Posted by David Kalat on December 27, 2014
Sorry, Opie, but this is appalling.
The other night, a back-to-back broadcast of the original 20-minute Grinch cartoon was paired with the bloated monstrosity of the 2000 film starring Jim Carrey brought back waves of revulsion and anger to the surface, after almost 15 years of suppression. As I’ve written here before, I don’t like hating on movies. Life’s too short to let it get cluttered with unhappiness—it’s healthier to find that spark of something, no matter how flimsy, that you can enjoy about something and hang onto that. If something really doesn’t work for you, stop watching/listening/reading/whatever and move on.
But even I have my limits.
The original cartoon from almost 50 years ago was a collaboration between two visionary artists who understood and appreciated what each brought to the party, and who did their best to support and enhance each other’s contribution. The result was, unsurprisingly, greater than the sum of its parts, and has endured for generations.
So why remake it? Mere greed?
Setting aside, for argument’s sake, those qualities unique to the original that could not be replicated today (Chuck Jones’ animation, Boris Karloff’s sonorous narration)… hey, let’s be generous and set aside what makes Dr. Seuss such a beloved author (the extraordinary language with which he tells his tales) and assume we are dealing with filmmakers so tone-deaf as to be uninterested and ignorant of how a story is told, and just focus on the specific narrative facts of the story itself.
So… what then is the core of the Grinch story? What is there worth remaking once you’ve discarded Seuss’ language, Karloff’s performance, and Jones’ artwork?
The story itself is a common one for family-oriented holiday shows: a parable by which to show that a holiday is first and foremost about love and family, not materialistic stuff like presents. In this particular genre, you will find a character who “ruins” everything, only to be reassured by others that they haven’t ruined a thing.
Charlie Brown makes a Thanksgiving meal of popcorn and pretzels; Bart Simpson burns down the tree and presents; Linus makes his friends wait pointlessly in a pumpkin patch; Homer Simpson blows all the Christmas bonus money at the race track, etc etc. As my son Max has blogged here before, the Hallmark channel spends two whole months every year running films that adhere faithfully to this formula.
The Grinch differs only slightly, in that (like A Christmas Carol) it is told from the point of view of the baddie, actively and malevolently trying to ruin Christmas, instead of ruining it by accident. Secondly, the key moment when his cruelty comes to naught, when the Whos don’t wail and nash over the stolen presents but go on caroling as if nothing has changed,is crucially seen from the Grinch’s point of view. This is his revelation, remember.
So when he stands there on the mountaintop waiting for a reaction, and hears the Whos’ song instead, it has the rhythm of a joke. The punchline is that he’s done his worst but can’t hurt them. That realization, that Christmas means something more than gifts, is what causes his heart to grow seven sizes.
By adding 80 extra minutes to the story, Ron Howard and his team of know-nothings may not ruin Christmas but they sure ruin the Grinch. They spend enough time with the Whos and on the Grinch’s childhood backstory to destroy the POV of the narrative—but worst of all, they cynically show the Whos initially upset by the Grinch’s malice, and only turned around by Cindy Loo-who’s innocence.
In this ugly, noisy version, it is not aberrant to think of Christmas in material terms—only the rare few, like Cindy, see anything grander or more spiritual.
Logically, this Grinch cannot be persuaded by the realization that his cynical outlook is so far out of the mainstream as to be unrecognizable by the community.
I’m not sure what upsets me more—the thought that the makers of the Grinch cared so little for the point of the story as to get this wrong unthinkingly, or that they thought it through carefully and deliberately changed it to keep in tune with our selfish cynical modern times.
Either way I’ll live happier if I never see this awful monstrosity again.
Of course, there’s a new remake in the works for next year—3D and everything. I’m sorry.
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