Does Dr. Seuss' The Grinch make the previous films green with envy?

Max-imum cute: The story isn’t new, but this Grinch still pulls the same heartstrings.

click to enlarge PUPPY LOVE: This Max shows us a softer side of Grinch, and we love it. - Illumination Entertainment
Illumination Entertainment
PUPPY LOVE: This Max shows us a softer side of Grinch, and we love it.

For some, Boris Karloff defined the Grinch. For others — although I don’t know any of them personally — Jim Carrey did. And, of course, for purists, the Dr. Seuss book is the only one that matters. What, then, is the point of yet another Grinch movie? A message of redemption? To show off the advances in computer-generated animation? To make us all love a cute dog?

Yup, it’s probably that last one. 

Let me say this: I did not want to like this most recent iteration of Dr. Seuss’ beloved The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Grinch. I went inside the theater thinking it wouldn’t be great. And I was right... sort of. The film takes some liberties. At times, it brushes right up against the edge of doing or saying things that would enrage some people (FFS, Illumination Entertainment, why does the square-headed dog owned by the black man have to be the only dog in the film who sleeps outside?). It updates the story, and I’m one of those purists who didn’t even love the first one as much as I loved the book, so that was already going to set my teeth on edge. 

Dr. Seuss' The Grinch

Three of five stars

Rated PG. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney. Opens Nov. 9.

But despite my misgivings, I found the movie charming me and, yes, at one point, making me cry.

Look, you’ve either been living under a rock for 30 years or you’re 6 years old if you’re not familiar with the story of the miserly green man-thing who hated Christmas but has a reckoning thanks to a child. That’s all the recap you’re going to get from me. The same story, though, can be told in hundreds, if not thousands, of ways, and despite what others may think, this version of the Grinch is a story of a soft-hearted boy who can’t love himself, but can love animals.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t expect that either when I walked into theater. But truth be told, none of the other characters in this film have enough substance for expanded discussion. Cindy Lou Who, the child who (metaphorically) leads the Grinch in earlier versions, is a sweet-natured but static character, as are her friends. Her mother is a trope: The Overworked Single Mom Trying To Have It All. And the townspeople are all descended from Bedford Falls. It’s enough to nauseate.

But then there’s Max.

Max has always been my favorite — I have a stuffed Max with a single Velcro antler, and I put him in the Christmas tree every year. He’s the Grinch’s dog, and, while in some earlier versions of the film, Max is a workhorse, a dog who only serves his master, in this iteration, it’s Max who makes this movie one adults may find worthwhile.

The filmmakers give Max some silly moments, like the Rube Goldberg way he has to operate a French press, but they use him to illustrate the Grinch’s soft side, too. He’s perennially happy, attentive and eager to please, happy simply near his BFF. So, in essence, a dog. 

But in this version, the filmmakers give us scraps of Max’s soul. He loves Grinch and, unlike other versions, Grinch loves him. We see Grinch not indifferent to Max, but bonded to him. Such is the power of dogs and companionship, and both Max and Grinch know this. This Max can see the true nature of the Grinch’s character, and their relationship will ring true with everyone who has ever loved a dog.

If this Grinch’s intolerance for children and indifference to adults is the standard expected Grinch patter, the relationship Grinch has with his dog — and with a portly reindeer named Fred — shows us what’s been missing from every other Grinch: his soul.

Certainly, for kids, there’s plenty to amuse. Lord knows the kids in the theater with me seemed to love the film, fart jokes and all (and yes, there’s a fart joke, which I feel like Boris Karloff never would have done). The Grinch, as my friend Jen commented, had everything a kid could want — aformentioned fart jokes, the dream of a kid saving the world and countless other little nuances that entertain. 

click to enlarge Does Dr. Seuss' The Grinch make the previous films green with envy?
Production still

As for the adults, well, we’ve determined the story isn’t exactly new, but at least it feels fresh. We learn a bit about Grinch’s childhood (spoiler alert: He had shitty parents) and see a young Grinch, who’s basically a small green body with a larger green head. And he’s adorable, even if we’re not supposed to think so. Young Grinch doesn’t do much but advance the plot, but he’s so damn cute and heartbroken I’ll be shocked if there’s not a line of plush toys in Target as we speak.

Speaking of the animation, it’s come a long way. The animators for this film remind us how far computer generated films have come since animators first proudly showed us — in the DVD “Special Features” — how they mass-animated the birds in The Lion King (kids, it looks like a bunch of masturbatory CG stuff now, but back in 1993 it was delicious). In The Grinch, the film opens with snow-skiing birds taking different paths down a hill, and throughout we get subtle reminders that this is not your slightly older uncle’s animated film with details like tufts of the Grinch’s hair moving in the wind, or the focus change in a scene. Is it a Pixar film? No, it is not, but the animation is still damn fine.

So, go. Don’t go expecting The Christmas Film That Will Change Your Life, but go. It is, as Dr. Seuss intended, a warm, fuzzy feel-good holiday film. Is it going to win any awards? Probably not.

But, in spite of yourself, it might win your heart. 

Especially Max. 

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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