‘Dr Seuss’ The Grinch’ (2018) – a nostalgic throwback?

I went into this film not really knowing what to expect, aside from my vague knowledge of the original story and countless re-watches of 2000’s live action movie, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was a childhood favourite (and let’s be real, it’s a classic). In fact, when I found out I was going to be reviewing Dr Seuss’ The Grinch I decided to watch it again to refresh my memory. In the end I got to about 45 minutes before falling asleep (not due to the film, it’s just a thing I do) but it was enough to make me realise that hoo boy, that movie is weird. Maybe it’s a sign of the advancement in special effects and make-up (somehow it came out nearly 20 years ago), but the facial construction of the Who’s is just plain creepy in hindsight, not to mention that the overall tone is pretty dark and almost Tim Burton-esque in places. I also noticed a moment that quite clearly (if my years of watching Louis Theroux documentaries has taught me anything) alludes to the adult residents of Whoville engaging in a swinger’s key party. This movie is rated PG.

I am aware that I’m not reviewing the 2000 film, but I wanted to highlight some aspects of it in order to explain how I feel about this new one. As I said, the previous Grinch is rated PG. The characters are complex and well-developed, with back stories and motivations that make sense of why they act in a certain manner. It’s definitely aimed towards children, but it doesn’t sacrifice depth for the sake of easy entertainment. Dr Seuss’ The Grinch is rated U. With that in mind, it makes sense that it would be thematically lighter and lacking in the innuendos. It doesn’t make sense that it would be lacking in actual story which, unfortunately, it is. I was unaware up until the title screen that this movie is a product of Illumination Studios, the company behind Despicable Me and its spawn Minions. I was painfully reminded when the short film Yellow is the New Black started playing, which is just several minutes of… minions. If you’re a fan of them, I’m sorry. But I hate them, so much, and they are everywhere. As a comic relief in the original Despicable Me, they were fine, even funny. The problem started when Illumination capitalised on the initial positive reaction to create a plague of tiny irritating yellow monsters that I haven’t gone a day without seeing in the past five years, whether it’s unrelated cash-grab merchandise or nonsensical Facebook memes shared by middle aged Mums (no hate, just, you know what I mean).

Anyway, minions are essentially the reason I just couldn’t like this film. The character design of the Grinch is great, it’s relatively faithful to the original drawing and manages to walk the line between unpleasant and endearing perfectly. Benedict Cumberbatch is also great. His American accent is actually spot on, and he gives personality to a character that is woefully lacking in backstory. The design of Whoville and the landscape is also lovely – it’s bright, detailed and visually exciting. The adult Who’s also look nice, and the way they look makes sense in relation to the Grinch, who is far more like them in this version, the biggest difference being that he’s, uh, bright green. The problem is the kids. It’s clear that Illumination wanted them to look and act as much like minions as possible without actually being minions. It feels odd and somehow out of place. Cindy Lou Who seems to be much younger in order to fit with this, and thereby the subplot of Cindy Lou forming a bond with the Grinch due to her distaste for the commercialisation of Christmas is entirely gone. Ultimately that means that there is little subtext and no real tension or character development, just a simple story with more of a beginning and end than much of a middle.

Having said all that, it was still enjoyable, the look of it alone is enough to keep attention, and there are several animals in this film that are pretty cute. This Grinch is more of a protagonist than in the previous version, though that may be because his reason for disliking Christmas stems more from sadness than bitterness. Although, there is not one point where a Who rejects him or responds to his appearance, which kind of makes the entire premise not make much sense. This movie doesn’t seem to know what it’s trying to be. Is it a feel good Christmas film? A wacky kids’ comedy? A faithful rendering of a Dr Seuss classic? The narrator (Pharrell Williams) speaks in rhyme, but he appears at random intervals and doesn’t quite mesh. The characters themselves don’t speak that way at all. It lacks the magic of a Christmas film, and I can’t pinpoint why since the entire premise is about how great Christmas is, but it just doesn’t come through somehow. As for comedy, there were several kids in the cinema, and none of them laughed once. But who knows, maybe they were too enthralled. I’m not the target audience, so maybe my opinion means nothing. And a simple story doesn’t mean a bad one. It’s cute and fun. And if you do like minions, well, you’ll probably like this a whole lot more than I did.

Dr Seuss’ The Grinch is showing at the Commodore Cinema every night until Thursday 6th December at 7:30pm, including Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd at 2:30pm