Let me preface this review by saying one thing — I don’t ever want to the grouchy, nit-picky, fun-sucking movie critic, let alone when I’m reviewing a film meant for children. But by the same token, media is hugely influential in the lives of children, and what they consume can mold their ways of thinking and viewing the world. Of course, I don’t expect film studios to think all that critically about the messages their movies are ultimately relaying to kids. For the most part, studios like Illumination are here to pump out easily digestible films that are ultimately harmless.
The Grinch accomplishes this with flying colors — literally. The movie is mostly made up of bright, flashy animation which is admittedly a lot of fun to watch. But if you’re going to the theatre in hopes of a creative, innovative twist on a classic Christmas tale, you may want to look elsewhere.
This film was, in a word, shallow. A shell of a story. Half-baked. Shiny and glittering on the outside, but ultimately devoid of any actual cohesive story, much less a reinvention of the source material. This of course seems rather odd when we remember that the core of the original story is a criticism of the vapidness of our society and its rampant consumerism.
I can’t say I’m surprised, except for the fact that all of the marketing that went into this film pushed to promote it as a version of the tale unlike any we had ever seen before. This is far from the case. Not only is the Grinch’s backstory far, far less developed than that of the live action version, but this version is even less effective than the original animated short, which didn’t include a backstory for the character at all.
This image made it appear as if a large portion of the movie was going to be dedicated to the Grinch’s younger years, as if his hatred of Christmas was built over the course of much of his life. This is not the case at all.
The Grinch’s “backstory” is that he was abandoned (?) (They never actually say what happened to his parents) and left in a horrible, empty, grey orphanage as a child with no one to love or care for him, and that seeing all the other kids with their families at Christmas made him hate the holiday. In addition to this backstory being both completely lame and totally half-baked, it is also strangely contradicted by the other Whos throughout the rest of the film. Unlike the live action Grinch who was feared by the townspeople and therefore unwelcome in their village, this Grinch is free to roam around as he pleases, and in fact people are rather pleasant to him, including one Who who goes so far as to call the Grinch his “friend.” So why, in a town so close-knit and caring of one another, would such a grim orphanage exist at all? And why, if people were so easily willing to interact and befriend the Grinch, would he have remained ostracized for the remainder of his life? It’s true that he is quite mean at the beginning of the film, but none of the action seems warranted at all.
The whole of this explanation lasts maybe 5 minutes in the nearly 2 hour long film. There are a few throw away lines earlier that attempt to plant the seed, but they seem totally off beat and misguided. For example, at one point the Grinch says that “It’s better this way,” referring to him being alone, which suggests some sort of pain or loss — hence, it’s better to be alone so as not to get hurt. But this doesn’t seem to be the case at all, so line loses its meaning entirely.
Am I reading too deep into this kid’s film? This is the point where my friends and family usually stop me from blabbering on. But I have to stand my ground on this one — they made a Grinch adaptation that explored the characters and expanded the universe. Was it a necessary make? Not really, no. But at least they actually reinvented the story, and did so without terribly altering the original intent of the source material.
They do offer a cute subplot about Cindy Lou Who and her mother, who is a single working parent juggling her job and three kids, but it’s so underdeveloped and hastily concluded that the audience never got a chance to connect with it. The same thing is true for the handful of other characters they introduce but end up doing nothing with.
But let’s forget about that for a second — how did Benedict Cumberbatch do as the Grinch? Honestly… not nearly as bad as I thought he would do. I was admittedly very skeptical about how the voice would fit (and not exactly reassured by the trailers), but he ended up going with a version so over the top I actually forgot it was him, which was a good thing in this case. Benedict Cumberbatch was a very odd choice for this role, but seeing as he’s now a father of 2 very young children, I could see why something like this would be appealing to him.
This version of the Grinch himself was quite odd as well, because while yes, he was mean at the beginning of the film, he didn’t have the biting hatred or unpleasantness that we saw in both the original short and the Jim Carrey version. This Grinch didn’t seem motivated enough to steal Christmas, nor did he seem clever or capable enough.
I know I’ve been very harsh on this film, and like I said in my preface, I don’t mean to rip it apart. I don’t think it really deserves that. But maybe I feel that it doesn’t deserve that because there is such little to it. Maybe I would feel more strongly about criticizing it if attempted to do anything at all.
But this was never meant to be a film. Nobody asked for this adaptation. This is nothing more than a little shelf item for Universal/Illumination to add to their collection. The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, The Grinch — I expect we’ll see a Cat and the Hat adaptation soon enough so that they can have the full set.
Final Score: B –