Illumination’s Grinch a weak adaptation

Courtesy of Illumination
Benedict Cumberbatch serves as the fourth actor to voice an animated Grinch.

Salena Moran & Evan Penrod | Staff Writers

11/15/18

With the holiday season fast approaching, Illumination Entertainment took a stab at another adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s classic book How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The Grinch (2018) boasts a famous cast including Benedict Cumberbatch (The Grinch), Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson and Pharrell Williams, to name a few. The movie mostly stays true to the story, with the miserly Grinch stealing material items from Whoville in hopes of stopping all the ruckus of Christmas and ultimately undergoing a change of heart. This movie is what one would expect with Illumination Entertainment (creators of The Lorax and Minions) at the reigns – excellent animation and lackluster content.

Overall, the aesthetic and design are top notch. The setting of Whoville is alive with bustling activity and vivid colors. The textures on the Whos’ faces and the Grinch’s body show minute details, distinguishing between individual hairs and fabrics. From a visualization standpoint, the animation perfectly encapsulates the feelings and visual appeals of the Christmas season.

Even though this film has an original score, the directors mixed in a traditional Christmas soundtrack to evoke a sense of nostalgia and warmth from the viewer, with songs by Nat King Cole and select orchestras. However, just when the music was appropriate, the movie would throw in a very cringeworthy rendition of a song that was almost painful to listen to and watch.

While this film deviates from the source in many ways, the parts that are closer to the book material are more interesting and entertaining. When the Grinch prepares and executes his plan to steal Christmas, for example, the peculiar inventions and animations were indicative of something Seuss would have imagined.

Unfortunately, The Grinch (2018) lacks a purpose or an identity. In the 1966 original cartoon, the animators followed the story with complete accuracy in a 26-minute TV special. On the other hand, the live action version with Jim Carrey portrayed an over-the-top character that was simultaneously disgusting and hilarious. In both the original cartoon and Carrey adaptations, the Grinch was a distinct character – both unforgivingly mean and vile. The stories never provided much background on the character except that he was intrinsically grouchy and rude.

Cumberbatch’s Grinch does not add anything unique or memorable to the character, as he seems only slightly disgruntled. This presents a major problem, as the Grinch has always been a children’s version of Ebenezer Scrooge in the sense that a mean, despicable character goes through a dynamic character arc and becomes redeemable. Therefore, the more mean and cynical the character, the more the viewer can understand the magnitude of change he undergoes.

This movie gives the Grinch a tragic backstory, making viewers feel bad for his lonely childhood. In knowing of his youth, the movie almost excuses the Grinch’s behavior. When the Grinch’s backstory is left ambiguous, the audience has the ability to make interpretations.

Furthermore, Cumberbatch’s voice portrayal of the Grinch seems confusing, as he tries to maintain a nasal, higher range tone. Cumberbatch’s famous strong, deep speaking voice would have worked well as the narrator as opposed to Pharrell.

Another shortcoming of this film is that Cindy Lou and the Grinch were not in scenes long enough for the audience to establish a connection with either of them. The Grinch and Cindy Lou in Carrey’s Grinch interacted throughout the entirety of the movie. Even the short interaction in the original version established a kind of sweet relationship between the two characters. The Grinch (2018) seemed confused on where to put the focus and thus left the audience with a hollow shell of two characters whose motivations appear progressive, but in the end, led nowhere.

Although The Grinch (2018) invokes a bright and lively feeling of Christmas nostalgia through exquisite animation, it leaves the audience feeling empty, truly lacking a solid plot or character development. Where the original is a faithful adaptation of the book and the Jim Carrey version gave us a wacky and unique character, this adaptation of the Grinch falls short of finding a lasting identity.