse by the execution. You see, The Grinch hates Christmas because he’s an orphan. The people of Whosville left him outside and ignored during Christmas and it made his bitter and lonely. Of course the entire premise of Whosville is that it’s a tight knit community who, when Christmas is stolen, remains filled with joy because they still have each other. So why, if this is the central belief of the community, did they leave an orphan child literally standing in the snow at the window while they all ate together at a feast? Don’t tell us one thing and show us the other.

At this point I’m proud of myself for not yet referencing the 1966 animated short by Chuck Jones and starring Boris Karloff. That’s better than I can say with than this movie. They invite comparison right off the bat with a Tyler the Creator (why?) rendition of ‘You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch’. They also made the Grinch green, but since the Jones version it seems to have become a given the Grinch is green. 

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Yeah, he wasn’t always green.

That film is the definitive film adaptation of this book and despite being more than 50 years old the animation imbues the characters with substantially more personality than this slick computer animated effort. Why would they work so hard to reference that is beyond me as it is substantially better and held close to the hearts of a generation. Don’t draw attention to the fact that there’s a better version out there.

Christ, I sound worse than The Grinch here. The movie is genuinely fun to look at because the efforts of the design team. Whosville is really nicely designed, looking like a waterslide park made out of gingerbread. All the Grinch’s gadgets he builds for robbing the town of its Christmas paraphernalia are cool and fun to watch. His heist is easily the most entertaining part of the film but for some reason it’s really, really short. I’m pretty sure that it is shorter than the heist from the 1966 movie, which given that that’s a short film is really weird.

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Eh, it’s pretty harmless Holiday fare. Doesn’t have the trauma inducing clowns of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, so it has that going for it.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN