It seems, well, almost Grinch-like to complain about a new Christmas movie while we’re smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season, but, then again, The Grinch isn’t new. This is the third film iteration of the beloved Dr. Suess holiday story and people my age who grew up with the half-hour TV special will probably tell you that was good enough for them, especially when compared to the 2000 live-action feature film version starring Jim Carrey at his most scene-chewing obnoxiousness. Both that version and the latest one, a CGI animated creation by Illumination Studios, require a lot of padding to make a feature and Theodore Geisel had nothing to do with the script, so you sort of get what you might expect when Hollywood takes a classically idiosyncratic piece of art and tries to stretch it out.
The new Grinch‘s main selling point, in this regard, is that it gives the lead character, a green-furred grump who lives by himself above Who-ville, where everyone is preternaturally cheerful and would prefer Christmas come once every hour rather than once every year, a back story, meaning a reason for his grumpiness. This act of appropriation describes everything wrong with current pop culture. We have no need to know the Freudian damage visited on little Grinch in an orphanage, where his fear-hatred of Christmas was instilled. In a sense, everyone with a whiff of misanthropy—and that includes children—has always had a soft spot for Mr. Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose attitude toward the sentimental overkill of the Christmas Spirit is practically inspired. Similarly, the ostensibly sympathetic character of the little girl Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely), whose friendliness puts the Grinch’s teeth on edge, is custom built for first-time disappointment, which is why the ending of the original book is so powerful. The Grinch is simply converted by a purity of feeling he could never understand until it was revealed in all its extremity. Here, it’s all explained by Cindy Lou’s desire to bring some happiness to her overworked single mother, Donna Lou (Rashida Jones). Her only wish is to bring her mom some peace of mind for Christmas, which is a pretty wishy-washy thing for a kid to wish for.
The only thing you can really say in favor of the new film is that because it changes so many of the details—this Grinch seems to be a coffee addict, for one thing—it has some surprises, one of which is the Grinch’s dog, Max, who is no less cute than his progenitors but he gets more screen time to elaborate on his clever adorableness. And with Pharrell Williams narrating and Tyler, the Creator, providing the closing theme song, there’s a bit more street to the sensibility on display, a decision I will ask others to explain. The fact that it all sounds like crass commercial calculation to me obviously means I have my own Grinch-like tendencies to contend with.
Now playing in Tokyo in both dubbed and subtitled versions at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Ikebukuro Humax Cinemas (03-5979-1660), Toho Cinemas Ueno (050-6868-5066).
The Grinch home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2018 Universal Studios