Illumination Animation makes animated movies for children. That might sound obvious, but it really isn’t. Studios like Pixar and Laika are known for making animated movies that are wonderfully animated, full of action and excitement, yet also have deep themes that resonate with kids and adults. Just think of this years Incredibles 2, which is rich in themes about gender roles and parenting, yet is also as entertaining as anything in 2018.
But Illumination films have never bridged that gap. With films like Minions, The Secret Life of Pets, and the Despicable Me trilogy, Illumination has made movies that are bright, fun, and entertaining, yet shallow in terms of themes and messages in the films.
The Grinch is yet another one of those films. It is a retelling of the classic Dr. Seuss story for a new generation of younger kids. There are no new lessons or anything here, just the same ‘ol Grinch, just looking a little different.
The Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) lives as a recluse in a mountain above Whoville with his dog Max, hates Christmas with an undying passion. Unfortunately for him, Whoville loves Christmas more than anything in the world, so the Grinch despises the small mountain village and everyone in it. In order to end the Christmas spirit, the Grinch decides to steal and destroy everything and anything that represents Christmas in Whoville, from lights to presents.
As I said before, there is nothing new here. The Grinch is so cold and bitter towards everyone and everything because his heart is three-times smaller than a normal heart. Why is it that way? Well, it’s not a heart condition, but the trauma of being an orphan and never being able to celebrate Christmas, yet seeing everyone else happy during this time of year. This didn’t fully work for me. In Ron Howard’s film, the Grinch was a victim of bullying and ran away when the kids made fun of him for liking the popular girl. In this version, the Grinch’s motivation isn’t nearly as affective. The Grinch wants to steal Christmas just because he couldn’t be happy as a kid, so he wants everyone else to feel his pain. That would be the equivalent to someone being lactose intolerant and throwing away all the ice cream at a party because you can’t have any. This aspect really hurt the film, as it could have elevated this movie to more than just a kid’s film. The emotional punch at the end doesn’t hit nearly as hard as it could have had the Grinch’s past and motivation made more sense. And the lesson that Christmas is more than just toys and lights is planted nicely at the end.
This Grinch as a character is slightly different, though. He never comes off as mean or angry, but more annoying and rude. Past versions of the Grinch have been more despicable and just the worst kind of person, or whatever it is. I’m pretty sure the Grinch in the original animated film and Ron Howard’s was capable of murder, or some other harsh crime. I never got that threat with this one. Petty misdemeanors are the most the Grinch can do. There are people who shop the mall who are ruder than this Grinch. Also, they do a thing where the Grinch isn’t naked, like it seemed in the other films, but that his pants are the same as his skin? That weirded me out and it was all I could think about during the movie.
There’s a good amount to like, though. Cumberbatch is having a ball voicing the Grinch and really makes some of the dialog sing. I also adored Kenan Thompson’s voice-work as Bricklebaum, the most festivous Who in Whoville and the only person who likes the Grinch. The animation is fun, Max is adorable, and the Christmas heist is genuinely entertaining, especially when the Grinch continuously busts out another cool gadget at each house.
The Grinch will be a ball for kids who have never seen a Grinch movie before. The story and lesson are the same, it just plays out differently than past versions, and the Grinch is not a horrible human. The Grinch keeps with Illumination Animation’s trend of making kid-focused animated movies with nothing to offer for adults.
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