A remix with something more to offer.
It has been 61 years since Theodore Geisel published his “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the classic holiday tale of a large grumpy green man with a heart three times too small who decides to steal Christmas from a small town of festive and unsuspecting villagers. Since 1957, we’ve seen an animated special in 1966, a musical in 1998, and a live action movie in 2000. Because that was simply not enough times to hear the creeping melody of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Illusion Entertainment did it again, this time in the form of a trap remix sung by Tyler, The Creator, in the 2018 animated film The Grinch, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character.
It’s 2018, and the revival the Grinch franchise needed was a Tyler, The Creator remix?
The Grinch is enjoyable. The detail of the animation is stunning, the jokes are funny, Whoville is quaint and Christmassy, and the Whos look more like real people and less like whatever was going on in the Jim Carrey live action film. But sixty years after its initial publication, did we really need another Grinch movie?
I am going to say “yes.” The Grinch, despite its rhyming narration, inexplicable rapping, and the same storyline we’re so accustomed to, has something new to offer. To offer it, however, it had to reframe the image of the grouch we know so well.
The Grinch, while he wears the same green suit, lives in the same mountain cave, and bears the same grimace, seems less miserable for misery’s sake. If we look for it, we can see in the Grinch someone longing for community. He simply doesn’t know how to ask for it.
Rather than being driven out of town, the Grinch lives in his mountainside cave by choice. The Whos are not repulsed by him; they wish him a merry Christmas, sing carols to him, and even try to be his friend. If anything, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Grinch seems determined to convince himself of his own isolation. “It’s better this way”, he remarks midway through the film. Kindness requires effort, and misery seems easier.
But throughout the film, we are offered opportunities to question the Grinch’s real “meanness”. He berates his dog at times, it’s true, but he also clearly finds a friend in Max, and feels bad when he hurts his feelings. He captures a reindeer to use for his sleigh, but he also lets that same reindeer go when it becomes clear that Frank (the deer) has a family to return to. He hates Christmas joy and the music that goes with it, but when alone he indulges in playing a classical organ. If nothing else, the 2018 Grinch is a creature of contradiction. The narration of hatred and misery is paired with expressions of sadness; it’s not disgust in the Grinch’s eyes as he watches the Whos, it’s longing. He seems driven to steal Christmas, not because he’s been scorned by Whoville but because he is utterly unimportant to them; he wants to be seen.
The Grinch’s attempts to disrupt the tree lighting go unnoticed, so he goes bigger. The Whos persist in trying to welcome him, so he drives himself further and further from community. Why? Perhaps it is out of fear of exclusion, or because he fears that if he lets himself be seen, he will be rejected.
As in all Grinch stories, Mr. Grinch gets ultimately gets his happy ending. But before that, there’s a moment worth noticing: as the Whos sing their legendary Christmas-time song, he stands on his ledge, and, haunted by the words of little Cindy-Lou Who from the night before, closes his eyes, and “he heard with his heart, and it tripled in size.” The love and community the Grinch needed to find could not be seen or even stolen. It came in vulnerability; it came when he closed his eyes, waited, and just listened. It is in this listening that the Grinch is changed and it is through this listening that he is able to return all that he had stolen.
“We’re inviting you anyway,” the Whos tell the Grinch as he joins their Christmas dinner, “because you’ve been alone long enough.” Despite his hesitation, despite his fear that “everyone will hate [him]”, the Grinch accepts, and is welcomed into relationship with those he had hurt.
The Grinch, though it is in many ways just another adaptation of the same children’s book, has its place in the theaters. With less of a focus on Christmas consumerism, and more on the need for community, which provides a remedy to misery created by isolation, the film shows how love can fill even the smallest of hearts.
Maggie Garnett is a first year studying theology and Constitutional Studies. She can be found riding a Lime scooter around downtown South Bend, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.