The Grinch: Old vs. New


By Beth McMillan and Erin Wilson

So, another adaptation of the Dr Seuss’s The Grinch came out last month to kick off the festive season and to fill audiences with Christmas spirit. The Grinch we know is a cliché but none the less wonderful story of how Christmas kindness can warm the heart and change a life. Now, I’ll admit I’m biased, I grew up on Dr Seuss but never had I expected to be moved to tears by the familiar tale. Although I admit the new spin on this classic was enjoyable, I can’t help but feel that this new version did not match up with the legacy of the original adaptions, with Jim Carrey’s masterpiece of a performance as the classic miserable protagonist, and Ron Howard’s directing.

Understandably, the new film cannot completely mirror the original plot, but the main feature of The Grinch is that the story is a metaphor for Capitalism and the point of the original film is that there is more to Christmas than presents. Akin to this, when the Grinch steals Christmas in the original film, it is because he despises the selfishness of the Whos and their obsession with materialistic possession. However, in the new version, the Grinch, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (an actor that I love so much it may cause bias), despises Christmas since he was alone in an orphanage for most his childhood. This removes the original sentiment around the Grinch as a character. In the original, part of the Grinch’s animosity towards the Whos is how living amongst them reminded him of bullying and the fact he was different, which is why he chooses to live up in Mount Crumpet. In the new film, the Grinch appears to be part of the Who society as people know him and his neighbours are friendly towards him (even when this sentiment is not reciprocated.) This change did not make sense as his character reputation is as a “mean one” who people fear and is not integrated.

Cindy-Lou Who, the little girl who reached the Grinch’s heart, also got a modern make-over. Far from being the plot device she was cast as in the original, this Cindy-Lou has a mischievous streak! Bold and go getting, she is resourceful, but still the kind character who reaches out to a stranger at Christmas. Rather than being obsessed with meeting Santa for her own ends, this Cindy-Lou simply wanted to ask him to do one thing for her for Christmas: help her mum. The addition of a developed relationship between Cindy-Lou Who and her mother is truly heart-warming.

However, in Howard’s adaption, Cindy-Lou is a young girl questioning the meaning of Christmas in response to her parents focus on presents and if she believes in Santa, whereas the new Cindy-Lou has no qualms about the meaning of Christmas. This almost removes the child-like innocence of her character and some gumption that the original Cindy-Lou possessed with the ability to voice her doubts on Christmas.

Pharrell Williams made the perfect narrator for the tale, providing a wonderful voiceover to make the great Seuss himself proud and Benedict Cumberbatch provided an unexpected but lovable and tear-jerking interpretation of the Grinch. That said, the film was enjoyable and very comical with the relationship between the Grinch and his ever-trusted side-kick Max. The Grinch’s sharp wit and sarcasm as well as the addition of a comical and very loud goat also added the comedic to the film to make it an enjoyable watch. Also, ILLUMINATION animation as always is stunning, especially with the design of Whoville.

Despite leaving out a few key lines from the original rhyme and perhaps not being quite zany enough for a Seuss story, the film captured more strongly than any other interpretation what Dr Seuss is really about: teaching kids an important message about their world. From Climate change to the dangers of consumerism, to the pain of rejection, Dr Seuss was always ahead of his time in the issues he discussed in his poetry. This version was no exception, moving me to tears with one simple line, “The Grinch’s heart, so they say, grew three sizes that day”. Strangely though, it wasn’t the words of the Grinch that stayed with me as I left the cinema, but the words of the Lorax, another Seuss classic, words that could apply to so much more than climate change: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”.

Having fallen in love with Jim Carrey in the live action version of the story, I wasn’t expecting to be so utterly taken away by the care and precision with which directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier had set about lovingly updating the tale for yet another delighted generation. Brilliantly wacky, Seuss-worthy animation and wonderful additions to the tale such as the exploration of single-motherhood, combined to make this adaptation a future Christmas classic.

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