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Peter T Chattaway

Dr Seuss' The Grinch (2018)

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Links to our threads on previous Dr. Seuss adaptations The Cat in the Hat (2003), Horton Hears a Who! (2008) and The Lorax (2012). We don't seem to have a thread on either of the previous adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

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'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' Remake in the Works at Universal
Universal and its Illumination Entertainment division are developing a 3D animated version of the Dr. Seuss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Peter Candeland is set to direct, with Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri producing. Audrey Geisel, widow of Dr. Seuss author Theodor Geisel, will executive produce.
Grinch, written in 1957, famously was adapted in 1966 into a half-hour TV animated special that continues to air during the holiday season. Universal made a live-action film version in 2000 starring Jim Carrey. Despite offending Seuss purists, it grossed $260 million domestically. That movie set in motion a relationship between Universal and the Geisel estate, which collaborated on a 2003 live-action The Cat in the Hat film starring Mike Myers ($101 million domestic).
Meledandri also has a history with Seuss adaptations. He executive produced Fox's 2008 animated version of Horton Hears a Who!, which led to him making 2012's The Lorax under his Illumination banner at Universal.
Candeland is an up-and-coming director of commercials and music videos with no major film credits. He is repped by Verve. . . .
Hollywood Reporter, February 7

Edited by Peter T Chattaway
Correct title error in thread name.

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I tried--perhaps not valiantly but certainly not listlessly--to accept The Grinch on its own terms. 

Reading the Seuss book on Christmas Eve was one of the few family traditions I remember growing up. In 1979 and 1980, when my father was not home for Christmas, it fell on me to do the reading, and the sense of normalcy the tradition gave helped me through an extremely difficult time. Plus, I happen to think the Grinch's transformation on the edge of Mount Crumpet is one of the great redemption moments in television history. Okay, maybe that's a tad exaggerated. I have an emotional investment in the source material is what I am saying. 

The most recent re-telling is not bad so much as superfluous. Snippets of the poetry and music exist at the margins, but it's like hearing a pop diva do a cover of an iconic Beatles song. It just doesn't sound right. 

To stretch the material to a respectable film length we get a lengthy middle section with half a backstory for Cindy Lou Who, a thirty-second backstory for the Grinch and a ten-minute interlude about capturing a reindeer to drive the Grinch's sled. The exact moment the film lost me for good was when I was contemplating how this film's Grinch was not menacing enough, not nasty enough, not sincere enough in his hatred of Christmas. He was more exasperated and put upon that genuinely destructive, and I thought, "it's almost like he's Daffy Duck or Yosemite Sam...." and, right as I thought that, he had a Wiley E. Coyote moment. Don't get me wrong, I have some affection for the Coyote. (He is the source of the Supergenius tag in my profile) but he's not the Grinch. 

As a result of the softening of the Grinch, his transformation carries no emotional weight, and the denouement is shockingly long and devoid of joy.

There are a few moments in which the film fleetingly gestures at an idea that might justify its existence:

  • In an early scene where the Grinch goes to town and is stalked by some aggressive Christmas carolers singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman," I was surprised when they included the verse "Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day." We even get a reaction shot of the Grinch with "To save us all from Satan's power..." Would this iteration touch at all on the Christian meaning of Christmas? Nope, that thread lies unpulled.
  • There is a mention that the Whos want to make Christmas "Three Times Bigger" this year. In part of a montage, there is a reference to the offensive nature of greed and gluttony. Do the Whos have to discover the true meaning of Christmas as well as the Grinch? Not really. They shurg off the loss of gifts with such ease that their return feels more like a concession of failure on the Grinch's part than an actual transformation. 

I will add, though, that the test audience I saw the film with appeared to love it. A mom approached the studio rep as I was handing in my comment card and said words to the effect of, "We all loved it, and we can't wait for the DVD." 

On the ride home, my friend and I discussed if there were any movies we loved that had remakes that we liked. I couldn't think of any. Perhaps there is a more distanced, nuanced appreciation of The Grinch to be made by someone who is not in love with the original. If so, I think I'm open to hearing it. I try to not begrudge anyone the things they like, even if I'm not feeling it. Still, I have vestiges of Rob, Barry, and Dick from High Fidelity floating around in my soul somewhere: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0146882/quotes/qt0377386

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I have some thoughts I will post in a couple of hours when I am no longer under embargo. :)

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kenmorefield wrote:
: . . . he had a Wiley E. Coyote moment. Don't get me wrong, I have some affection for the Coyote. (He is the source of the Supergenius tag in my profile) but he's not the Grinch.

Fascinating, in light of the fact that Chuck Jones created Wile E. Coyote and went on to direct the TV version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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So, I liked it better than you did, Ken. 

Caveat: I confess I don’t have quite the same attachment as you to the original story, although I certainly remember my parents reading it to me and I have certainly read it to my own kids. 

You’re right, of course, that this Grinch isn’t nearly as villainous as the Seuss character or the Chuck Jones version. That did occur to me as a potential problem while I was watching it. In the end, though, I decided I’m okay with it. I kind of like the little hints of conflict we see throughout as he struggles with his attraction to the thing he wants to hate. I’m reminded, too, of G.K. Chesterton’s revisionist take on Scrooge, whom Chesterton maintains was never such a scrooge as he purported to be. 

I especially appreciate the fact that when the Grinch comes riding back into Who-ville on Christmas morning, he doesn’t arrive expecting a hero’s welcome just for undoing the damage he did. He’s apologetic, expecting nothing. He goes back to his lair on Mount Crumpet. He doesn’t presume to join in the Who-celebration: He’s invited, against all expectations, out of the charity and goodness of the Whos, especially Cindy-Lou Who and her mom. 

In this election week, confronted with the unavoidable evidence that so many Americans are kind of okay with racism and misogyny and hostility to immigrants, it would be easy to feel that the welcoming, accommodating world of Who-ville — here depicted as a multiracial utopia in which everyone is accepted, even the creepy green outsider up on the mountain — lets us off the hook too easily. (MZS on Twitter the other day: “Hot take: everybody in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE would’ve voted for Trump, except for Mary and Clarence. Even George is a tossup.”)

But of course that raises the specter of the Ron Howard version, which subjected Who-ville to another gleeful Hollywood send-up of The Hell That Is American Suburbia, a world of enforced conformity, materialism, bullying, and even sexual decadence (the key-party game). 

But this Who-ville shows us not what we are but what we ought to be. What’s wrong with that? 

Edited by SDG

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My latest review … in Seussian rhyming anapestic tetrameter. :)

Quote

Replacing Karloff-ian malice and spite
Cumberbatch-ian grousing makes this one Grinch-lite.
It’s a kinder and gentler tale than we’ve seen —
Of course he’s not nice, but this Grinch is less mean.
(I knew that he wasn’t as mean as he said
When he caved to his pets and let them in his bed.
And one is a reindeer as big as a moose!
This pushover’s not the guy scripted by Seuss!)

But he does still hate Christmas! The whole thing is bosh!
Except … gingerbread might be worth a nosh
And scenes of togetherness of kith and kin. …
He sneers, but it’s clear he’s conflicted within.
And, you know, I’m okay with this sour-sweet sinner:
Clinging to mean … tempted by Christmas dinner.

[…]

…the group-hug finale sells it with feeling,
And Who-ville, though silly, is warmly appealing.
All are accepted, whatever the hue,
Or the shade or the size or the shape of the Who.
Even nasty outsiders, green-furred and alone
Find kindness and mercy to such as them shown.

The classic tale takes this too much as a given.
Seuss’s Grinch is converted — but is he forgiven?
When he brings the Whos’ things back down from Mount Crumpit,
Announcing himself with a literal trumpet,
Does he apologize — repent in the least?
Or merely presume of his place at the feast?

Grace is a gift, not a matter of course.
And that’s one way this movie improves on its source.

 

Edited by SDG

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On 11/7/2018 at 1:20 PM, SDG said:

So, I liked it better than you did, Ken. 

 

But this Who-ville shows us not what we are but what we ought to be. What’s wrong with that? 

Nothing in particularly wrong with that, I guess. As is not uncommon, I like the idea of your review more than I liked the film. In my training to do holistic scoring for placement exams I was always subjected to the mantra to "read supportively," by which the trainer invariably meant that one does not supply the arguments or the essay for the writer, but one pays more attention to what is done well or competently than always and only on errors. Excluding matters of taste or personal button-pushing, in general, I sometimes wonder if you are a more supportive viewer/reader than I am. I acknowledge, for example, that the Whos exercised some positive virtues rather than just being the victims. Can't really say that change or alteration, made me enjoy it or was enough to justify its existence, but I acknowledge its a positive message, which ain't nothing. 

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I do wonder if the new film's improvements on the source material would have stood out to me so much if they hadn't been even *better* improvements on the previous movie version. The Jim Carrey film played up the idea that the Whos were Bad People who deserved an "in your face" moment from the Grinch even at the moment of his so-called redemption. But the new film, thankfully, emphasizes that the Whos (and the Who with the biggest Christmas display, in particular) are enthusiastically *welcoming* of the Grinch even when he refuses to accept their enthusiasm.

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It’s certainly true that a bad film, or bad things in one film, can highlight or make one more appreciative of a good film, or of good things in another film. 

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