An Updated Grinch Tale: The Latest Screen Adaptation Takes on a Whole New Approach


The Grinch (2018), the latest screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas, was released last month just in time for the holiday season. This third installment of the franchise updates the Grinch tale from the original, rhyme-driven 1966 animated TV special. It also feels worlds away from the 2000 live-action full-length film featuring Jim Carrey in a darker, more satirical take on the Whos' materialistic Christmas culture along with the commercialization and capitalist aims of Christmas itself. While the 2018 film does focus on the ultimate insignificance of gifts and the importance of family and friends during the holidays, there is less of an emphasis on the Whos’ obsession with “stuff,” and the tone is more wholesome and cheerful.



In this film, The Grinch himself is also a little warmer and fuzzy, showing moments of compassion and sympathy throughout the film despite his two-sizes-too-small heart. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch the green guy comes off as more of a grumpy and uncaffeinated loner than a downright evil monster dead set on destroying Christmas to get revenge. He is not even the notorious, urban legend among the Whos this time around, as he makes regular appearances in Whoville where nobody is afraid of him. The rest of the time he keeps to himself in his cave, wrapped up in his bitterness—that never feels genuine due to those flickers of sentimentality—with his dog Max, with whom he has more of an affectionate relationship so the pup feels more like a pet than a hostage.



The Grinch does, as expected, decide to “steal” Christmas, demonstrating the villainous component of his character, but this crucial part of the narrative feels forced, as the Grinch does not have a clear or convincing motive to do so. The only trigger for this devious scheme is his detestation of Christmas, which developed from his sad and lonely childhood (an entirely different backstory than he is given in the previous film, in which his personal history with the Whos is much more pronounced). However, these memories are only triggered by his internal trauma, rather than by anyone’s actions, like Cindy Lou uncovering his past in the 2000 film. Though the out-of-the-blue idea to rob the Whos of their favourite holiday works in the original story, this take is much more complex, thus begging the question: why steal Christmas now?



The 2018 film did borrow a few elements from the 2000 film, though, such as the focus on Cindy Lou Who as one of the main characters. However, in The Grinch, Cindy Lou’s storyline is independent of the title character’s; instead of seeking the true meaning of Christmas by helping the Grinch reunite with the Whos, Cindy Lou sets out on a quest to meet Santa Claus. Cindy wants to ask Santa to help out her mom who is overworked and always putting Cindy and her baby brothers first. The Grinch and Cindy’s paths eventually do converge, but the film doesn't give them nearly enough space to develop any comedic or heartwarming dynamic, nor does it let Cindy have a real impact on the Grinch, which ultimately makes his change of (literal) heart feel insincere and less believable.



Besides giving Cindy a new set of family members, the film also gave her a group of hilarious friends, most notably her very best friend Groopert, who help her accomplish her goal of meeting Santa Claus. Other new characters include Mr. Bricklebaum, the “happiest Who in Whoville” who is voiced by Kenan Thompson and believes the Grinch is his best friend, and Fred, the comically oversized reindeer that has been delegated head (and only) reindeer on the Grinch’s Santa sleigh. The film also features a new soundtrack curated by Tyler the Creator, a choice that Highsnobiety called “a radical move.”* Tyler recorded a version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and included Christmas classics as well as modern-day songs like Brockhampton’s “BOOGIE” in the rest of the film.



All-in-all, The Grinch is a sweet holiday movie that had a lot to live up to. It starts to unravel near the end when the Whos discover everything is gone yet seem wildly unaffected; they hardly acknowledge the Grinch’s confession at all, making the transition weak and the ending feels rushed and anticlimactic as a result. However, the film is more focused on the preparation to steal Christmas by showing the Grinch inventing new gadgets and polishing his plan, rather than the build-up to his decision or the aftermath of his destruction. While it may not focus so much on the Grinch’s determination to succeed in destroying the holiday, the film concerns itself with developing the Whoville universe as well as the relationships between the characters, and it more than succeeds in doing so. The Grinch took risks, and that doesn't always have to be a bad thing.