“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” (2018) movie review

Seuss’ beloved Christmas classic gets a brightly animated treatment. Universal and Illumination Entertainment’s The Grinch starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the furry green Christmas-hater with a loyal dog named Max. Dr. Seuss’ works are no strangers to screen adaptations. Many of his books have been adapted to animated successful TV specials and movies, including my favorite adaptation How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). We have the original award-winning 1966 version narrated by Boris Karloff and animated by Chuck Jones, the moderately entertaining live-action 2000 version, and the one we are reviewing today, a truly watch-worthy feature-length animated feature that has the soul of the original with some heartwarming additions. Needless to say, as much as there is to like about this new version, it does not rise to the same level as the Jones’ original, but is certainly superior to the Jim Carrey version. In addition to the main plot points from the book, this film takes some creative liberties to introduce new scenes and provide additional character development for the Grinch, Cindi Lou Who, and Cindi’s mom. Much like with the previous feature length animated and live-action films, this one too contains the quintessential Seussian architecture that lacks any straight lines (incidentally, this same concept is embraced at Seuss Landing at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure). From the top of Mount Crumpit to Whoville town square, if you are a fan of the book and original, then you will certainly enjoy this one and may even add it to your holidays this season. Oh yeah, Angela Lansbury has a cameo as the Whoville mayor!

Ordinarily this is where I summarize the plot, but we all know the story, so let’s jump right into this particular version. Arguably, two of the greatest, profound, and most celebrated Christmas stories feature a central character who hates Christmas; of course, one is an old British miser and the other is furry and green. Collectively, Charles Dickens’ Scrooge from A Christmas Carol and Dr. Seuss’ Grinch from How he Grinch Stole Christmas confront the commercialism, greed, loneliness, and the results of hardening one’s heart to friends, family, and the spirit of generosity. Themes that are just as relevant today as they were when first penned. The plots are so simple, yet so incredibly profound and inspirational. Both these stories benefit from simple plots and complex characters. Many of us have been either a Grinch or a Scrooge in our lives, or perhaps you know of one now; and it’s because of the relatability that we can identify with the characters. Taking the tentpole elements of the original animated version and adding a modern touch, 2018’s The Grinch seeks to capture the imagination of young audiences but concurrently providing a wonderful experience for adult audiences too.

One of the most memorable elements in the production design of the original animated classic is the stark contrast between the warm Whovillian homes and the cold, dankness of the Grinch’s lair. One is full of smiling faces while the other is solitary. Anyone who’s read Dr. Seuss’ books notices that there is something incredibly unique to his designs. As pointed out in the opening remarks, there are no straight lines anywhere in a Seuss book or even at Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure. While this may not seem like a big deal–it is. Truly, it’s one of the illustrated elements that gives the images their trademark look. I greatly appreciate the Illumination Entertainment artists for successfully carrying this over to the film. Even down to the drinking glasses, there are no straight lines anywhere to be found. Another highlight from the original is the music! More specifically, the songs. Instead of simply including the original songs in this feature length adaptation, they were reimagined for a new generation. Although I feel You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch suffered in the translation, the rest of the songs worked really well, and were a lot of fun! In addition to songs inspired by the original, there are song numbers integrated that you may recognize from today’s Christmas music. The new number that was the most fun was the Whovillian Christmas carolers played by Pentatonix singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Not just the song itself, but the choreography of that number was perfect! It combined the stereotypical “annoying caroler” trope with slapstick comedy in a chase scene of sorts.

Because of the feature length runtime of the movie, the writers have the ability to provide subtext that is often more difficult in short films. Not that the original is lacking–certainly not–that’s why it stands the test of time and continues to be adored by millions. Chuck Jones’ animated masterpiece is still teaching us today. That being said, with the additional storytelling time, we learn a bit more about the Grinch and Cindy Lou’s parallels to one another. Both of them have a stated mission and external goal at Christmas. The Grinch wants to steel Christmas away disguised as Santa Claus, and Cindy Lou wants to capture Santa in order to give her mom a Christmas well-deserved since she is a single mother raising a family. Giving and steeling Christmas. That contrast provides a lot of opportunity to play around with the meaning and value of Christmas to the hopeful and the jaded. Both the Grinch and Cindy Lou start their missions with the same two words: Santa Claus. But what they do with those words couldn’t be more polar opposite than the North and South Poles. Further parallels between these two iconic characters is the method executed to achieve their respective goals. Both of them plan and assemble a team, equipment, and traps without anyone finding out. And like each other, both are successful at achieving their goal. The Grinch does steel (what he thinks is) Christmas and Cindy Lou does capture (whom she thinks is) Santa Claus. It’s that chance encounter between faux Santa and Cindy Lou that alters the course of the evening and Christmas morning. Two completely separate plans intersecting in providence that teaches that Christmas “doesn’t come from a store…maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Much like with the live-action version, we have new characters introduced in this one too. However, the focus is never off primarily the Grinch followed by Cindy Lou. It’s important to note that keeping your central and opposition characters the focus enables the internal needs and external goals to be developed more effectively than shifting focus between too many characters and subplots. Speaking of which, who are the central and opposition characters? Contrary to the “good guy” being the typical protagonist and the “bad guy” being the typical antagonist, this story flips that script and it works beautifully! In The Grinch, the Grinch is our central character and Cindy Lou is actually the character of opposition. The “good guy” is not always your central character. The Grinch has the external goal to steel Christmas from Whoville accompanied by the internal need to make other suffer as he has; opposing his goal is Cindy Lou who also had her own set of internal and external goals. But in this story, the character opposing the central character’s goal/need is actually the “good guy.” Interesting stuff, right?!? Think of main characters in terms of central and opposition, not protagonist and antagonist.

Outside of the Grinch and Cindy Lou, there are important supporting players. Our favorite dog is back, and endearing as ever! Max is even given a bit more screen time and substance in this version. He is truly the Grinch’s only friend, and although gets taken advantaged of, it’s clear that the Grinch does care for him. There is a story of loyalty here, and it’s an element that cannot be overlooked. If the Grinch was completely evil, then Max would likely not stay with him. So, the fact that Max remains by his master’s side teaches us that there must be some good in the Grinch somewhere. We are told that his heart is two sizes too small–not non-existent. How’s about that character of Fred?!? I fell in love with him instantly. Fred, the plus-sized reindeer, plays an important role in the story that I cannot go into without revealing a spoiler. However, I can tell you that he is adorable; and he, Max, and the Grinch form a non-traditional family that works incredibly well in this film and plays into the Grinch realizing that there is value in love, friendship, and community.

Perhaps this animated feature is not as magical as the original; but you now what, it is still incredibly well directed, written, acted, and animated. I am someone who watches the original every year and even have the book. Still, I am able to find tremendous value in this version, and will likely add it to the list of movies that I watch every November and December. There is something for everyone in this movie, and you may even find your heart growing three sizes as a result of this new take on the timeless charming tale of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Echoing the end of Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, what does Christmas mean to you? What would you say if the Grinch asked you?

Merry Christmas!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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‘Welcome Christmas’ with a Holiday Who-bilation at Universal Orlando

image1“Welcome Christmas!’ From haunted houses to a holiday Who-bilation, Universal Orlando Resort transforms from a macabre landscape of familiar and endearing horror IPs to a bright, cheerful Christmas spectacular! Grinchmas and the Macy’s Holiday Parade offer a fabulous opportunity to experience the joy of the Holiday Season with friends and family. With both Universal Studios Florida (US) and Universal’s Islands of Adventure (IoA) theme parks providing ample opportunities to enjoy this festive season, you will find it hard to get it all in one day. With many of the events not beginning until after 3:00pm, the parks offer moderately extended hours until 9/10pm most nights with some later evenings between Christmas and New Years. IoA is home to the live show How the Grinch Stole Christmas and US houses the Macy’s Holiday Parade. Although those two events are the headliners, there are other smaller opportunities that are also very much enjoyable. From toy soldiers and elves handing out candy to many photo opportunities with large, familiar Macy’s balloons, there is sure to be something for everyone to enjoy.

While many people are all about parades and character meet and greets, my favorite parts of any Christmas limited engagement event at a theme park are the shows, lights, decorations, and music. I love seeing how the theme parks that I visit regularly transform into memorable fantastic holiday celebrations. For those who attend both the Halloween and Christmas events in the parks, it’s incredibly fun to experience the sensation of being in the same building or standing in the queue area that once housed a film/tv-based haunted house, but now is overflowing with colorful Christmas cheer. Both US and IoA are a bountiful buffet of holiday experiences that ARE INCLUDED with general admission or your annual pass. If you are traveling to the area or simply do not have an annual pass, I strongly suggest a 1-day park hopper ticket or a 2-day one park ticket. With happy holiday offerings going on in both parks concurrently, you’ll definitely want to enjoy both for a dynamic experience. Planned well, you can definitely watch both the Grinchmas show and the Macy’s Parade. The holiday season is the busiest time of year in the parks, so you’ll want to note that if you have a brief visit to Universal Orlando, there is a high degree of probability that you may not get to experience all the holiday offerings and the regular operating attractions. Just like the Christmas season creates hustle and bustle in the stores, there is quite the holiday hustle and bustle in the parks as well. All in all, this is the most magical time of year to visit theme parks! Unless you prefer Halloween, then September/October is your most wonderful time of the year!

Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure is home to the official Grinchmas celebration! One of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved stories–if not THE most beloved–is the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas published by Random House in 1957. Written as social commentary on the commercialization of Christmas, Dr. Seuss’ words in this story have impacted generation after generation through the original narrative, the animated classic, and Universal’s live action film starring Jim Carrey as The Grinch. You don’t have to be a Whovillian to feel a special tug at your heartstrings during the live performance of this most beautiful story at Seuss Landing. Many literary professors feel strongly that The Grinch was Dr. Seuss’ favorite character (followed closely by, if not on par with the Cat in the Hat). Being fond of the Christmas of year’s past, Dr. Seuss was growing irritated at the focus shifting from giving to selling. How the Grinch Stole Christmas was his way of cathartically getting these feelings off his chest. He essentially slid the mortal in sideways. Much like with most of Dr. Seuss works, this story is a creative social commentary on the state of Christmas in a post-modern society.

The best part of the Grinchmas show is how it brilliantly combines the efficiency of the storytelling found in the animated classic with the humor of the live action film. It’s neither adapting the animated movie for stage nor is it adapting and abridging the live action film for a theme park setting. The writers of the show, along with the music Chip Davis & Mannheim Steamroller, combine their efforts to create a whole new experience for park guests. There are scenes, jokes, and narration that you won’t find in the book, animated classic, nor live action film. So, just because you have read the book or seen either screen adaption, does not mean that the live show will feel redundant. I see the show every year and absolutely enjoy myself. This year, my friends and I had VIP seating so the show was all the more exciting. With a fantastic narrator, outstanding chorus, and excellent lead characters, this show will keep you entertained and touch that special Christmas place in your heart. “Where are you Christmas?” Right here! As this IS the story of The Grinch, the show includes familiar songs from the animated movie and live action film. The show is greatly helped by the characters not attempting to recreate their respective screen counterparts but borrowing from the book and both movies to create all new characters who embody the best of what the former had to offer. Even the Grinch is a combination of both Boris Karloff’s and Jim Carrey’s Grinches. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the show while the season begins to come to a close.

Across the lagoon from IoA is Universal Studios’ Christmas celebration with Macy’s Holiday Parade as the headliner! From Hollywood Blvd to The Garden of Allah to New York City, US has truly decked the halls across the park. Guests can experience the parade during the day or in the evening. With multiple runtimes, there is definitely a chance for everyone to get to enjoy the festivities. Prior to the running of the parade, elves, sugarplums, and other colorful holiday characters interact with guests. You may even get some candies and mints from Santa’s little helpers along the way. The parade floats are larger than life and effectively provide a comparable experience to that of the official Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you want a good spot from which to view the parade, be sure to line up at least an hour in advance if not a little more so.

There is so much to see and do as Universal Orlando celebrates the holiday season culminating with a top-notch New Year’s Eve celebration this year. As the festivities are included with general park admission, this is an event that anyone visiting the park can enjoy with their friends, family, and loved ones.