Note: On the off chance you haven’t read or seen the full story of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” in the last 61 years, this review contains spoilers. For everyone else, the ending is what you’d expect with additions that I’ll be 100% spoiling in this review. So if you don’t want the spoilers, know this: it’s a good movie. Go see it. Take your kids.
I worried about taking my kids to see the new movie “The Grinch” because I didn’t like the Jim Carrey version (before you hate me for that, go back and watch it. There’s a reason critics described that movie as “the bludcurdling onset of a masculine bender,” “hideous storytelling,” “entirely without charm,” and “a betrayal of the original story.”). I hesitated because the new one also had mediocre ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. I gained a little optimism when I read the reviews, because even the negative ones were significantly kinder than those for the 2007 version. Critics said the movie plays it safe but hey, it’s a little kids movie, so I’m ok with safe.
I should not have been concerned. The 2018 Grinch is fun, and feels true to the spirit of the original story with added bits to keep kids’ attention. Pharrell Williams nails the narration. Grinch and Max are a good team. Cindy Lou is interesting, and this movie gives her mom a voice. There’s a character voiced by Kenan Thompson, a reindeer and more..
The Grinch is a sympathetic meanie, and the voice-acting is perfect. His backstory is compelling, with flashbacks of a dark empty orphanage, and a young Grinch standing forgotten in the snow peering in windows at the celebrating Who families. His alienation and grumpiness is a problem of the Whos’ creation, and it’s understandable that the adult Grinch considers the Whos self-absorbed. The Grinch’s only friend is his dog, Max, who is as faithful a sidekick as ever.
This Grinch is ridiculous in ways that don’t overwhelm the plot. My favorite was when he pounded out “All By Myself” on a pipe organ dramatically, while Max tried to accompany him on drums. The Grinch kicked Max out, because it’s tough to be dramatically lonely when your best friend insists on helping (and because Max is a terrible drummer). The Grinch apologizes to Max, which is one of a few actions that show him growing as a character, making his change of heart at the end more believable.
In this movie Cindy Lou Who is older than in the book. She is the child of a busy single mom and older sister to twin babies. Her wish for Christmas is for Santa to help her mom. Cindy Lou is a free-range Who, and in the days leading up to Christmas, she and her friends build a trap to capture Santa so she can ask him to grant her wish. The movie juxtaposes these efforts with the Grinch’s inventions in the inevitable inventing montage well.
That both of their creations are successful is an essential part of the story line, because when Cindy catches the Grinch-Santa, her unselfish wish marks the moment his perspective of his neighbors begins to change.
Which brings us to the reason I will watch this movie again and again: Christmas morning.
When the the Whos stumble out of their ransacked homes into bare streets, Cindy Lou’s devastated face fills the screen while the narrator explains that “someone knew” whose fault it was. I thought this would be where Cindy Lou figures out the Grinch had pretended to be Santa. But no, the movie opted to rip our collective hearts out instead:
Cindy Lou begins to cry and says to her mom “It’s MY fault. I trapped Santa to ask for a special gift for you and now he’s mad at me.”* In that moment, my heart broke for her, because I’ve seen so many kids blame themselves for the hurtful choices adults make. My own kids leaned closer to the screen, and I knew they identified 100% with Cindy Lou in that moment.
The movie handled the moment of guilt simply. Perfectly. Cindy’s mom bent down and said “It is NOT your fault.”* and that the grinch had only taken “stuff, not Christmas itself.” This interchange felt realistic and connected with children’s own worries.
After that, things continue as expected: The Whos sing. The Grinch hears them, and his heart grows 3 times. He returns Christmas stuff. You know the story. But the movie inserts a small, but crucial 10ish minutes between the returning of stuff and the carving of Who beast.
Those minutes make ALL the difference. The Grinch climbs down the sleigh in the middle of town, takes responsibility and apologizes sincerely to the Whos. Then, he apologizes to Cindy Lou. And then. . .he goes home.
Seriously. He. Goes. Home. Growing a heart 3 times too big, returning gifts, apologizing. None of that changes the fact that he has just UNdone something mean he did., He has not done a greater good, so there is no reason to assume the role of a hero. This also goes back to that “monster of their own creation” issue from the flashbacks. The Whos have never shown the Grinch that he is welcome in their town, so he has no reason to impose himself on them.
Going home makes sense. But the experience has changed the Grinch. He gives Max a Christmas present for the first time, and it is while the pair are playing that we see that his apology has wrought change in the Whos as well.
Cindy Lou knocks on the door and invites the Grinch and Max to Christmas dinner. “But I took all your presents,”* the Grinch says. “I know, but we’re inviting you anyway,”* she answers as she gets back in her pool toy sled and zips down the mountain.
And there it is. The Whos rejected the Grinch all those years before, and now a Who family welcomes him into their home. The Grinch comes to dinner and the story continues as you’d expect. But that apology, the Grinch’s lack of an assumption of welcome, and the invitation to dinner — those are golden, and combined with all the other cool things, they make this movie well worth the time and money spent to see it with kids.
So go see the Grinch. It’s a good retelling of a great story.
*I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s the gist.
All images come from Illumination and Universal Pictures.