Podcast Mini Episode - The Grinch Movie Review

Mainlining Christmas tries to decide whether there's any merit to the new Grinch movie.



Lindsay: Welcome to another movie review on the Mainlining Christmas Podcast. As always, I’m Lindsay…

Erin: And I’m Erin. Today, we’ll be talking about The Grinch, the new animated remake of a 52-year-old adaptation of a 61-year-old classic children’s book by Dr. Seuss.

Lindsay: Not to be confused with the theatrically released live-action Jim Carrey vehicle from 2000.

Erin: Oh, I disagree. This is destined to be confused with the 2000 movie for decades to come.

Lindsay: You’re probably right, and that’s a shame. Because this one is better. It’s a lot better in fact.

Erin: No argument there. I’m not sure I’d call the new movie “good,” but it’s about as good as a feature-length production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas actually can be.

Lindsay: There are definitely things to like about this. The designs are gorgeous. The movie has its share of problems, but it succeeds in bringing the visual elements of Seuss's world to life.

Erin: Pity the same can’t be said for the soul of the book.

Lindsay: Only the 1966 version is a perfect adaptation. And it probably helped that Seuss was personally involved in that production.

Erin: Yeah, this one felt a little empty. The characters were heavily reimagined, and somewhere along the way the themes got lost. I don’t think that’s a fatal flaw - if I’m being honest here, theme was never the main selling point of the book or subsequent adaptations - but it does leave this version feeling hollow.

Lindsay: I actually liked what they did with the characters.

Erin: I won’t go that far, but I also can’t fault them for the biggest change. Really, we’re mostly talking about the Grinch, himself. In every other version, he’s a despicable creature for most of the story. For lack of a better word, he’s evil. The new movie pulls that back - he’s more of a mischievous trickster who takes things too far.

Lindsay: But if you try adapting this into a full-length movie without making that change, you end up with the Jim Carrey version.

Erin: That’s why I can’t actually fault them. If you’re stretching this to an hour and a half, you kind of need a likeable protagonist. But is that really still the Grinch?

Lindsay: Does that really matter? I’d rather get a new take on the concept than sit through yet another retread.

Erin: I don’t mind the direction they took, so much as I question the logic in making the movie at all. I’d have far preferred a new Christmas story, instead of a quasi-remake.

Lindsay: Yeah, but that’s the industry now. There’s money in brand recognition, so they’re going to capitalize on it whether we want them to or not. At least this way we’re getting something watchable.

Erin: I will agree it was mercifully watchable. I liked how everything looked and, divorced from context, the characters were at least cute. I’m not really sure how I feel about the Grinch being cute, but at least he’s not a grotesque, inhuman caricature.

Lindsay: You didn’t like the Carrey movie. We get it.

Erin: (I really hate that movie).

Lindsay: Well, one time this version felt like it might be heading in a particularly interesting direction was when they showed the Grinch becoming, I guess, overstimulated by the lights and music. For a minute, it felt like they were implying that part of his dislike of Christmas involved a sensory processing issue. The idea never went any further than that moment, though.

Erin: Still, it might be a good starting point for conversations about kids with similar sensitivities. Particularly because, at that point in the movie, he definitely felt like the protagonist.

Lindsay: There’s also an argument that this could be a net positive for kids who don’t celebrate Christmas. Being compared to the Grinch still isn’t ideal, but this certainly portrays him in a more favorable light than earlier versions of the story.

Erin: Yeah, kids are going to call people who don’t celebrate Grinches anyway, so it’s probably better that the term morphs into a badass trickster, as opposed to a sadistic monster.

Lindsay: Absolutely. However, one of the side-effects of that change is that the conceit from the book that his heart is too small felt false and forced in the new context.

Erin: Yeah, his character arc is basically nonexistent. Switching gears, what did you think of the voice?

Lindsay: I expected to hate it after the trailer, but it worked well enough in context.

Erin: Same here. I assume they cast Benedict Cumberbatch because his normal voice sounds a little like Boris Karloff, but they didn’t end up using him that way. In the end, the weird voice he did worked, but I felt like Cumberbatch was just kind of wasted. There are plenty of other voice actors they could have gotten who are more suited to the direction they took the character in.

Lindsay: What did you think of the other characters?

Erin: Max was great. He’s probably the closest to earlier incarnations. The decision to transform his relationship with the Grinch into one of mutual love and respect felt odd, but it was probably unavoidable. You can’t really have your lead abusing animals in a children’s movie in 2018.

Lindsay: That’s very true. Their relationship supports the new idea that the Grinch is mostly cranky and misunderstood (and prone to misunderstanding others).

Erin: Now let’s talk about Max 2. By which I mean “Fred,” the most significant new character.

Lindsay: If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably said, “Wait, why is there a fat reindeer in this movie?”

Erin: Honestly, I think most people who saw the trailer wondered what I wondered: “Why is there a yak in the new Grinch movie?” But, yes, it’s supposed to be an overweight reindeer.

Lindsay: Well, that’s Fred.

Erin: Taken on his own, he’s a fine cartoon character. He gets some funny and endearing moments, but I’m not sure he added anything to the story. He’s really just kind of a second Max. Cute, but ultimately meaningless since we’ve already got the original. Huh. I wonder if Illumination is looking for pull quotes, because “Cute but ultimately meaningless,” is a pretty good synopsis for the movie as a whole.

Lindsay: Most of the kid-focused gross-out humor in the movie was centered on Fred, so I was not a huge fan.

Erin: Were there any gross-out scenes that weren’t in the trailer? I’m certainly not a fan of that stuff, but I didn’t find anything especially offensive.

Lindsay: It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, but I was just not in the mood for any.

Erin: That’s three of the four main characters. Let’s talk about Cindy Lou Who, now significantly older than two, somewhat precocious, and the focus of a tacked-on B-plot.

Lindsay: I take it you didn’t like her?

Erin: I kind of hated her. Her story felt like filler. They basically devoted a quarter of the movie to establishing a backstory for why she encounters the Grinch at the end. Insert joke about Solo here.

Lindsay: I both liked and disliked the Whos in general. I liked the changes for themselves, for how they expand those characters, but I admit that some of those changes break the logic of the original story.

Erin: Yeah, removing their uniformity breaks the entire point of the Whos - they were supposed to mirror the unrelenting conformity of the holidays. But we already acknowledged the movie completely abandons the themes and ideas behind the original. My larger issue is that I don’t think they work as modern-day people, which is how they’re presented. Their designs are still essentially a parody of 1950’s America, and the contrast is just bizarre.

Lindsay: Cindy Lou didn’t bother me that much, but she and the rest of the Whos were sometimes painfully generic.

Erin: Agreed. It was like their personalities were carbon copies of kids from some other holiday movie.

Lindsay: I think we’re headed towards the end. Is there anything else we need to touch on?

Erin: We haven’t talked about the music yet.

Lindsay: It bothers me that they included explicitly religious lyrics in a fantasy setting where Christmas is otherwise presented as a secular - if not outright pagan - holiday.

Erin: Yeah, songs about Christ really don’t belong in Whoville. They felt even more out of place than the scene where Christmas in Hollis plays over the radio.

Lindsay: That’s not a joke. He’s not joking.

Erin: Honestly, even the secular holiday songs, like Deck the Halls, felt wrong to me. This isn’t supposed to be our world.

Lindsay: They got a little too cute with the Christmas music here. I would have preferred original songs.

Erin: It feels like we’re wrapping up, so that brings us to the hard part: what did we think, and should anyone go see this?

Lindsay: Well, if you have kids, this is all academic. They’ve seen the trailers, and you’re getting dragged to this one way or the other.

Erin: For everyone else, it’s a little more complicated. It would be easy enough to write this one off if they hadn’t knocked the visuals out of the park, but it really is nice to look at. Still, the story and characters are so thin, I can’t bring myself to recommend this to anyone who isn’t a parent or isn’t obsessed with animation.

Lindsay: I enjoyed most of the experience of watching this movie, but there was something off about it. I think it’s the clash between changes that I liked and elements from the original that they couldn’t change or drop. The moments that worked depended on moments that didn’t work, and the whole thing felt somewhat unsatisfying because of that.

Erin: Ultimately, this is far better than it might have been and probably about as good as it possibly could have been. But it still doesn’t quite justify its existence.

Lindsay: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Mainlining Christmas podcast. It was written, edited, and recorded by me, Lindsay Stares…

Erin: And me, Erin Snyder. As always, visit MainliningChristmas.com to read hundreds of reviews of holiday movies and specials.

Lindsay: And check back soon for more episodes.