Movie review: The Grinch, a humanist film

For our anniversary we decided on dinner and a movie. After carefully studying reviews of all current offerings, my wife chose The Grinch. (She’s a big Benedict Cumberbatch fan.)*

For readers from Mars, the story is set in Whoville, whose inhabitants are Christmas-crazy. Mr. Grinch hates Christmas, and sets out to ruin it by masquerading as Santa and, instead of leaving presents, steal them.

The film has two main themes.

One is redemption. Here is a character as nasty as can be. Though actually, in this version, we see signs of humanity throughout. (He treats his dog better; he’s even kind of likable.) And we also get here a backstory, lacking in previous versions, that explains his hostility to Christmas, in a convincing human way, that also helps make plausible his ultimate turnaround. (Though another, wished-for backstory might have accounted for Mr. Grinch’s relative affluence.)

The film’s other main thrust is humanist. Now, this is a Christmas movie; about nothing but Christmas. And what is conspicuously missing? Christ! The name was heard once in a carol being sung, but otherwise the film’s Christmas is wholly Christless, its conception of the holiday’s meaning entirely secular and humanistic. It is all about human fellowship, and the joy of living — here on Earth.

In fact, so determinedly non-supernatural is this film (despite, well, bending laws of physics) that it’s not only Christless but Santaless. While the Who children believe in Santa, the film winks at his nonexistence. There’s no suggestion the gifts the Grinch steals were actually left by Santa.

The production is dazzling. Since there were two quite serviceable previous versions, this one’s raison d’etre had to be outdoing them. And it did. The state of the art, in animated films like this, has progressed tremendously. Don’t dismiss this as insignificant lowbrow entertainment; that doesn’t respect the artistic achievement. I often wished I could linger over scenes to absorb all the clever detail and art, which went by at a breakneck pace.

This is a story-telling tour-de-force. Until, sadly, the lame ending. The one in the book, and 1966 film, had the Grinch joining in the town-wide sing and then, enthusiastically, in its great communal feast. Here, he just visits one home, and is moreover subdued. After all the dizzying, walloping, over-the-top action that precedes it, this modified ending is underwhelming. What were they thinking?

Nevertheless, go see this film and enjoy the visuals. I give it 3-1/2 stars (knocking off half a star for the weak ending).

* He voiced the Grinch; but early in the film I was sure there’d been some mistake because it didn’t sound like him at all. Seeing the credits surprised me. Quite a performance.

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One Response to “Movie review: The Grinch, a humanist film”

  1. djedi9 Says:

    re: (Though another, wished-for backstory might have accounted for Mr. Grinch’s relative affluence.)
    Hee, heee: Maybe he dealt in old coins?
    Merry Christmas!

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