Hide your holly and protect your presents because the Grinch is back, and he’s out to steal Christmas from every Who in Whoville. Up atop Mount Crumpit in a cave far from everyone and everything is the mean one himself, Mr. Grinch, a holiday-hating green creature with a heart two sizes too small. It’s been 61 years since Dr. Seuss published How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a children’s book following the hijinks of the Grinch who sets out to steal Christmas from the neighboring Whos of Whoville. Since the book was first published there’s been not one, but three movies adapted from the story. This year Illumination, the animation studio behind the Despicable Me series, released The Grinch, a new take on the Seuss story. Maybe it’s because I watch the 1966 Grinch movie every year and am tired of it, or maybe it’s because I find Jim Carrey’s Grinch kind of terrifying—either way, for me, 2018’s The Grinch is the best one yet.
The Grinch follows the same general plot as Dr. Seuss’s original story but adds new characters, gives depth to old ones and features Pharrell as the narrator. The residents of Whoville play a much larger role, especially Cindy Lou Who. Instead of being just a sweet little girl who meets the Grinch on Christmas Eve, she plays a central role in the Grinch’s transformation and gets her own plot line. While her friends are busy sending toy filled wish lists to Santa, Cindy Lou has a very important question she has to ask him in person. However, when she goes looking for Santa she finds something–or rather someone–else entirely.
The Grinch delves into the Grinch’s backstory and explains what made the iconic green character so stink-stank-stunk in the first place. During Whoville’s grand tree lighting, which the Grinch tries to ruin with a snowball catapult, he has a revelation of why he hates Christmas so much. Flashbacks show a young Grinch spending the holiday at an orphanage—sad, alone and without any holiday decorations or presents. The young, shivering Grinch ventures into the cold and looks in on the holiday feasts and treats enjoyed by everyone else in Whoville before trudging back to the orphanage—the one place Santa seemed to forget.
After the mayor of Whoville announces that this Christmas will be three times bigger than ever, the Grinch decides he has no choice but to squash the Whos’ joy and steal Christmas. The Grinch bursts into action and resolves to steal Christmas by dressing up as Santa Claus himself. This is how the Grinch, aka Santa, comes face-to-face with Cindy Lou. Just as in previous films the Grinch lies to Ciny telling her he’s taking their tree to fix it, but before he can retreat up the chimney she stops and shocks him with her holiday wish: that he help her single, overworked mom. Cindy Lou’s wish reinforces the importance of family in The Grinch as she recognizes how hard her mom works and would rather she be happy than receive any presents at all. Her kindness sticks with the Grinch as he begins to wonder if all Whos are truly selfish.
The real scene stealers are the Grinch’s animal sidekicks. The most memorable and iconic is Max, the Grinch’s faithful and furry dog, sidekick and eventual reindeer. In The Grinch, Max is treated much better than in prior films, becoming more of a best friend than a sad servant and even guiding the Grinch’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. This change in treatment reflects a broader societal change in attitude towards animals; today anyone mistreating their dog, even a guy who wants to steal a holiday, would be met with much more anger than in 1966.
The new pet who joins the Grinch on Mount Crumpit is Fred the chubby reindeer. The Grinch picks up Fred in his attempts to Santa-fy himself and have a real reindeer pull his sleigh. After spending the night with Max and Fred, the Grinch takes them out for a sleigh test drive. On the way, the group runs into Fred’s wife and son who the Grinch sadly lets Fred leave with. Once again, the Grinch is alone seeing others enjoy their family. This interaction only fuels his desire to ruin the holiday as he and Max set out alone to steal Christmas.
The Grinch’s finale follows its predecessors: after stealing all the Whos’ trees, toys and twinkling lights the Grinch is ready to toss it all off Mount Crumpit, but stops as he hears the Whos’ joyful holiday song and his heart grows three sizes. The Grinch, unlike the 2000 iteration, doesn’t feature a love interest or rival, but rather focuses on family and friendship. Similarly to past films The Grinch concludes with the titular character carving the roast beast at Christmas dinner after being invited by Cindy Lou to spend the holiday with her family. Listening to the Grinch’s final lines it’s hard not to smile and tear up a bit as he thanks Cindy Lou for her kindness and realizes it was never really Christmas that he hated, it was being alone. While prior films give happy endings, neither shows the Grinch having as heartwarming of a revelation.
However, the movie isn’t without faults entirely. While it’s nice The Grinch gives more time to Cindy Lou, there are times her story is dragging and predictable and the addition of her friends feels unnecessary. The Grinch himself feels too cute for a character who’s supposed to have “termites in his soul” as he at times appears more depressed than mean. Finally, Tyler the Creator’s version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” while a surprisingly fun holiday rap, pales in comparison to the the original recorded by Thurl Ravenscroft.
In the end, The Grinch more than redeems itself with insight into the green grump’s backstory, Max’s adorable antics, the Christmas stealing scenes with his new high-tech gadgets and the film’s final scene in which the Grinch realizes that Christmas isn’t about gifts, but rather kindness and love. The Grinch doesn’t try to fill the shoes of the 1966 classic or the 2000 Jim Carrey picture, but rather throws the shoes off the top of Mount Crumpit and reinvents the Dr. Seuss story in a way that’s fun, fresh and heartwarming.