Like most of Illumination’s works, The Grinch delivers on adorableness, and kids will will enjoy it just fine. It fails to add anything substantial though, and the same story can be accomplished in far less time. Stick with the original.
Illumination has proven since 2010’s Despicable Me to be really good at three key things: creating adorable characters, pairing them with catchy pop music, and masterfully commercializing the finished product.
It is inexplicable, then, that Illumination would adapt How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The Grinch is not terrible. Like most of Illumination’s films, it sits nicely in a “just fine” niche. Kids will undoubtedly enjoy the bright colors and life brought to Whoville. Anyone with a heart will fall for Max, the Grinch’s ever-underappreciated sidekick pup.
But The Grinch never goes beyond being just fine. It is underwhelming, overstuffed, and ultimately misses the point of its source material to a fascinating degree.
The core issue for The Grinch, as it was for How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), is forcing a square peg into a round hole; in this case, a short story into a feature-length film
The Grinch is a villain. The protagonist, yes, but at his core, he must be dislikeable. The original adaptation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), understood this.
The Grinch was a terrifying visage. The notorious smile that dons his face after envisioning his plan is alien, mimicking a similar queasiness induced by the Joker. He hated Whoville’s Christmas for very simple reasons: it annoys him. The Grinch yearns for silence.
Yet, his eventual plan is not to simply take the bamboozles and other noise making machines but to also take the decorations, the lights, even the food. The Grinch wants to steal joy.
The Grinch, like Jim Carrey’s version, seeks to make the Grinch into a “real” character. He has a backstory involving an orphanage, missed Christmases, and not being adopted. This is used to explain his two-sizes-too-small heart. To humanize him.
This Grinch is also fairly cute. He has a big fuzzy dad bod, big round eyes, and cute little green nose. He is bumbly and silly, very much in the same vein as Gru from Despicable Me.
Which means he isn’t a villain. The audience can sympathize for him, empathize with him. They’re on his side when he wants to steal his annoying neighbor’s rooftop sleigh.
By softening the Grinch, the plot contrivances fall apart, and his eventual growth is stunted. Why does he want to do harm to Whoville when they are actively kind to him? And after they accept him back into their homes, why is he surprised?
The other unfortunate side effect of turning a 26 minute TV special into a feature film is the need to create entirely new characters. This works with Max for the most part; by giving him an arc of sorts, or at the very least full reactions and emotions, he becomes the heart of the film.
It fails with Cindy Lou Who, who has an uninteresting and laborious plot involving helping her mother by meeting/trapping Santa Claus. It is by definition filler, and it shows.
It also fails with the reindeer, who as of this writing is so unimportant that I can’t remember his name. He shows up, along with a screaming goat because memes, and then disappears for most of the film. His reintroduction is used to further weaken the Grinch. But boy is he fluffy.
The Grinch isn’t terrible. It is almost certainly better than the live-action adaptation. At the very least, it’s far less awkwardly sexual. But it commercializes a story about commercialization being bad, fails to capitalize on an updated version of the famous music, and softens the Grinch to the point of being unrecognizable.
Beyond the Screen
By far the strangest part of this movie is the focus on a Christian Christmas.
All previous incarnations have steered clear of a religious affiliation with Christmas. The Grinch dislikes a commercialized Christmas because it induces joy that he finds annoying, and not for mad-at-Starbucks-cups reasons.
Similarly, the Grinch is swayed not by a religious explanation for Christmas, but by the community bond the Whos show in the face of adversity; Christmas is a time to be with family and/or the ones you love.
But The Grinch, for a reason I cannot possibly grasp, inserts God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Silent Night into key parts of the movie.
It gives the whole thing a strange religious tint that no adaptation has had before.
“Each year at Christmas they disrupt his tranquil solitude with their increasingly bigger, brighter and louder celebrations. When the Whos declare they are going to make Christmas three times bigger this year, the Grinch realizes there is only one way for him to gain some peace and quiet: he must steal Christmas. To do so, he decides he will pose as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, even going so far as to trap a lackadaisical misfit reindeer to pull his sleigh. Meanwhile, down in Who-ville, Cindy-Lou Who-a young girl overflowing with holiday cheer-plots with her gang of friends to trap Santa Claus as he makes his Christmas Eve rounds so that she can thank him for help for her overworked single mother. As Christmas approaches, however, her good-natured scheme threatens to collide with the Grinch’s more nefarious one. Will Cindy-Lou achieve her goal of finally meeting Santa Claus? Will the Grinch succeed in silencing the Whos’ holiday cheer once and for all?” -Rotten Tomatoes