REVIEW: The Grinch

How the Grinch stole over an hour of my precious time and money…

Come the holiday season, the green, mean Grinch who lives up atop Mt. Crumpit grows aggressive towards the neighbouring town of Whoville for whom obtain a sense of Christmas spirit and cheer for which the Grinch so heavily and dastardly despises.

This is the point where I would say “another year, another Dr. Seuss adaptation”, but if I’m not mistaken, the last Dr. Seuss adapted movie would have to have been the lacklustre 2012 flick, The Lorax, which was, if you did your maths, six years ago. So, to be honest, I was actually kind of excited to see another interpretation of a classic Dr. Seuss tale hit the big screen, even though past adaptations have not been, well… considered technically good. Now with most of Dr. Seuss’s adaptations, I hold an inexplicable bias towards them, being that I grew up watching most of them as a kid, like, in particular, The Cat in the Hat – and to that I would argue Mike Myer’s cat movie to be a great film and no one can convince me otherwise! However, it wouldn’t take a complete idiot not to realise how poorly in general Dr. Seuss’s work has been portrayed on the big screen. Only recently, with films like Horton Hears A Who and The Lorax, have Dr. Seuss adaptations moved to animation, for which I believe to be a more suited art form for the stories to take place in. In animation, it’s believed anything is possible and imagination has no limitations for which, to me, is everything a Dr. Seuss picture book is. Dr. Seuss stories belong, if anywhere on the big screen, in animation; the sad thing is, however, that the guys who are animating them are also the guys who did Minions

Illumination Entertainment is quite possibly my least favourite animation studio operating today. Producing lacklustre rip-offs like The Secret Life of Pets and Sing, whilst directly selling children utter garbage like Minions and just completely milking the only real critical hit they have ever had with Despicable Me; Illumination for the last few years has been tuning out repetitive, unimaginative, bland animation flicks. And yet, for their efforts, they have been garnering popularity to rival superior animation studios like Pixar or Studio Ghibli. The thing is however, they have already placed their grubby, dirty little mitts on Dr. Seuss’s work before with, you guessed it, The Lorax. Quite possibly one of the poorest received animated movies in modern cinema, The Lorax was easily Illumination’s biggest failure. Although, what made the movie’s downfall even sadder was the fact that it showed potential – it was not a reboot of another Dr. Seuss adaptation, it showed promise in its timely themes and at the very least attempted to be creative. I would even go so far to say Illumination’s general fluffy and colourful style really proved to suit Dr. Seuss’s onscreen persona… but, at the end of the day, it didn’t work. The Lorax was boring and lazy and, so therefore, bringing it all back to 2018’s The Grinch, I approached the film with mixed feelings.

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(Illumination/ Universal Pictures, 2018)

Ron Howard’s live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas was never much a great film, despite Jim Carrey’s wacky lead performance; yet I, like many other millennials, do have nostalgia for the movie and would go so far to say, “it’s alright”. Though after hearing the story would be returning to an animation medium following the 1966 television special in a reboot starring Benedict Cumberbatch, I honestly have to say I was interested in seeing how the new film would pan out. Sure, the film was being made by Illumination Entertainment, but it had been six years since The Lorax and I was hoping that Illumination would somehow find their footing in Dr. Seuss’s signature style to not only revamp the classic tale but also re-establish Illumination as a studio worthy of the title it had been building over the past few years. So, the stage was set and I was ready to see what Illumination had done to the tale of The Grinch for the character’s third onscreen appearance, and… yeah, it wasn’t great.

I’m sorry for how much I babbled on about Illumination Entertainment and Dr. Seuss before writing my actual review for The Grinch, but I had to establish some conceptual idea of how this film should be fairly and equally judged for what it is. 2018’s The Grinch was not much a delightful and entertaining watch but more just a rehashed borefest of a story we have now seen done four times: twice now in animation, once in live action and originally, and suitably, in a picture book. Illumination’s The Grinch provided almost literally nothing new to its source material or even bothered to add any nuance or freshness to distinguish itself from the other two Grinch adaptations. The movie showed no real reason to exist but instead to just provide a Christmas bonus to the guys at Illumination Entertainment, because, well, the ‘Grinch’ is a household name and almost nobody would say no to a Dr. Seuss character as beloved as him, especially at Christmas.
I do not necessarily think The Grinch was terrible by any stretch as, for instance, elements of the film were fun and colourful. The animation in general was gorgeous, easily making it Illumination’s best-looking film to date. I also really liked the almost Looney Tunes-styled approach the film took to its action and humour. For all it’s negatives, Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets was at least saved by its colourful and goofy Looney Tunes appeal which offered real slapstick and ludicrous visual jokes, as did The Grinch. The Grinch had funny moments, featuring skits that could have been Looney Tunes cartoons… but the movie did not commit to any of its jovial, energetic Daffy Duck nature. The movie petered out at a constant rate and never kept to its momentum. I mean, this is meant to be a children’s Christmas movie! Even Tim Allen was able to entertain for three movies straight in a fat suit with a bunch kids who were supposed to be elves!

At least, back on the topic of The Lorax, Illumination felt like they were trying – trying to do something a bit different and creative and thoughtful, but with The Grinch, it was almost like someone said “hey, don’t bother writing a completely new script. We’ll just take the last two movie’s screenplays and mash them together and see what happens”. 2018’s The Grinch just felt like it moved from scene to scene with no flow or smart transition. Every character introduction or any sense of development felt like a roughly engineered movement towards a curtain close that would unwittingly feel unearned and unsatisfying all in one. The movie just felt tiring – plain and simple.

To add to the film’s tiring appeal, The Grinch was narrated by Pharrell Williams, who’s talent I have really begun doubting with the more Illumination productions he has become involved in (I mean the song ‘Happy’ was cute… but come on mate, cut it out). In The Grinch, Williams delivered such a dry and boring narration that felt like it wanted to be a cool new updated poetic recall to the language of Seuss, but it just resulted in complete and utter dullness. Also, on the topic of The Grinch attempting to be ‘hip’, it would seem that Tyler The Creator signed on to write and perform some key songs for the movie and although I have no real quarrels with the songs in general (I found elements of them to be rather creative actually) the movie just tended to insert the songs into the most awkward moments in the movie. And as extension of that idea, who even suggested that Tyler The Creator should work on a kid’s animation film – I mean, that guy’s style is so not for children. Like seriously.

Though, I guess what I have to admit is that above all else, what I found most grinding with The Grinch reboot would have to be how the movie went about portraying its characters, most notably its two lead protagonists – the titular Grinch and Cindy Lou Who. Though I don’t even know if I could really call the two protagonists ‘characters’, to be honest, since the term characters provokes a sense of personification and humanity. The Grinch and Cindy Lou, in this adaptation, could be more realistically coined as blueprints for characters rather than fully well-realised and rounded people.

Firstly, with the Grinch, sure he was given a backstory and a motivation like every good character should, but his growth and development in the style of Ebenezer Scrooge was not at all well-realised. Say what you want about the Ron Howard version, but with the help of Jim Carrey’s performance, the Grinch felt like he went through literal change so that by the end of that film, his new-found warmness and kindness was understandable in terms of general character development. In the 2018 version, the Grinch was grumpy for 80% of the film and then, for no real logical reason, he became happy and kind-hearted for the last 20%. There was no foreshadowing for the Grinch to go through said change; he just suddenly changed for no other reason than the movie being a Christmas movie. I do not blame Benedict Cumberbatch as his voice work was fine, managing to be ever-so slightly quirky and unique at some points, but the character just felt like not only a rip-off of Ebenezer Scrooge but also a rip-off of other superior versions of the Grinch. I mean, even his introduction felt so lame with Tyler The Creator’s music booming and the camera pulling in on the Grinch, drenched in daylight, sleeping comfortably in his bed… what a boring way to introduce your protagonist. Again, with the Ron Howard version, the Grinch was introduced as a monster who the children believed to be nothing more than a myth as when the Grinch finally revealed himself to the audience, he boasted a wicked, nightmarish Jim Carrey grin that I am sure gave a generation of children nightmares (like me). Meanwhile, this animated updated Grinch is not a scary urban legend to the town of Whoville – far from it! – this Grinch is literally just some bloke’s grumpy neighbour…

Then there was Cindy Lou who (I did not mean to do that), the youthful girl built up with nothing but Christmas spirit, just felt like any other Illumination created character: flat. There was no wonder or ore to how she appeared or was written; Cindy Lou felt like an adult’s attempt to write a fun and endearing child character without any of the feeling or essence of childhood, especially for a kid around Christmas. Her appearance in the movie felt so forced as did her eventual relationship with the Grinch for which was rather non-existent until the very finale. I did though like how the film introduced Cindy Lou’s mother before they did her, almost as if the narrative was trying to show the character from a different angle… but that didn’t last. To be honest though, the more I write, the more disappointed I find myself feeling.

Look, no animated Christmas film will ever beat The Nightmare Before Christmas (NEVER), but it does not mean an animated Christmas film (or just Christmas films in general) should not at least try. Just because a film is set at Christmas does not mean it will instantaneously feel as warm and inviting as the titular holiday. The Grinch felt nothing more than a movie that thought it could sell itself on the concept of Christmas, and nothing else… sad, right?

To Illumination Entertainment, I speak directly to you now: children deserve a better class of films. I already know that many people will say to me “hey, don’t be so rough on The Grinch – it’s a kid’s movie” … but just because a movie is for kids, does not mean it has to be dumb. The Nightmare Before Christmas, as dark as it was, was a perfect film which happened to be animation, which happened to be a Christmas film and which happened to be for kids. Storytelling is so damn important for children, and adults, to learn morals and concepts that will shape their identity. It just so happens that film is the most popular medium for people in this day and age to experience and consume narrative, which makes filmmaking even more important. You would be surprised how much children pick up and take in through visual storytelling; kids don’t just learn every lesson at school. Sometimes, they learn in a far off village called Whoville, through a grumpy old Grinch, certain lessons on family and the home and how said elements can be the most important things in the world… well, at least the original Dr. Seuss book taught kids that. Not sure about this version…

The Grinch sadly belongs in the… KINGDOM OF THE CRIMINALLY DULL…

 

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