Those familiar with Dr. Seuss’ Christmas tale will recognise the opening all too well. We sweep and swoop over the town of Whoville—bustling with Christmas colours and sounds—as the introduction to the place and time of year is given through voice over. Feelings of familiarity trickle in, accompanied by a dynamic camera that grabs us by the hand to explore the town. In a movie that might seem uncalled for, the same-ness you might be expecting ends there. The core story is tried and true, but the slick pace of The Grinch doesn’t waste time showing us things we’ve seen before at length, and goes as far as to realign and shed what’s not important in this fictional land.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Grinch (who doesn’t refer to himself with a “the” title), an emotional-eating loner convinced of his permanent isolation; his vocal performance is without hitches, and I quickly forgot about his big name being attached and was merely listening to the fuzzy green creature in front of me. It’s rare to get a famous actor’s face out of your head when listening to them voice a character, so it’s welcome that the nagging brain itch isn’t present in this 2018 Grinch film. Despite his moodiness and lack of holiday cheer, Grinch is lovable. He’s a softer version of the sometimes quite creepy original character, animated in such a fine way that petting him might be something you’d consider if he were to be placed in front of you. He loves his adorable dog Max, and adopts a large reindeer named Fred for a short time. The humans around him throw niceties in his direction only for them to be rejected, but the revelation of his (honestly traumatic) childhood Christmases that soured the holiday for him put everything into perspective. There’s enough to be invested in with his arc even with the knowledge of the outcome, and there’s even more moments for smiles to go around to make it worthwhile.
From the snowy opening alone it’s clear the animation style goes straight down the middle. The characters are simple and nothing stands out, but the textures in the snow and materials are delicate, bringing winter and the fuzz on the Whos’ faces to life. What’s most noteworthy is the downright fun direction. One of the blessings of animation is total control, and that’s something directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier make full use of. The delights of the swings, loops and circles that dance around the characters are enough to keep the visuals interesting, and even if they weren’t, the saturated colours and beautiful details of Whoville and The Grinch’s mountain peak would be. A lot of what The Grinch lacks in fully developed storytelling is made up for with pretty renderings that do well to distract.
Although the main themes are consistent with other tellings, 2018’s The Grinch is on an intense narrative diet. The wacky extras of the live action film are nowhere to be seen, and it’s the fundamentals that are stuck to. This created a sense of a thin narrative, but in return a slick runtime of 90 minutes is gained. For all intents and purposes, this is a children’s film. There’s not much here in the way of humour that you haven’t already seen, the jokes are stale—but they didn’t feel like it in a cinema with the giggling kids. There’s something relaxing about not having to work too hard and simply kicking back to enjoy the immaturity – everyone needs that once in a while. Cindy-Lou (Cameron Seelly) is cute as a button, too. Her purpose in this story rings with a truth that hard-working families will relate to. All she wants for Christmas is for her night shift working mother (voiced by Rashida Jones) to have a good one. The tender values are charming, and something about that specific sympathy from a child is untapped.
The most impressive thing about the experience was an unexpected flashback sequence which struck a chord. Being moved to tears isn’t something I foresaw, but it happened. I’ll admit it. In a digestible manner, The Grinch hit the nail on the head in regards to what exactly it is to be an outcast, and how watching everyone else be happy while you’re miserable is a soul crushing thing that births a bitterness—only to be combated with Christmas spirit, of course. It was genuine and touching and was the necessary emotional connection for the warmth at the end to come through.
The Grinch won’t be revelatory for anyone who’s seen on-screen translations before, but for a new generation of little ones it spreads a wonderful message of love and outreach. December is near, and Christmas films are already here. But have no fear, for The Grinch is here! And it’s… not terrible.