The Grinch (2018)
PG, but honestly, probably should be G. It's really innocent. Like, REALLY innocent. I'm not going to praise The Grinch or anything, but there's only one moment that could even be considered slightly inappropriate, and that's obscured nudity that's played for a joke. I wonder if G is saved exclusively for "classy". Because content wise, this thing is almost a baby's movie. PG.
DIRECTORS: Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier
Scott Mosier? Really? Like, View Askew Scott Mosier? That might be a metaphor for everything I'm seeing here. I have to keep repeating the same mantra over and over. "This movie wasn't made for me. This movie wasn't made for me. This movie wasn't made for me." It really wasn't. It was made for my kids and I've been rallying around that cause for a while. The push to make kids' movies more suggestive to let parents enjoy them has been a slippery slope. Some movies really know how to do it right. The Lego Movie and the Pixar stuff (for the most part) can kind of keep balance. But stuff like The Emoji Movie, which tends to be the norm, gets really rough. So seeing a movie that really raised (almost) no red flags in terms of inappropriate content at least let me relax and consider taking a nap. (I napped during The Christmas Prince sequel. I wasn't excited to write about it.)
But The Grinch is straight up boring. I know that the kids laughed at parts. I didn't find it interesting at all. And I really tried. Illumination Studios is an interesting beast. They came out strong with the first two Despicable Me movies and then rode that high for a long time. But then, they came out with movie after movie that people told me were just blah. I mostly avoided those because I don't need to see every kids movie that comes out. I enjoy taking my kids to the movies. I actually weirdly look forward to it, despite the stresses that accompanied by it. But I think we get a lot of the jokes that the Illumination guys have. It's a little bit tired. The first two Despicable Me movies have more jokes than the minions, but the minions are carrying a lot of the weight. Without the minions as a backup, a movie like The Grinch can just get really dull. Part of it comes from my wife's philosophy. I fought against this idea for a while, but my wife believes that it is a bad idea to make a feature length film out of a very short source like a children's picture book. This all started when I was adamant about seeing Where the Wild Things Are. That was the movie that proved her point. You can make a movie super pretty and artsy-fartsy. But if there's no content, what's the point? It's an uphill battle. It's not impossible. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is a charming movie that strays from the source material to make a fun piece of entertainment. (I watched it years ago and walked in on the family halfway through it the other day. It still seems pretty charming.) The Illumination guys fell into the old trap that a lot of other adaptations do. It takes the bare bones of the book and then try to pad out the other scenes. In the original book, The Grinch hates Christmas. He wants to steal Christmas from the town of Whoville by dressing as Santa. When he meets Cindy Lou Who, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas and his heart grows three sizes. That's really the extent of it. How can you get an hour-and-a-half from that? You stall and you stall a lot.
Not all the stalling is terrible. We get to find out why the Grinch doesn't like Christmas. It's probably the strongest choice in the movie and probably should be in the movie, regardless of how much padding the movie needs. It's a children's book. The story is meant to be as superficial as possible, so adding a little character development is actually helpful. It adds this other level, making us aware that everyone isn't always gifted with privilege. That kind of stuff is awesome. I can go with all kinds of character development. What I can't really stand is the prepping. There's a simple concept: the Grinch is pretending to be Santa and robbing people. But the majority of the movie is the Grinch finding all of the elements to make it work. In the classic animated short, we don't have any of that nonsense (okay, some of it). But the step by step element? It's the cinematic equivalent of filling out forms. Why do I want to watch any of this? The actual stuff from the book is pretty watchable, but that's such a short part of the film. Also, giving Cindy Lou Who a backstory seems really tacked on. I'm not saying that the Grinch has a really tight backstory. But it seems like these character moments seem to be pulled from the trope bank of Christmas films. Yeah, Cindy Lou Who has a personality and that makes her more interesting instead of just being an avatar for a theme. But it's a little underbaked. It actually kind of splits focus. The film is about the Grinch. It is his character arc. He is the one who makes the major change throughout the film. By introducing Cindy Lou Who as someone who has a goal, it really pulls focus. There are times in the movie where I don't know who the protagonist is. Imagine digesting, either through film or text, "A Christmas Carol." What if half the book was devoted to Bob Cratchit? You knew that he wasn't going to change at the end? It was more along the lines of watching him doing nice things for another person? Yeah, Bob Cratchit would be a more fleshed out character, but it would drive focus away from Scrooge. Also, no change in character means that everything that was digested really went nowhere except for cementing that Bob Cratchit is a good person, which we understood anyway. That's the problem with Cindy Lou Who. I don't think the filmmakers really care about Cindy Lou Who. She is there to stall the film.
I don't think I like popular animation outside of Disney. The need to tie pop songs and remixes into the film make me roll my eyes pretty hard. There's a lot of classics, but the movie deems it necessary to show that contemporary is cool. This movie owes so much to the other animated version of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." But instead of just allowing it to be vulnerable with the crooning melodies of yesteryear, every classic in this has to have a contemporary cover. I'm talking about the absolutely bizarre version of "You're a Mean One". But it doesn't rest there. There are Christmas carols throughout the film and that's cool. But it feels the need to Pitch Perfect the lot of them. It's part of that frenetic feel that comes with children's movies that aren't Disney. Are filmmakers also responsible for selling soundtracks and ensuring that contributing artists are selling records? It feels like every kids movie now has to have some kind of poppy song attached to it. This matches the aesthetics and it kind of makes me want to drill a hole through my skull. The movie itself isn't all that horrible, but it is stuff like this makes me want to quit everyone but Disney. When it works, it's fine. "Happy" was a perfectly fine song. "Everything is Awesome" is satire, and actually kind of great. But most of the songs I hear don't really match the film. They are thrown in there to make Kidz Bop albums. I would have loved just a Frank Sinatra Christmas scoring this stuff. This all makes me sound very old, but it is true. As part of this obsession with salesmanship, I also have to question why the big names. Benedict Cumberbatch is great. I love him in practically everything. But why cast Benedict Cumberbatch as a voice if he's going to do his darndest not to sound like Benedict Cumberbatch. Everyone was shocked to read that he was the voice of the Grinch. I mean, he does a fine job. But the voice he's doing is a dime a dozen, so is it just to attract parents into the theater? The only voice who really sells it appropriately is Kenan Thompson. He's great. Sure, he's a bit of stereotype, but it works because it isn't overt. He's really the best part of the movie. He's actually funny, which always draws me back.
But again, this movie isn't for me. I have to repeat that again because I've lost the forest through the trees. Do you know the important thing? My kids kinda liked it. I got to see a Christmas movie that was appropriate for them with them in the theater. That's one the of the best Christmas gift of all. Do I wish that I enjoyed the movie more? Sure. But did my kids like it? Yeah, and that's what really matters in the long run.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.