With Americans so divided in politics these days, let us come together on something we all ought to be able to agree on (but, knowing us, we probably won’t): the new animated Grinch movie that’s coming out is a train wreck.
I grew up with the old classic TV special, albeit cut to ribbons even back in the ’80s. I didn’t see the unabridged Grinch until I was an adult. How sad is that? But it’s a timeless masterpiece that holds up, especially thanks to Boris Karloff’s voice and narration.
The live-action film with Jim Carrey was… all right. I enjoyed it, but I wanted it to be better. To me it stepped on the story in too many ways. The Whos were in many cases every bit as shallow and materialistic as the Grinch believed they were, and had to be convinced to come together at the end. On top of that, Carrey’s over-the-top clowning, while amusing, detracted from the character—although he did counterbalance that by showing off the Grinch’s anger, bitterness, and capacity to hold a grudge.
But then we have this new version, and I can’t get behind it one bit. Every single preview scene I’ve witnessed has been entirely wrong. Some of it might be that the film is commercialized to death with tie-ins to a million unrelated products. But what’s really been bugging me is that we’ve seen what appears to be mostly filler material unrelated to the story, and it’s terrible. All of it is silly and plays up the Grinch himself as silly. Remember the funniest moments of the original special? Those were when the Grinch ran into a snag as a result of his passionate hatred overtaking good sense, or when physics (such as it was) got in a few laughs at his expense during his ill-planned race down the mountain—never because he was being silly himself. But this new Grinch is silly; it will play well with kids, but it’s a dishonor to the spirit of the character.
Some of what was getting me in these overly silly gags was that the voice acting didn’t sound serious enough. This lacked the gravitas of the Grinch. Imagine my shock when I looked it up—literally just minutes ago—and discovered he’s voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch! This is a man who can do serious voice roles. Perhaps it’s a testament to his skill that the Grinch doesn’t sound like Benedict Cumberbatch, but the flip side of that is he appears to have lost all of Cumberbatch’s presence. At least that’s true of the scenes I’ve been shown in umpty-thousand commercials.
In short, this is a Grinch who is playful rather than malicious or vindictive. It doesn’t fit. Sure there’s room to explore more under the surface of that anger, but if I want to see the playful side of the Grinch it’s the side he showed in the original TV adaptation: where he took so much joy in doing his job of stealing Christmas so well.
The Grinch of old is a curmudgeonly hermit, deeply cynical and seething with hatred at a joy he does not understand and cannot share. He thinks the Whos are spoiled, grasping, and vain, and only the shock of discovering they are not moves him to his Dickensian transformation. A hardened heart, so sure it understood the world in its own terms, comes face to face with reality rejecting its every premise, whereupon the Grinch needs to truly understand how it could be so. And in really trying to understand someone else, he finds in himself the capacity to grow.
The new guy looks like his moral compass could blow over in a stiff breeze. Not an entrenched, miserable crank, he appears to be a mere shadow of those aspects thinly painted on an unserious core. In all the ads you’ve seen, and you’ve seen many, has he ever once come across as mean, vile, with a heart like a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots? Or is he Stock Goofy Animated Guy playing villain with his dog and a fat stupid reindeer? Because the problem for me is, when Stock Goofy Animated Guy sees the true meaning of Christmas come through, it’s not that big a revelation; he thinks no deep thoughts, carries no abiding pain that drives him, any more than a car dealership inflatable can fathom the meaning of life. Can he reform and become a new man? Of course he can, because he’s Stock Goofy Animated Guy, a very literal blank slate that can be covered with any outer semblance of a personality as long as it has no depth.
I wish I could keep an open mind about this. But when the filmmakers themselves go out of their way to convince me many times a day that their movie is a disaster, how can I disagree?
But count me in for the second Fantastic Beasts movie and the Wreck-It Ralph sequel.