Let me start by proclaiming that I am a huge fan of How the Grinch Stole Christmas — not only the classic 1957 Dr. Seuss book (and the delightful 1966 CBS TV movie cartoon narrated by Boris Karloff), but the character itself. Growing up, my family went the extra mile during the holidays. Every year, my mom found a different colored Christmas tree (always faux, of course), adorned our home with every funny little decoration Pier One offered, and ensured each nook and cranny was fully stocked with a delicious festive treat at all times. The decor changed by the year, but one thing that did not was our ritual of watching the cartoon movie. I was lucky to grow up in the sort of family that's tickled by almost everything — the kind of people who have lived enough to realize everything that makes you feel happy is worth investing time in. My grandmother and mother loved the Grinch for his mischievous little smile and the several extra inches of green fur that stuck off of his fingers. The character might have been a big fat grump, but I think they appreciated the idea that, with love, even the grumpiest of hearts could learn to live life to the fullest.
My family's dedication to the story didn't end there. My Central California house was part of a holiday showcase that took place every year. Every home on our street had a theme, and every holiday tale in pop culture was represented, from The Nutcracker to (you guessed it) How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Care to guess which house set up an elaborate 15-foot-set on the front lawn every December, complete with an amateur actor who'd recite the same 10 iconic Grinch lines and harangue the neighborhood kids until midnight? Yup, that was us.
Now that you have a thorough understanding of my history with the Grinch, you probably understand why I was wary of Illumination's modern take. After all, no hate to Jim Carrey, but Imagine Entertainment's live-action iteration was an abomination. After its 2000 release, I was suspicious of Hollywood's inclination to take a wholesome family tale that emphasizes what the holiday should really be about and turn it into something raunchy, lame, and altogether fruitless. Thankfully, now that I've seen this new film — which features Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch — I can give it the Grinch fan stamp of approval. In my opinion, the studio pulled off an adorable movie that honored the original story while offering up a respectful, modern take at the right time.
Not only did The Grinch pay homage to Dr. Seuss by incorporating many of the iconic lines fans love, but its one hour and 26 minute run time allowed for many of the story's characters to develop in new, exciting ways that still felt true to their origin stories.
One example of this is Max, the Grinch's loyal doggy sidekick. As fans know, the Grinch is a creature of habit, and Illumination's Grinch was no exception. Every morning, he relies on Max to start up his elaborate Seussian espresso machine, craft a delicious drink, and shuttle it up to the Grinch's section of the mountain so he can enjoy it before he starts his day. Max is responsible for setting up the Grinch's meals, entertaining him throughout the day, and cleaning up his messes. He's the true definition of a sidekick — all grunt, no glory.
In the original story, fans always felt the love the Grinch had for Max, but it wasn't really proven until the end of the story, when the green guy's heart grew and he started to treat him the way he deserved. In Illumination's take, the love between the two is emphasized. Max has a snapshot of the Grinch and himself hung up next to his doggie bed; the Grinch lets Max sleep up on his mattress when Max breaks out the infamous puppy dog eyes. I loved the studio's focus on their relationship, and for me, it was the highlight of the film. In 2018, the Grinch and Max are best described as partners in crime rather than boss and sidekick. This was a treatment Max deserved after decades of service.
Another fantastic character rejuvenation was offered in Cindy Lou Who. The character, voiced by Cameron Seely, is just as sweet and wise as she was in the original story. But Illumination's Cindy is also selfless, ambitious, and precocious. She spends the majority of the movie delegating tasks to her friends so she can pull off an elaborate mission to "trap" Santa Claus and ask him to make her single mom's life easier. She's a natural leader who is good to her friends and prioritizes her mom's wellbeing over presents. She really is the Cindy Lou-Who of today, and to be honest, I'd rather my own future daughter had Illumination's Cindy to look up to than her '60s counterpart.
However, the most touching part of the movie is Illumination's effort to give the Grinch's story a more satisfying conclusion than it's ever had before. Now, I'm not saying Dr. Seuss's original story didn't have its own solid conclusion, because that would just be blasphemy, but there's no denying that a feature film offers more opportunity to tie up bows and cover every base. Don't worry, I won't ruin it for you. Let's just say, the Grinch's future has never looked brighter.
I'll probably never stop watching the original Grinch cartoon, and in my heart, it will always be the best Christmas tale of all time, but Illumination has managed to do something that's very rarely done: revitalize a classic, beloved story in all the right ways. Not to mention the fact that, in the end, it still communicates Dr. Seuss's message of family and love.
As the Grinch would say, "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."