Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Grinch (2018) - Movie Review their version of The Lorax may strongly argue against this, if any animation studio was to bring another iteration of The Grinch to cinemas, Illumination are the guys to do it. Between their cartoon revivalism and their love for animated slapstick and their championing of villains that audiences love to hate, they have the aesthetic foundation to at least give this a shred of hope. I mean, the last time we got a Grinch movie, audiences landed on either the "this is awful" or "this is lame but fun" sides of the debate. Thankfully, this film is off to a good start because, whatever it has going for it, it doesn’t need to be defended as strongly.

For a start, Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic in the titular role. It seems like his knack for voice acting keeps growing as time goes on, managing to surpass Jim Carrey by a country mile by delivering a genuine character performance that doesn’t rely on hyperactivity to engage. Opposite him, Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who… feels a tad out of place. Her dialogue has a very heavy vibe that this is how adults wished children were like, rather than how they actually are, but considering her place in the story as the embodiment of Yuletide optimism and compassion, it still manages to fit. And when the two collide, they deliver the story’s main anti-materialistic message with a suitably resonant punch.

From there, the animation has Illumination in their fun and bouncy wheelhouse, allowing for some nifty set design and quite infectious energy during the faster-paced moments. It keeps in tune with the heartfelt spirit of the original story, keeping the crudeness to a respectable minimum while still letting the Grinch’s scowlier machinations shine through to deliver a healthy dose of gleeful mischief. This is echoed in the soundtrack, which has Danny Elfman getting back into his kookier side and teaming up with Pharrell devotee and musical bastard Tyler The Creator to create some tasty nocturnal jams that fit the story quite nicely.

But this is all rather part-and-parcel for this story; is there anything new being brought to the table with this one? Well, surprisingly, there is something new injected in the narrative, and it has to do with the Grinch’s origins. Now, considering his origin story is largely an invention for feature-length cinema, this already raises a few eyebrows, but it’s not nearly as bogged down in needless detail as the Ron Howard version. It basically boils down to him being an orphan who was neglected of gift and company on Christmas.

This brings up a rather interesting point regarding this film’s moral leanings that I don’t think have been addressed before: What about the poor families that Santa Claus “forgets” during Christmas? Those unfortunate souls who see Santa and the commercialisation of the holiday as a symbol of how much their own financial bracket prevents them from joining in what is constantly pushed in their faces as the “true meaning of Christmas”: Giving varyingly expensive gifts to others as a token of love. Not only that, looking strictly at an orphan’s point of view, it’s hard to get into the spirit of spending time with family when… well, when they don’t have one.

Through this, the Grinch’s story takes an isolated and melancholy turn, giving him an impetus for his actions that feels like something Seuss himself would have included in the story, similar to him bringing up the other side of the debate in his animated version of The Lorax. It imbues the character with a certain tragic tone that doesn’t detract from the proceedings, but rather lends itself well to the remarkably lean pacing and focus of the rest of the production. The result of all this is a rather fun Christmas flick that not only stands out well enough on its own, but also solidifies its reason to exist by adding another layer to the original story’s intent.

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