Whoville might be the happiest town ever. It’s a place where new-fallen snow greets the townsfolk each morning, citizens sing in the streets, and every day feels like a holiday. But there’s one day a year that’s happier than all the rest: Christmas. And the people of Whoville put extra love and care into celebrating that most-special day.
But outside of town lurks a crusty old soul, who thinks Christmas spirit is out of control. He walks with a hunch and never stands tall, perhaps since his heart is two sizes too small. This Grinch never smiles, he prefers a good sneer, to channel his hatred for holiday cheer.
This lime-coloured hater is known as The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch), and he shacks up in a cave with his loyal dog Max. He lives a miserable existence and spends his days sitting at his organ belting out covers of Eric Carmen’s broken heart anthem, All by Myself. When the people of Whoville declare Christmas shall be three times bigger, The Grinch takes it as an act of war. He devises a scheme to sneak into Whoville on Christmas Eve and steal every present, tree, and decoration. But there’s one thing standing in his way: a bright-eyed child named Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely). Cindy Lou’s festive spirit may just be enough to make ol’ Grinchy see the error of his ways.
I’m not alone when I say the 1966 animated Grinch holiday special holds a cherished place in my heart. After returning to it for decades, no actor alive could step in and supplant the great Boris Karloff’s iconic performance. With The Grinch’s yellow and red eyes and harsh sneer, Karloff’s voice deftly captures the character’s sinister charms. The original Grinch character feels dark in a way that wouldn’t fly in a 2018 kids’ movie. So, the best choice for the remake isn’t to mimic what came before but to take the character in a new direction, and that’s precisely what Cumberbatch does.
With his ominous voice, Karloff’s Grinch has the commanding presence of a serious thespian, whereas this new Grinch is nasally and obnoxious. He’s less the creepy old neighbour on the edge of town than the fist-shaking weirdo telling kids to stay off his lawn. 2018 Grinch isn’t miserable and bitter so much as wound up too tight – we see his random acts of kindness sprinkled throughout the movie. What the film does so expertly is mine humour from watching this high-strung jerk take a physical pummelling. Most of the sight-gags target the film’s young audience, though, some funny, offbeat gags should please viewers of all ages.
The town of Whoville is so vibrant and full of personality it nearly bursts off the screen. Part of the charm is that every mechanical object in the film, no matter how simple, is a Rube Goldberg device. Watching coffee percolate through dozens of mechanisms (including a propane tank) to produce a single cup of java doesn’t get old. In most shots, co-directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier choose to pack every inch of the screen with eye-catching images – much of the film looks like staring into a Macy’s holiday display, but doing it while on acid. The Grinch is colourful, imaginative, and feels true to the spirit of Dr. Seuss’ classic.
Anyone who spends time in the film community comes across cinema’s most diabolical sin: SPOILERS! Nothing is worse than ruining someone’s movie-watching experience by giving away the ending. This Grinch remake proves that this no spoilers mentality doesn’t always hold up. If you’re over five, odds are you’ve already read the book or watched the original. And knowing that The Grinch doesn’t ruin Christmas won’t stop anyone from enjoying this delightful film.
The Grinch still endures after 50-years, not because of its shocking plot twist but for its timeless themes. The story tells us that we can redeem the lowest of the low, and acts of kindness may thaw the most frigid hearts. In these divisive times, when world leaders lock children in cages to further their political agendas, the appeal of the story’s ideology only crystalizes. Dr. Seuss, in all his wisdom, shared ideas empathetic readers want to be true. And now, in the dystopia we call 2018, The Grinch expresses themes its audience desperately need to be true.
- Rated: G
- Genre: Animation, Comedy, Family
- Release Date: 11/09/2018
- Directed by: Scott Mosier, Yarrow Cheney
- Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones
- Written by: Dr. Seuss, Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow
- Studio: Universal Pictures
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