The Grinch (2018)
I know, I know - we've already released a podcast reviewing The Grinch, but I wanted to cover a few details we glossed over, like the plot.
It's worth noting the story is a little different this time. Or rather, it's almost entirely the same, but the reasons things occur, along with what that implies, is completely different.
Like the original, this revolves around the Grinch, a green-furred individual living on a mountain overlooking Whoville, a town of elfin creatures who live for Christmas. Unlike the original, the Grinch isn't a monster in any sense of the term. He lives apart from the Whos, though he regularly goes into town for groceries. While there, he's somewhat misanthropic, but not to the degree he's shunned or even disliked. One of the Whos even considers him a close friend (though the Grinch doesn't share the sentiment).
The Grinch still dislikes Christmas, now because of an early childhood memory where he spent the holiday alone in an orphanage. When the Whos escalate their celebration with an impossibly large tree, the Grinch tries to ruin their celebration with a massive snowball, but his catapult malfunctions and launches the Grinch into the middle of the festivities. Traumatized by the Christmas lights and crowds, the Grinch decides to escalate his war on Christmas by stealing it altogether.
But instead of settling on Max right away, the Grinch manages to draft an actual reindeer, Fred, into service. Fred is comically overweight and a bit absurd, but he gets some amusing moments. The largest problem with the character is that he's mostly redundant: a ridiculous yet endearing animal sidekick when we've already got one of those.
He's present for some hijinks that are added to extend the runtime (such as the Grinch stealing a sleigh), then runs into his family. When he realizes that Fred has a mate and child, the Grinch immediately tells Fred he understands, removes the harness, and lets him go. If you weren't convinced they took liberties with the character before, this scene makes it pretty clear we're dealing with a very different incarnation of the Grinch.
When Christmas Eve rolls around, the Grinch "promotes" Max to reindeer and heads into town. This sequence is a relatively straightforward version of the theft from earlier versions until we get to the last house, where Cindy Lou Who resides.
And... I probably should have mentioned earlier that Cindy Lou's plotline was interwoven through everything I just covered. Her story fills what I'd roughly estimate to be about 25% of the movie's runtime, and none of it is compelling or all that significant.
But we're rewinding back to the start, anyway.
She lives with her single mother, who works a full-time job while looking after her and her two younger siblings. All Cindy Lou wants for Christmas is for her exhausted, overworked mom to get some help, so she decides to write Santa Claus and put in a special request. While racing to try and catch the mailman, she crashes into the Grinch, who's already in a bitter mood. Assuming Cindy Lou is asking for a toy or something, he convinces her she should ask Santa in person if her letter is as important as she claims.
Soon after, she puts on winter gear and intends to try this, until her mother informs her she won't reach the North Pole before Christmas. Instead, Cindy Lou recruits a team of additional Who children to help her design, build, and test a trap she can use to snare Santa and accost him in person.
The Grinch springs her trap and winds up momentarily tied up until Cindy Lou releases him, gives him a glass of milk (instead of him giving her... you get it), and tells him what she wants. He still gets his iconic line about a light on their tree being out, then he sends her to bed and continues with his plan. But his heart isn't it - the realization she was selfless alters his entire perception about the holidays.
But the original book has a sequence on top of Mount Crumpit, so - despite no longer having motivation - he hauls the Christmas paraphernalia up, anyway. Then, just as he's getting ready to throw it over, he hears the singing, abruptly has the same change of heart he just had a few minutes ago, and decides to save the gifts.
Then the ledge he's on breaks, and he falls off with the sleigh and gifts. He fires his grapple-gun (just go with it), and holds on with one hand while he uses the other to catch the sleigh. Just when he's about to fall, Fred shows up with his family, and they pull the Grinch to safety.
Meanwhile, Cindy Lou is convinced she's to blame for the stolen Christmas. She assumes Santa was pissed about her trap, and this is his retribution. Her mother convinces her otherwise just before the Grinch shows up, returns the gifts, and slinks away with an apology.
Later that day, Cindy Lou shows up at his house and invites him to Christmas dinner. He goes, despite his crippling anxiety, and eventually discovers joy and companionship.
If you're thinking the tone of the original just got run through a wood-chipper, you're not wrong. The tone of this changes rapidly throughout the movie. The Whos will be portrayed as zany and childlike one moment, then cast in a starkly realistic light the next. Seuss's designs from the 50's are kept intact then interrupted with Run DMC's Christmas in Hollis or by songs mentioning Christ.
Likewise, the movie's theme doesn't hold together or make sense. The defining characteristic of this version of the Ginch is that he's alone. The movie reiterates this on multiple occasions, eventually giving us a short flashback to establish he's been alone since he was orphaned as a young child. He feels alone, he's described as alone, and the movie asks us to sympathize with him on this level.
Only... he isn't.
Despite it being established as his central trait, character flaw, and ethical shortcoming, the movie undermines the idea by greatly enhancing his relationship with Max. From the start, the Grinch loves that dog. He's occasionally a little mean, but even this is clearly a front. On the few occasions Max might be in danger, the Grinch is concerned for his wellbeing. Even when Max strains to pull the sleigh, we're shown the Grinch is worried until it's revealed Max is fine.
The story is no longer about overcoming cynicism and learning to see wonder through a child's eyes. Instead it's about... I guess not being alone? Maybe about letting people into your life? It's kind of unclear and not that compelling.
But it's nice to look at. The creatures - particularly some weird snow birds - feel authentically Seussian, and the geography is perfect. The animation is well done, and the designs on the gizmos are great.
In addition, most of the individual sequences are fine if you're able to overlook the fact they're a departure from the source material. The new antics and misadventures work as solid Looney Tunes-style shorts, and the animal characters are cute and entertaining. It's not an entirely bad kid's movie.
But Cindy Lou's scenes get tedious fast, and the movie's attempts at drama are just boring. More than that, there's an underlying question at the heart of this: what's the point in making a Grinch movie where the Grinch isn't really the Grinch?
It's a question with an obvious answer, of course: the movie exists to make money. And that's fine - I've given worse movies a pass. Not everything has to be art.
This is ultimately a movie for kids, and it delivers a decent enough product. While I may wish every studio was as good as Pixar at producing movies that played for all ages, I still have to acknowledge this was at least good for children. And it's also worth admitting most of the problems were likely unavoidable once they decided to make another Grinch movie. The original isn't a long story, and there's not a lot you can do to change that without breaking the pace and setting. And, yeah, obviously they shouldn't have tried. But studios like money, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.