Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for “The Grinch.”
“The Grinch” is the latest property in Hollywood to get a reboot. And while it may not be completely necessary, it does give the 1966 Chuck Jones cartoon a much-needed update.
And it may just scare away any nightmares you have of Jim Carrey’s 2000 movie.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the green meanie who dislikes Christmastime, Universal’s version of the Grinch is a bit cuter and more cuddly to stomach. He’s a mean dude, too, but he’s been given the Illumination Entertainment treatment to make you either fall for him or think of him alongside the little yellow minions from “Despicable Me.”
Either way, for the most part, it works.
Why to see it: It’s from the people who made “Despicable Me” and it stars Benedict Cumberbatch.
Do you like Benedict Cumberbatch on “Sherlock”? What about in “Avengers: Infinity War” or “The Imitation Game”? This is a kiddie movie, but if you’re a Cumberbatch stan (see also:Cumberperson), you might be on board. (More on his performance shortly.)
“The Grinch” is the ninth original movie from Universal’s animated division, Illumination. You may know them as the studio who puts out the “Despicable Me” movies. “The Grinch” certainly has the flair of that franchise. They’re both about curmudgeons who learn compassion because of kids who enter their lives.
The flick is from first-time director Scott Mosier, who has worked on “Clerks” and “Good Will Hunting,” and Yarrow Cheney, who has worked on other Illumination movies in the art department, including “The Lorax” and “Despicable Me,” and co-directed “The Secret Life of Pets.”
What’s hot: Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on the character, his adorable dog Max, and a few story updates
An animated movie centered around a 53-year-old green humbug doesn’t seem like the sort of role Cumberbatch would take. He usually plays intellectuals like Sherlock or Alan Turing, and then there’s Marvel’s Doctor Strange who is a literal know-it-all. Cumberbatch told INSIDER that’s exactly why he took the role. It was outside the realm of familiarity to him and stood out as something different. He charms as the mean-spirited Grinch who’s really just an isolated, lonely hermit who desperately needs a hug – or, at the least, a Christmas present.
Cumberbatch didn’t watch the other iterations of the holiday special to prepare for the role. He said he stuck only to the Dr. Seuss book, which is what the directors used to inform their iteration of the movie. That probably helped him make the role his own.
If you’re a Cumberperson (what Cumberbatch prefers his fans call themselves rather than a more lewd name), you’re probably used to hearing his British accent. But here, Cumberbatch sounds so foreign that adults may be distracted for the film’s first half hour trying figure out what he did to his voice, that is, if they can figure out he’s voicing the Grinch.
Cumberbatch said he grew up doing voices and that after speaking to the directors several times he came up with something he thought was growly and grinchy. It works. But he also adds more heart into any version of the character than we’ve previously seen. There are small moments of reflection where you can tell this guy wants to be included in the Who community no matter how much he claims to despise it.
One thing this “Grinch” does better than others is give the character a much-needed backstory. There were children at my screening asking aloud why he was so mean. So when you see a flashback of a young, tiny Grinchster, it starts to finally make the rest of the story make more sense. Because, to be frank, a guy stealing Christmas gifts at the age of 53 is a bit weird.
That said, maybe I’m a sucker for cute miniature characters since “Guardians of the Galaxy” gifted us with Baby Groot, but I am here for tiny flashback Grinch. Sign me up for the Funko and the stuffed animals. People, I mean kids, and not grown-up adults like myself, are going to want those.
An origin story for the Grinch isn’t the only big change the film makes. One of the first things you’ll notice is how diverse and inclusive the town of Whoville is. They’re not all the same shapes or colours like in the 1966 animated picture. They more accurately reflect how the world looks.
There’s also a big change with Cindy Lou, the girl who gets under the Grinch’s steel exterior. She has a single mother raising three kids. It leads to a bit of a plot hole concerning her absent father that’s never explored, but growing up with a single mum myself I thought it more accurately depicted a family unit people are used to seeing in 2018. All Cindy Lou wants is for Santa to make sure her mum is happy. It’s that wish that ultimately collides with the Grinch’s devious plans.
Apart from the Grinch, Max the dog is probably going to be a favourite with kids. The Grinch’s loyal-to-a-fault dog is the Alfred to his Batman. He makes him coffee and breakfast each morning, he makes sure his clothes are picked out, and he goes along with Mr. Grinch to pull off evil deeds even if he knows, at heart, it’s not the right thing to do.
It’s refreshing from the original where Max is kind of terrified of the Grinch, who is abusive of his furry friend and treats him more like a slave. It’s clear in the remake, that’s not the case at all. Max is the one thing that is keeping the green guy going. He cares terribly for his dog and their relationship is one of the film’s highlights.
The other stand-out relationship in the movie is one between Kenan Thompson’s disillusioned Who character who believes he and Mr. Grinch are best friends. Watching the Grinch try to avoid him and get unexpectedly whacked by an inflatable snowman, a scene from the trailers, is a stand-out moment.
You’ll either love or not quite understand the reasoning behind a bleating goat gag in the movie, which I was told was inspired by a popular Taylor Swift meme. There’s also a surprise cameo from Angela Lansbury as the Mayor of Whoville. You’re able to recognise her voice instantly. Directors Mosier and Cheney told INSIDER it was like watching “royalty” come in when she voiced her lines.
What’s not: The classic Grinch song is changed up and it just feels like a little bit of the original’s magic is missing without it
One of the most memorable parts of the 1966 Jones’ animated classic is undoubtedly the Grinch song.
You know, this:
I waited the entire movie for this song to appear on screen during the present-stealing scene and it never happens. Instead, book narration is coupled with the Grinch’s evil plan, making the moment feel slightly deflated.
Instead, a revamped version of the song is used to introduce the character at the film’s start to youngsters. I get it. Kids may not be as familiar with the Grinch, so it may not matter as much to them, but it would have been a nice nod to adults bringing their children to see the movie who grew up with the character.
I asked the directors about this and understood their reasoning. It felt like they already established at the film’s start he was a mean guy and it felt a bit too repetitive. When you revisit the 1966 classic, the Grinch song comes pretty early on into the 25-minute special.
Still, this is the ultimate mean-guy scene. The dude is literally stealing everyone’s presents. If there’s ever a time to play the song, it’s then. It’s like watching a Spongebob movie without the theme song.
And the song that plays on screen isn’t the version you know. It’s by Tyler the Creator. The remix (listen here) instantly brings to mind illumination’s “Despicable Me” franchise. The songs give off a similar vibe and that may very well be on purpose for young kids to associate the very successful minion franchise with this one. Illumination even put out a “Grinch” trailer featuring the little yellow guys who interact with Cumberbatch’s character. Maybe there’s room for a Grinch and Gru crossover at some point.
The Grinch doesn’t and shouldn’t need another franchise to sell it. He’s a beloved character all his own.
Overall: If you’re looking for a cute holiday movie to see with kids, “The Grinch” should satisfy young moviegoers and old.
I don’t think fans will leave thinking the 2018 film is necessarily better than the Chuck Jones’ classic. That’s a tall order. But I also don’t believe anyone’s going to leave this movie thinking it was a waste of time.
I was fortunate enough to go to a screening filled with children and they seemed to enjoy “The Grinch.” While I didn’t hear them cheering and roaring with laughter the entire time, no one seemed to dislike the movie. “The Grinch” has a valuable lesson for youngsters and adds a much-needed backstory for the character that explained why a 53-year-old green guy is so angry with the world.
A definite plus? Universal doesn’t drag this out forever. The movie is a quick and breezy 90 minutes that doesn’t overstay its welcome. So you probably won’t have to worry about little ones needing a bathroom break.
“The Grinch” is in theatres Friday. Watch a trailer for the movie below.
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