With the green menace voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Grinch” tells a familiar story, but delivers an unexpected level of emotion
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely, and Angela Lansbury
Whenever Hollywood decides to remake a film, it’s inevitable that there is going to be a level of comparison with those that preceded it; not least because many believe that it’s unnecessary to remake so many films when there must be new, original avenues to pursue. The difference between reimagining and redoing what has already been done before compared to creating is the level of comfort that comes from having a level of familiarity with the story and, with Christmas films, this really helps the audience to feel at ease. Having said that, going against those that adore the 2000 version starring Jim Carrey (this reviewer being amongst them) is somewhat of an uphill battle.
Despite coming from the same source material, however, and having the same broad plot, the two films offer completely different experiences. In many ways, the 2000 version is far more bleak, with very few characters appearing redeemable. All of the Whos spend the entire Christmas season obsessed with the commercial nature of Christmas, and realise the value of Christmas at much the same time that the Grinch does. The only sane mind it appears throughout the film is Cindy Lou Who, who is also frustratingly irritating. The Grinch is also made to appear much more horrifying, with maggots filling his mouth, dining on bits of broken glass, and seeking to terrorise those around him.
In this animated version, a lot of these elements are greatly toned down. While the Grinch still bemoans Christmas being about what presents you get, there’s a lot of the sense that this judgment comes specifically from the Grinch instead of necessarily being to do with the Whos. What’s more, the Grinch is presented much more as an “Everyman” character instead of quite so sinister and other worldly. The animation style smooths his rough edges, and though he does still live at the top of Mount Crumpet, he is not the sinister, out of reach entity presented in the 2000 version, but rather just a reclusive member of the community despite his different appearance.
The difference in narration also has a marked impact upon the tone of the entire movie. While Anthony Hopkins made 2000’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” seem a serious affair, Pharrell Williams fills 2018’s “The Grinch” with a sense of fun and whimsy, which is aided by the quirky animation style that makes for a fun sort of fairy story.
Accessibility is certainly a major difference between the two films. The 2000 version was definitely very stylised, from the way that the Whos were given large front teeth and eccentric hairstyles, to the shapes of the houses, the cars and the streets. It’s very much in keeping with Dr Seuss’s own eclectic artwork, but does make it trickier for the viewer to relate on a personal level to the story.
Part of that, too, comes from the characterisation of the Grinch. Sure, Jim Carrey’s version is undeniably hilarious, with wonderfully quotable lines and a brilliant, electric presence on screen. However, his backstory of separating himself from the rest of the community because of a botched shaving job causing school ridicule isn’t as emotional or three-dimensional as it could be. What’s more, he’s shown as being massively different even before that, laughing with glee as he barges other babies as he floats down from the sky. In that version, he is different from the moment that he appears, more so in just matters of his appearance.
Within the animated version, however, his origin story is played far more sympathetically. His aversion and hatred towards Christmas and towards other people stems from his childhood growing up in an orphanage, in which he spent Christmas after Christmas watching those around him having people to celebrate with while he was alone. He isolates himself from the rest of the world out of his own fear of rejection and from a place of profound loneliness.
Additionally, Cumberbatch’s Grinch is shown to be far more similar to the average viewer. There’s a lot more to relate to, not just his own fears of ridicule and isolation, but also how he complains about the Christmas rush and obsessions with gifts; he overeats to deal with his problems; he finds other people exhausting; his best friend is his dog; he cannot function without his morning coffee. All of these elements make The Grinch’s story far more relatable, three-dimensional and emotional. He isn’t some sort of monster, but his actions are contextualised and justified in a meaningful way.
The development that Cumberbatch’s Grinch goes through throughout the film is a whole lot more touching that Carrey’s Grinch who, even though he eventually saves Christmas, he still retains a lot of his cruel, unpleasant habits. Filled with a touching ending, as well as a more appropriate subplot for Cindy Lou Who, who wants to trap Santa so that he can give her working mother Donna (Rashida Jones) a break, it feels a lot more real and heartfelt.
That’s not to say that it’s not funny too. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments as well, from bumbling, affable neighbour Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), who is desperate to be the Grinch’s friend, to poor Max who desperately tries to help the Grinch with his schemes, even to the Grinch himself who is far more hilariously out of his depth here.
It’s also visually engaging, with highly creative methods that the Grinch uses to achieve his grand heist, and the bright colours characteristic of any Christmas film. Ultimately, “The Grinch” delivers a far more emotional, warm and heartfelt tale than those that preceded it. Even for those who are staunch fans of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, there’s nothing here that spoils or erases the enjoyment of that film, due to the major differences between the two.
The Grinch is available to watch now on Netflix.