I didn’t think I was going to be seeing this movie. In fact, I was hoping to avoid it. Every trailer and teaser and commercial I’ve been exposed to has caused me deep, cringing pain. Ever since I heard Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice so uncharacteristically high-pitched and nasally. Like…why hire someone who is well known for his deep voice and amazing ability to perform intimidating villain roles just to have him sound like a generic cartoon character. Not even a cartoon bad guy – more like a cartoon principal with a stick up his butt.
That plus the out-dated memery and the usual garbo quality of Illumination Animation productions…Yeah I wasn’t gagging to see it.
But my students wanted to see it. Why yes, I do have students! You see, as a mad scientist, I pay the bills with some teaching! Well…it doesn’t actually pay any bills because it’s volunteer work…and I don’t really get to teach very often, more just chaperone and provide help for struggling students…and the students aren’t actually mine…
That’s by the by.
We took our class to see The Grinch as a special Christmas treat. And gosh darn it, they were all so excited to see it I couldn’t help but force myself to be more optimistic. Maybe it wasn’t going to be absolutely terrible.
So we all got set, the kids got their snacks, and we settled in for the movie.
And I watched, and I analyzed; a couple of times I chuckled. And you know what? It’s actually not horrible.
[Spoilers ahead! I’m sure anyone old enough to read this really doesn’t care, but if you do then GO AWAY – skip to the bottom!]
Now, considering animated movies are slightlydifferent from live-action, I will account for that in my grading process. However, the rubric isn’t going to change, really. I mean, the basic principles still apply.
- Is it realistic? Does it work? Does it flow? Is it consistent to the character speaking? Does it serve a purpose beyond just exposition?
- Is there depth? If not, is there at least some level of intrigue?
- Does it make sense? Is it easy to follow the sequence of events? If there is no narrative, does the game’s basic sequence make sense?
- If there’s a point, is it made and is it made well?
- Is the music something I’d want to hear again?
- Does it suit the work? Enhance the experience? Or is it inappropriate and distracting?
- Does the actor succeed in making the character feel like a person?
- Does the actor succeed in making the character sympathetic and likeable? Or does the character succeed in making you hate them?
- Does the overall performance achieve what was intended?
- Is it well done? Does everything look and move right? Does the animation distract from the story being told?
- Character design
- Does it fit the film? Do they look good? Do the design choices suit the characters?
- Set design
- Do the sets fit the film? If it’s a period piece, are they accurate? Are they well-balanced and pleasing to look at? Are there any fun Easter eggs or bonus details that make you want to go back and watch the film more closely?
- If the film is going for a certain mood, atmosphere, or look, did the animators succeed in portraying it? Does the style drown out the story, or does it enhance it?
With these things in mind, let’s get on to the review!
It’s the Grinch. Y’all know the damn story.
To the movie’s credit, they didn’t change anything much. They added more of a prologue (which was one of three highlights in the movie, honestly), they added some characters, they added fluff in the middle, and they extended the end. They also changed Cindy Lou Who from no more than two. Now she’s probably like 6 or something, and she has baby twin brothers and a hard-working single mom.
The movie opens with a sweep through Whoville and a good look at all the decorating and celebratory prep for Christmas. And, unlike the Jim Carrey Grinch, it’s soooo colourful. Whoville actually looks amazing. And, to Illumination’s credit, it looks like they put in a little more effort than usual. Not much more effort, as when the movie goes on you’ll notice a lot of their usual same-model-different-colours crap, but it’s nowhere near as distracting as usual. So tiny kudos. You met the bare minimum when it comes to feature-length animation.
We get a narrator who Seuss’s at us a little bit, with some additions to the classic story. And it’s fine. I mean, they’re noticeable changes to Seuss’s writing, but it’s fine. It’s totally fine. It’s fine.
No really, it’s fine.
And then, after seeing all our happy little Whos, we move up to Mount Crumpet where the grisly old Grinch lives, and there are some nasty “keep away” signs all the way up to the door. Then the camera swings inside and…
It’s super nice and bright.
Like, for a dank, dark, lonely abode, it’s actually pretty cozy and warm-looking. I mean, sheesh, you’d think someone like the Grinch, who’s supposed to be an eccentric and hateful loner might live in more of a sty (especially with epithets like cuddly as a cactus, charming as an eel, and a nasty-wasty skunk). I mean, there are some problems with the Jim Carrey Grinch film, but at least his hovel looked like a hovel. Even the original animated Grinch film, which was incredibly colourful, knew which colours to choose – namely blacks, sickly yellows, and really cold tones for any other colours you see like purples and blues. This Grinch…I mean, shoot, I wanna live there.
Anyway, he wakes up and calls for Max to bring him coffee, and Max (who has been delegated to a small bed down in the kitchen) answers his master’s bell call like Cinderella. Max then gets breakfast ready, which is basically just a single bean (which reminds me of Disney’s Jack and the Beanstalk…huh, they’re ripping off Disney a lot already…). The Grinch flips out and proclaims that he bought enough food for them to last until January. Then he turns to Max and ponders if he’s been emotionally eating too much.
Cut to a montage of a very depressed Grinch gorging himself on everything in the house.
And that’s, like, the one laugh you got out of me in the whole movie. It was a good laugh, but the only one.
So, considering they don’t want to starve, the Grinch and Max head into town. The Grinch warns Max that the Whos are tricky and deceitful and not to be taken in by their sickening kindness.
And here comes the montage everyone has seen from the trailers of the Grinch wandering around town being a total dick. And this is probably my favourite part of the whole movie. I’ll admit I smiled at the dastardly deeds the Grinch got up to, and the pain he inflicted was satisfying to watch. I’m a bit of a Grinch this year, myself, so I could relate to his abhorrence for everything holly jolly.
He even seems to have a bit of a mental breakdown when he passes some carolers, and enters this fever dream-like state where he’s running from the carolers who creepily pursue him throughout town until he finally reaches a store to hide in. Once the doors slam and the Grinch calms down a bit, you can see in the background everyone returning to normal. The carolers have gone and the Whos who joined in on the singing while staring intently at the clearly distressed Grinch have gone back to their normal, every day goings-on.
Bookmark this, I’m going to discuss it later.
At some point, intercut with the Grinch’s misadventures in town, we meet Cindy Lou Who and her mother Donna Lou Who. Donna is an overworked mom with three kids and no dad in sight. Cindy Lou’s arc in this film is to contact Santa so she can wish her mom more happiness. D’awh. You’re supposed to d’awh now.
Anyway, she runs into the Grinch as she’s desperately trying to deliver her letter, and he slyly tells her that if she really wanted her wish to come true, she’d talk to him in person. So, for the rest of the movie she and her weird assortment of friends (three of whom I think are in the triker gang, The Sons of Mild Civil Disobedience) are plotting to trap Santa so Cindy Lou can talk to him. It’s not really important, and this plot serves mostly as filler, but I’ll bring it up later when it actually matters.
With the Grinch’s groceries got, the Grinch and Max head back home. On the way they pass by their neighbour, who they didn’t have to walk past before…whatever, they pass their super-Christmassy neighbour Bricklebaum. And Bricklebaum is fucking adorable. I know he’s just soulless filler, but dammit he’s cute and chubby and has a bushy lil Who beard and he’s just precious. I mean, he’s wearing suspenders damnit. Fucking suspenders. He cute.
Running into Bricklebaum wasn’t completely a waste of screentime, however, as he’s carrying a pamphlet from Mayor Angela Lansbury telling everyone they need to make Christmas like 20% more awesome. The Grinch laughs it off, thinking that Bricklebaum is joking…
Until that night when the Whos fly in this, like, 30-story tree to light up the centre of town.
The Grinch decides that enough is enough and he’s going to burn down the tree, or something, and uses a catapult he has lying around to start an all-out Medival siege on Whoville to take out the tree. I guess he probably doesn’t intend to burn it so much as smash it…whatever, he wants the tree destroyed.
Unfortunately, the catapult isn’t weighted down properly, and the ammo he loaded in was too heavy, causing a horrible accident where he’s flung into the tree. The Grinch ends up in the middle of town when the lights are turns on, and when all the Whos start cheering about Christmas, he begins to break down.
The Grinch, having a massive panic attack, begins to have ‘Nam flashbacks about his time growing up without a family. Turns out, much like the Jim Carrey Grinch, he hates Christmas because he’s lonely. Instead of a single class mocking him for being a freak, Illumination’s Grinch was just completely forgotten by society. As the only orphan in Whoville, literally nobody cared for him. He was never adopted, we never see any orphanage workers, and we never see any other children. All we see is this adorable, tiny, big-eyed Grinch staring at happy families and eventually, at age six it looks like, decided to banish himself to Mount Crumpet where he could forget he was alone by completely isolating himself.
Now, back in the middle of a happy crowd, he can’t handle it and runs.
It is because of this event that makes him decide that he’s going to make the Whos as miserable as he is and steal Christmas.
Unfortunately, instead of a really cool montage of the Grinch getting ready, we take like a 20-minute detour where he gets a reindeer. It’s not funny, it’s clearly just fluff and padding to make the movie an hour and forty-five minutes (c’mon, it could’ve been one hour twenty – that would have been FINE), and there’s a horribly dated goat meme in it. Because this is 2012 guys. Goats screaming are funny. LAUGH.
We do get a little bit of a montage, but it barely calls back to the original film and doesn’t use the “You’re a Mean One” song. No, that get’s used during the Grinch’s introduction at the start of the film… I’d say it’s a total waste, but I don’t really jive with the new hip-hoppy version. I’m just not feelin’ it, ya dig? It’s not my swing, it’s not copacetic, it just doesn’t groove with me, baby.
…I’m not cool enough for hip hop, am I?
Whatever. Moving on!
After the Grinch takes pity on the fat reindeer he caught because he discovers the thing has a family that loves him, the Grinch forces Max to be the reindeer. Which Max likes and is totally fine with.
Then we get to the second best part of the film: the stealing of Christmas! It doesn’t last very long, unfortunately. The goat memes had to take up more screen-time, I guess. But, even though it’s short, it’s really fun and creative. It looks like the animators and story-board artists had some fun mocking up the weird and wacky contraptions the Grinch was going to use to nab all the presents.
Of course, the nabbing has to come to an end, and the Grinch meets Cindy Lou. She and her friends successfully set up a Santa-capturing device and the Grinch gets caught. Cindy Lou finally gets to ask Santa what she wants for Christmas, and the Grinch is surprised to hear a Christmas wish so selfless.
Part of his problem with Christmas is the commercialism of it. Since he had no one to give gifts to, and no one ever gave him gifts, he thinks the whole cosmetic, commercial, materialistic appeal of Christmas make the Whos horrible people whose fun should be ruined. Hearing Cindy Lou Who come to him and ask to make her mom happier, to make her less stressed and take care of herself more than her children, really warms his heart. And you’d think his heart grew like maybe half a size after that.
He sends her to bed, promising her Christmas gift would come in the morning, and fucks off to the peak of Mount Crumpet to destroy all of their stuff.
The Whos all wake up and see that they’ve been robbed, and are all a little upset and confused. Cindy Lou starts crying and confesses to her mom that she trapped Santa and that he probably took everyone’s stuff because she’d angered him. Donna Lou comforts her daughter and tells her the meaning of the story right then and there: Christmas isn’t about the stuff, it’s about the feeling.
Then they all start singing the Welcome Christmas song, which the Grinch hears from on top of his mountain. The narrator repeats what Cindy Lou’s mother said a minute earlier, only in rhyme, and the Grinch’s heart grows two sizes. He decides to take the presents back, but nearly fucks it all up (like in the Jim Carrey version).
Instead of discovering he has Superman strength, the reindeer and his family help save the sleigh and the presents and Max and the Grinch from a horribly painful, splatty death. So, there’s our payoff for the stupid reindeer, I guess. More padding. But it’s cute, wholesome padding so…it’s fine.
The Grinch returns all the presents and apologizes. Then he leaves and, tail between his legs, goes back to living in solitude.
Lol, that would be sad. The movie keeps going, don’t worry.
The Grinch, after being kind of a jerk to Max the whole movie, gives him a present. It’s a squeaky bone that Max loves sooo much and it’s adorable. Then he starts squeaking it too much and the Grinch regrets life. I have dog beasts myself, so I understand the pain.
The doorbell rings, and the Grinch is greeted by Cindy Lou who invites him to Christmas dinner. He decides he’s going to go, despite being really anxious about it all, and finally gets to meet Donna Lou. Cindy Lou introduces them and Donna Lou invites the Grinch inside. He’s a little dazed by the spectacle, but doesn’t hesitate to help Donna Lou when she needs it, taking a couple of plates of food from her to set on the table.
They all sit down for supper, and Donna Lou asks the Grinch if he’ll cut the roast beast. He gives one last little speech, thanking everyone for including him, and begins to slice the roast. Camera zooms out, narrator speaks one last time, and the film ends on the stupid fucking goat meme again.
Thanks for ruining the tiny bit of goodwill you’d built throughout the movie, Illumination. You never cease to annoy. Thank you.
It’s cute. It’s totally harmless. It’s fine. It’s really fine. It is fine. It’s fine.
No seriously, it’s fine.
It’s certainly not the greatest Grinch movie. I think that honour still goes to the 1966 film. However, I’m not sure whether I place it above or below the Jim Carrey one. They’re kind of on equal footing. Where one fails, the other picks up the slack.
2018 Grinch certainly makes up for the disgustingly and depressingly drab colours of the Carrey Grinch, and Carrey’s Grinch is certainly more evil and gross and menacing than 2018 Grinch (which shouldn’t be possible considering Benedict Cumberbatch, but they made him fuck up his voice, so we don’t get the sexy baritone at all).
I will say it’s nowhere near as painful as the trailers make it out to be. The most annoying parts of the film are in the trailer. I’m happy to say there are some actual good bits, and I did kind of like the motivation for the Grinch in this one. The Grinch as a character is better if he has NO motivation, to be honest, but I kind of dug that this Grinch was an anxious bastard. I’m an anxious bastard too!…
Maybe that’s the only reason I liked it…
I appreciated that the story mostly sticks to the original book. I know I’ve been comparing it a lot to the other Grinch movie incarnations, but it’s kind of hard not to. I mean, I like the Jim Carrey one just as much as the next guy, but it did only kind of remember it was supposed to be Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas after the halfway mark. Everything before that was an awful lot of adult-only jokes and just weird scenes that had nothing to do with the plot. Still like it! But it’s a weird movie.
This film is much less weird when it comes to the fluff, but it also makes it a little more distracting. It adds just a bit too much fluff and it drags the movie out sooooo much. It’s only an hour and forty-five minutes, but it felt like two hours.
The whole reindeer subplot could have been cut entirely. I know it’s just some action to entertain the kiddies, but you also wouldn’t HAVE to entertain the kiddies if you’d stick to the original story and use the action from that more. Because Illumination felt the need to do slapstick nonsense, all the good, meaty, entertaining parts of The Grinch story got kind of smooshed.
I might have forgiven it more if it had had a better payoff, but the whole “he came back for me!” thing felt so Hallmark and hollow. I mean, yes, it did manufacture that d’awh feeling in me for like five seconds, but it was manufactured. Like Kraft slices, it satisfied my desire for cheese until I couldn’t help but taste the chemicals that made it.
What really salvaged the story and made me give it more of a pass than most of these cash-grab, child-exploiting schlock films was the added backstory of the Grinch. Well, not the backstory, exactly, but the way the Grinch was portrayed.
The writers behind this script really seemed to get depression and anxiety. The Grinch was so painfully ME (and quite a few of my friends and relatives) at certain points that I couldn’t help but like him, just a little bit.
Jim Carrey Grinch tried to do a sympathetic backstory too, but I find (especially now that I’m older) that the way he held on to this one incident of bullying at Christmas was fairly petty. I mean, bullying hurts, and I know you can’t help how you react to it down the line, but the meaning is lost when you show that child Grinch was always kind of a piece of shit around Christmas anyway. I mean, he ate Santa’s head when he was just born. The whole “his heart BECAME two sizes smaller” because of bullying seems like it’s ignoring the fact that the Grinch was also being portrayed as a What with a birth defect who also inherently hated Christmas.
And even if the actual backstory of the Grinch felt pretty hollow and basic (“oh noes he was an orphan and lonely, waah”), and I’m kind of confused as to why he was an orphan with no guardian or chance at adoption at all (I guess we needed that screen time for more schtick instead of exploring why the Grinch could never connect to anyone – also I’m pretty sure orphans and foster children get Christmas presents…), the way the filmmakers portrayed his discomfort and panic around being confronted with his solitude was actually really well done.
I first got the hint that he was prone to anxiety attacks during the creepy carolers scene. Something about the whole scene felt really surreal and cruel. Like, here are the Whos, who seem like perfectly normal, non-demonic Whos, who suddenly decide to hunt down and torment someone who is clearly having a moment. I wondered if maybe it was a dream sequence, or if we were getting a hint at how the Grinch views the sensory overload that is Christmas in Whoville, and then when he finally found refuge and calmed down it became clear. It was subtle, but I clearly saw all the Whos who’d been chasing him outside have either disappeared or gone back to normal, and don’t seem to even notice the Grinch’s existence. It was really cool.
And then again, when he accidentally gets flung into the tree, and is forced to confront the festivities head-on, his panic was very well handled. He quite literally got triggered by the celebration and ended up in a really bad state of mind. It makes perfect sense that the Grinch would then make such a drastic decision as to steal Christmas from the Whos and inflict the pain he feels upon them.
It was an interesting spin to the story and I quite liked it. And the moral in the end, that it’s cruel to want to inflict harm on others because of your own personal baggage, as well as encouraging children to reach out to people who may seem mean and cruel, just in case they’re actually just incredibly lonely and need someone to be kind to them, was really well executed and quite sweet.
Also, can I just say thank you to the filmmakers for NOT making Donna Lou and the Grinch fall in love? Cos I could have sworn that’s where it was heading. I mean, Cindy Lou wishing her single mom would be happy and less busy, the Grinch being lonely and with way too much time on his hands, I was just waiting to cringe when these characters finally met and had a total “love at first sight” moment. And they didn’t do it! Donna Lou appreciates the Grinch helping her, and you get the feeling that – now that he’s a member of the community – she might ask him for help on occasion and become friends, but they didn’t actually do some lame mistletoe scene, or force any lovey-dovey crap at all. Even in the credits, where it hints at some of the Grinch’s adventures after this particular Christmas, they don’t show any hints at a romance sparking between the Grinch and Donna Lou. So yay! I didn’t need to gag.
All in all, the story was harmless, and actually had some elements that I think are quite good for kids to learn at an early age.
- Dialogue – A-
- Development – A-
- Coherence – A
- Conciseness – C+
It was alright. It got the job done. And I already mentioned how I didn’t like the new version of You’re A Mean One. I dunno, it sounded too much like Gru’s theme from the first Despicable Me movie or something. It just wasn’t fun. It felt too manufactured to be fun. It was like it was developed by an algorithm and sung by a rapping vocaloid.
The rest of the background music was fine. I don’t remember a lick of it, but I don’t remember any of it being annoying or distracting. I’m sure it fit the scenes just fine.
The few Christmas songs they used I noticed were distinctly Christian. I mean, duh, right? But in the original movie, and even in the Carrey Grinch movie, the songs that were sung were all pretty neutral. They were either made up (Welcome Christmas, Where Are You Christmas) or they were pop songs (Green Christmas, Christmas of Love, etc.). This one used distinctly Christian songs, like about Jesus being born, and all I could think of was what a Jesus Who looks like. And if the Whos also celebrate Easter. And have, like, really graphic Who crucifixes…
My mind goes in weird places.
Still, I just thought that was an…interesting choice…and it was a little distracting. I mean, I’ve already suspended my disbelief accepting a tiny race of people who celebrate a Christian Winter Solstice holiday, you don’t need to remind me that everything about this holiday is SUPPOSED to be about churchy stuff. I have no problem with the churchy stuff, but it’s weird coming from Whos.
- Memorability – B-
- Tone – A
So, first thing’s first, I hate Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice in this. Whoever told him to huff helium before reciting any fucking lines for this movie was an idiot.
Why bother hiring one of Hollywood’s most famous baritone-voiced actors – who has played a scary dragon, a scary tiger, and a scary white version of Ricardo Montalbán – if you’re just going to make him put on this ridiculous high-pitched, ultra non-threatening, almost-Dr. Frink-like voice!? It makes NO sense.
Despite this, Benedict Cumberbatchwas actually able to bring some really good character and believability to the role. The way he was able to really get into the character – especially during scenes where he was suffering from anxiety or depression, and when he was remorseful at the end – made the film just that little touch better. And since most of our time is spent with him, I feel like it really brings the quality of the film up.
Beyond that, the voice acting was perfectly fine. No one stood out as particularly fantastic, it got the job done, and the child actors didn’t make me want to rip my spine out through my mouth.
Pharrell Williams as the narrator though…that…that was cringeworthy.
The guy might be able to make a catchy tune, but goddamn he cannot act. His narration was painfully wooden and stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the talented voice cast. Honestly, the movie would have been better without a narrator, if they couldn’t find a better voice actor for the role. It’s just…for a part that has been previously played by Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins…they definitely needed someone with more acting chops.
- Realistic – A
- Emotional – A-
- Effective – A
For an Illumination Animation feature film, this was good. Compared to any other animation studio film though…it was ok. I mean, it was good.
I mean, after seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, almost any animated movie looks like crap, but that aside, I’m actually a little impressed with Illumination on this one.
It was very colourful, the set pieces were creative, and the characters all moved well and felt different enough from each other that it didn’t feel like they were copy-and-pasting main characters, at least.
The background characters in this movie were even pretty good. Knowing that Illumination is pretty infamous for lazy animation and recolouring the same character models over and over, I actually only noticed it happen once or twice. Considering how much they did it in one of their last animated films, Sing, I was surprised they didn’t do it more in this one. Maybe they did and I just didn’t notice it, but hey at least I didn’t notice it, right?
The slapstick, while drawn out and unnecessary plot-wise, was well animated. It was quick, cartoony, and it entertained my students well enough. I’m an old grump, now, so slapstick needs to be earned for me to find it amusing, but I could appreciate the energy that was in the scenes.
The best animated sequence, though, was definitely the Grinch stealing Christmas. It was a well-paced montage that I didn’t want to end. It was creative, interesting to look at, well lit and atmospheric, and it was just a lot of fun to watch. You could just tell that the animators who worked on it had a blast.
It’s still a case of Illumination meeting the bare minimum when it comes to decent animation, though, and outside of interesting locations and a couple of creative scenes, I don’t think I should give them too much of a pat on the back. It didn’t make me want to rip my eyes out, like some of their other films, but it wasn’t good enough to keep me from tearing my eyes away so I could make notes on my phone in the theatre.
Basically, they can have, like, half a cookie for the animation this time.
- Animation – B+
- Character design – B-
- Set design – A-
- Style – B+
For something that I thought I was going to hate, I’m glad to say it wasn’t bad. I think there are much better films to take your family to go see during the holidays (and I’ll post reviews for those soon!), but if you have some really young kids or just feel like killing time with a nostalgic story, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
I feel like, with most Illumination movies, this is meant for really little kids. They do attempt to make it interesting for those of us who are in our double-digits, especially by giving the Grinch social anxiety and depression, but it’s still nothing like what Disney and Dreamworks used to be (and can sometimes still deliver). You won’t see any jokes that you’ll only catch if you’re a certain age, but I do think that one joke about emotional eating is really one only someone who’s done it before can appreciate. I can’t imagine too many six-year-olds getting the joke with that one beyond “Lol, he’s eating a lot and it looks silly”.
Honestly, this movie is nothing special. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see it had it not been a school trip, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for avoiding it. On the other hand, I also wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to see it either, or for enjoying it.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Since it’s the holiday season and I’ve been seeing quite a few movies lately, I’ve decided that I’m going to be posting some more reviews with more frequency than normal. I even have a special sort-of Christmas-themed event coming up for you all!
Things will go back to normal after two weeks, I’m sure, but for now you’ll be hearing a lot more from me! You’re welcome and/or I’m sorry.
Until next time!
- Very colourful
- Good portrayal of anxiety and depression
- Bricklebaum is cute
- Benedict Cumberbatch's voice is weird
- Too much filler
- Goat memes...fucking goat memes...