Directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier have gifted us their version of the holiday classic Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch. The anticipation of unwrapping this present is strong, but after tearing through the layers of wrapping paper, you feel like you’re staring at a new Android instead of the iPhone you asked for.
It’s nice, you appreciate it and you say thank you as nicely as you can — but you still can’t help feeling a little disappointed. Sure, I was excited for a fresh take on one of the holiday season’s best movies — especially when it came with rapper Tyler, The Creator’s single “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” — but it’s a bit off-putting how far 2018’s version strays from the 1966 original. It’s difficult to accept this as an adaptation with a new story, rather than a remake.
The biggest flaw of 2018’s The Grinch is its narration. It draws inspiration from Dr. Seuss’ rhymes in the book, but it falls flat despite narrator Pharrell Williams’s efforts. Given how iconic the source material is, being close-but-not-quite-the-same just makes it feel uncanny. One of the movie’s best moments is when the Whos gather around and sing “Welcome Christmas,” as the narration is almost verbatim to the original. Sadly, though, it makes you only wish for more.
While different, The Grinch is not all bad. It’s a wholesome, smiley pick-me-up. It allows adult viewers to reminisce on the Christmases of their childhood in all of the best ways and its humor appeals to audience members of all ages. Whoville is a visual masterpiece, resembling a beautiful gingerbread town perched on a hill, exploding with Christmas spirit. This magical land can make every child, and adult, jealous of the Whos’ home.
The contemporary classic focuses more on the Whos, specifically Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), who is now much older than two. Her Christmas wish is for her single, working mom Donna (Rashida Jones) to be happy on Christmas. To do so, she devises a plan to trap Santa Claus and ask him in person. Of course, she ends up trapping the Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) instead.
The scary Grinch that would make your skin crawl as a child is no more. Cumberbatch’s character is now just plain mean, more like a Scrooge than a monster. The Whos are not afraid of him — in fact, the overwhelmingly festive Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson) calls the Grinch his “best friend.”
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One of the best additions to The Grinch is the happy relationship between the Grinch and his loyal dog, Max. Max acts as his best friend, adorably playing with and comforting him. This is quite a switch from the original version where viewers cannot help but sympathize for Max. He actually appears excited to help his owner steal Christmas, happily guiding the sleigh as a faux reindeer.
The Grinch ends as the original does, with the return of all the presents and decorations to their rightful owners. However, it includes the Grinch apologizing to the Whos, a much-missed part of the original version. As the Grinch settles in for Christmas dinner next to Cindy Lou Who and her family, the happiness of the holidays is clear.
While a cheery holiday film, a new take on the classic Grinch story feels unnecessary despite its old age. 2018’s The Grinch is to the original as what I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown is to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Both of the new stories are fine, but feel worse given the inevitable comparison to the classics.