Of all the Dr. Seuss stories that go down in history as classics, The Grinch who Stole Christmas always stands out. Even disregarding the surprisingly effective marketing campaign for the recent film, it’s always been a staple of holiday classics. So, when the time came for a Grinch reboot, people were intrigued- only to have their hopes dashed against the icy rocks of Mt. Crumpet with the live-action remake in 2006. So when another reboot for the age-old film was announced, people were skeptical- and it’s easy to see why. A remake of this idea failed once before, why wouldn’t it again?
I’ll be frank: I was never really into remaking films that were fine to begin with. It’s the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you know? There’s no need to spend large amounts of money on recreating something that’s held up just fine, and the reviews that many of these remakes get definitely don’t match up (compare the remake of something like Psycho, for instance). When comparing a remake to a classic, there’s always a lot of changes to discuss. And the first thing to talk about the film would be it’s eponymous lead character.
While Benedict Cumberbatch makes an okay Grinch, there’s a little something bizarre about the way he’s portrayed in this film: yes, he does have all the standpoints of being Grinch-y- bad attitude, angry voice, the works- but seeing him go out of his way to mess with civilians is sort of… out of character, at least to me. This Grinch seems, as bizarre as it sounds, TOO determined to make life miserable for the Whos. On top of this, Cumberbatch seems a little too excited and vibrant when playing a character who’s supposed to come off as an unbearable and cruel person. Someone like John de Lancie, who has had success playing snarky but lovable villains in the past, would have been better for the role. But to me, the major issue was seeing a glimpse into the Grinch’s past- which frankly, I never thought was necessary. I’ve never understood why the films feel like they need to give the green man a sad backstory- why always make his hate for the season the result of some past trauma? I thought the original point was that he didn’t like the materialism of the holiday, and that seeing the Whos didn’t need it to be happy was what made him change, not his own mysterious past. Sometimes it’s better to leave things to speculation.
Perhaps one of the more jarring parts of the film comes with its attempts to shoehorn in new characters and subplots when they are unneeded: Cindy Lou Who gets reinvented as a hyperactive and fun-loving troublemaker (although she’s no more than two in the original), who creates a plan to capture Santa Claus. There’s a story about how she wants to speak with the jolly man in order to make it so her mom (also a new character) doesn’t have to work as hard. Characters will appear and disappear for no discernible reason (Cindy Lou’s friends appear, help her plan, and then never appear again) or have entire unimportant segments dedicated to them. It is difficult to care about these characters when there’s almost no time spent developing them.
One of the other major problems I have with these remakes of Dr. Seuss books is their tendency to rely on jokes that wouldn’t be caught dead in the original works. There’s weaving your own jokes that fit in with the scenario, and then there’s showing the Grinch in booty shorts (does he even wear pants to begin with?). I’ve never understood why these movies tend to want to throw in wink-and-nods to the adults in the audience (lest we never forget the atrocity that was the live action Cat in the Hat), rather than letting the film speak for itself. Thankfully, it’s much more reserved this time, with only a few nudity or gross-out jokes. Most of the humor comes from slapstick or wordplay, which works much better for a Seuss story.
Even though there’s a lot I can nitpick here- the out-of-place jokes, the bland characters and unnecessary additions- I will give the film credit for providing a strong feeling of warmth that comes with the Holiday season. It’s nice to see a movie that isn’t ashamed of stringing up Christmas lights, putting up huge displays of Santa, or using religious names in Christmas carols, and the Whos here seem like genuinely nice people who do care about each other and the actual spirit of the holiday. It also helps that, unlike the live-action version, they don’t look like demonic mole people. The modern remake of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” also isn’t terrible, but unfortunately doesn’t get played very much during the film.
All in all, I would place this new version of The Grinch in between the old classic and the awful live-action remake. Unlike the remake, it does manage to get the moral right, the new Grinch gets some neat inventions to help make his holiday heist go quicker, and I did like seeing him prepare everything from the sleigh to the costume. But alas, it still suffers from many of the issues the other Seuss remakes do. It’s less disastrous than The Lorax, but it appears the CGI world of Dr. Seuss still has a long way to go before it can recreate the magic of the originals.