When it comes to filmmaking, there are many levels you can review a picture.  One can look at the basic plot of the picture and analyze the structure and form.  This simple strategy focuses on plot points, rising action, falling action, climax, and resolution.  I like to focus on this strategy when analyzing because I have a very simple methodology for determining whether a film works or not.  If the plot points work, then the film rates as a success.  This methodology works well when looking at a new film we have never seen before.  But analyzing plot, when the film has already been filmed, becomes repetitive and unnecessary.  The question becomes, can a film overcome the inertia of the original plot to say something original?  The Grinch, starring the voice talent of Benedict Cumberbatch in the title character, faced just such inertia.

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© Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures 2018

At this point, I might warn my audience I will be discussing spoilers.  But in truth, most everyone has seen some variant of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the classic story by Dr. Seuss.  Many have seen the original television special with the voice talent of Boris Karloff.  It represented the first told tale of the Grinch, whose bitterness towards the world and towards Christmas, in particular, was a commentary about avarice and greed.  As opposed to Mr. Scrooge, whose greed multiple ghosts exposed to him forcing him to see his own disconnection from humanity, the Grinch needed a girl to remind him that what he saw on the outside, avarice and greed, did not represent the real importance of the Christmas holiday, connecting you to your fellow man.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas – The Boris Karloff Edition

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What made the original version so interesting was the use of Boris Karloff as the voice of the lead.  Typecast throughout his career as the monster, Karloff fought to show his versatility as an actor.  Here again, we believed we were seeing another monster.  But this monster saw the underbelly of what could be monstrous about us.  The Grinch viewed our own indelicacies and became embittered by them.  The great thing was we saw the transformation of the monster into so much more.  He just needed to be reminded by the innocent within us (the least of these) to see Christmas meant so much more.  Man connected to man.  And man connected to his inner monster, which ultimately softens.  Karloff could do this tour de force in a way no one else could.

Grinchypoo – The Carrey Howard Connection

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The second shot at this story, Jim Carrey, the ultimate plastic man, played out on the big screen.  Jim Carrey did not represent the monster, or the true evil, which Karloff could do so well.  Carrey represented all things comedy.  But transforming the character from villain to comedian required a bit of a softening on the overall character of the Grinch.  In comes Ron Howard to remake the character of the Grinch by giving him a bold backstory, which Dr. Seuss didn’t necessarily consider important.  The Grinch’s cruelty about Christmas came from his direct negative experiences about the Christmas.

While I really loved the focus on the message of what Christmas was all about, Howard found it necessary to find a new villain who was actually guilty of all the things the Grinch had accused the citizens of Whoville of being.  In addition, the people of Whoville had forgotten what Christmas was about as well.  Cindy Lou Who’s parents needed to compete with their neighbors.  The Grinch’s theft devastated the town, until Miss Who reminded them what Christmas meant.  While it was good, it did rob the movie of some of the impact of the true meaning of Christmas.

This brings us to the present and the new movie of The Grinch.  In comes Universal once again to go back to the well, bringing on Benedict Cumberbatch into the role of the Grinch.  As per most remakes (with the exception of Psycho which I still have a question about why Gus Van Sant felt the need to remake shot for shot), the Grinch needed to find a new take on the story of the hurt Grinch and his obsession with the destruction of one of the most festive and community building holidays of the year.  The following is my take on the new film The Grinch.

The Grinch Review

© Universal Pictures 2018
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© Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures 2018

***Spoiler Alert***

When it comes to Grinches, no one is more negative than the Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) himself.  Whether Dr. Seuss invented the word, or whether this was really a French derivative of Walt Disney’s Grumpy, this Grinch seems to hate so much of his life.  He has his loveable dog Max there to take care of him.  But he has isolated himself from the rest of the community.  Not only is this Grinch a recluse who exhibits attributes of agoraphobia, but he also seems to have an eating disorder, eating to deal with the pain of the isolation.

At some point, this Grinch finds out he is out of food and needs to go into town to engage the citizens of Whoville on his most hated time of the year, Christmas.  He confronts some of the townspeople, trying to hurt each and every one of them he comes across.  Eventually, he is accosted by Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) who flies into the Grinch and tackles him into the snow.  Cindy wants to make sure she gets a letter to Santa.  The Grinch makes sure she is disabused about any notion of the existence of Santa Claus.  Ultimately he feels like he gets out with his life, avoiding the man who believes he is the Grinches friend, Mr. Bricklebaum (Keenan Thompson).

© Universal Pictures 2018
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© Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures 2018

Ultimately the Grinch keeps being confronted by everything Christmas.  He locks himself deeper into his room until he has a terrible and horrible idea.  We all know the terrible and horrible idea.  But here we find out the reason, which differs from the rest of the terrible and horrible ideas.  The key difference here is he has felt isolated so his Christmas hatred symbolizes his disgust for the loneliness he feels.  This completely changes the Grinch’s transformation as in the other he recognizes his hatred is what specifically isolates him, not the communities ostracization in the first place.

There are some fun comedic moments which this new film inspires including a crazy screaming goat and a reindeer named Fred.  And we get a large look into the life of Cindy Lou Who.  As a single parent, having a child wanting to make sure the life of their parent is helped is heartwarming.  I have to admit this aspect of the derivation from the story touched me a lot.  However, I think this heart only goes so far.  You can add to the character of Cindy Lou Who.  But the story ultimately is about the transformation of the Grinch.

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BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH voices The Grinch in Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures’ Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in theaters on November 10, 2017.
Credit: Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures

Here is my ultimate problem with the Grinch’s story.  The Grinch needs to transform by seeing what Christmas really means.  He shouldn’t change because Cindy Lou Who loves her mom, even though we know the Grinch is a softy after how he treats Max and Fred.  Yes, it might change his mind.  But the transformation is neither strong or powerful.  Because with How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch realizes how powerful Christmas is, and thereby transforms because he sees how much more Christmas means.  Here is just realizes how much his own loneliness has impacted him.  And he needs to be more engaged with the people he cares about.

It may be nice that Cindy Lou Who invites him to Christmas Dinner in the end.  And it might be nice that the town still welcomes him in.  But the Grinch is happy because he feels less lonely.  It’s nice, but it’s not powerful.  I appreciate it, but it doesn’t move me the way it should.

***End Of Spoilers***

While I appreciated a lot of the piece, and I love Benedict Cumberbatch, I feel like the story was robbed of some of its power and significance.  Your kids will still appreciate it.  And who doesn’t love Max?  The addition of Fred is awesome.  Just doesn’t make up for some of the rest of the stories weakness.

Rating:  2 1/2 out of 4 stars


© Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures 2018
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© Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures 2018

Continue The Conversation

So what is your favorite Grinch movie?  Who was your favorite person who played the Grinch role?   And what is your favorite overall Christmas movie?  Being the movie geek I am, I always love knowing what people love in film.

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Until next time, this is me signing off.

David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life

 

 

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