The Grinch (from, duh)

Apologies for my lengthy pause, finals and holidays and what not caught up with me, so I kinda spaced out, forgot about this place (as does the world).

Of course, since it is the holidays, we need to examine that character iconic to Christmas.  A literary work that decades after its publication still shapes the Christmas holiday today. Of an old man whose heart is touched by a child and the spirit of Chritsmas that changes him forever.  I am of course referring to, the Grinch.

Like many Seuss stories “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (or, the Grinch, as I’m not paid by word count) is a satire and call to action on the part of his younger readers.  Seuss was often writing about environmentalism, family values, responsibility, even philosophy.  And yet because he bundled it all in silly rhymes and cute little characters, most parents give him a slide without actually considering the value (or in some cases, outright hatred) of his books. The Grinch is no exception and tapped into all the worst parts of the Christmas holidays, the commercialization, the profiteers, and the general Scrooges of the world (dibs on next year’s review).  

Of all the various Seuss characters, the Grinch is perhaps the most sinister looking, or at least in the top three.  His sneaky grin, even in his kind form, is a very unique Seussian creation.

And of course, there’s the song.  The Grinch’s theme song from the 1966 special is probably one of the most iconic theme songs of all time.  Granted, this is probably because theme songs have fallen out of favor in the past ten years, so nothing new has surfaced to take its place.

In this original incarnation (the ‘66 special is pretty much identical to the book, with a few things altered to make it more seamless and palatable to TV) we see a very basic Grinch.  It is a classic story of redemption.

Or is it?

Consider for a moment what happened in the Grinch remake.  Yes I’m going to touch on that.

The Grinch and a Christmas Carol follow the same basic formula: A old curmudgeon is redeemed by the spirit of Christmas, seen either through the spirits and himself, or in the example of Whoville.

In Dickens we’re given not just a Christmas story but a story of human compassion.  The Grinch is similar.  It isn’t REALLY about Christmas, it’s about loving your fellow man (or Who).  Christmas is just the setting in which this transformation can take place.  In this regard, both stories are hardly Christmas stories.  You could make it the Ghost of Valentine’s Past, a few alterations and Dickens would read just the same.  In fact in the book, there are references to things not really related to Christmas, like Sabbatarianism (something which actually came back in the Jim Carey version, ironically enough considering our topic today). It’s really about the fact Scrooge isn’t treating people like people, but like machines.

So, too, is the Grinch like this.  Although the scope of the story is much smaller, the protagonist/villain much more proactive (presumably to get the plot moving =P) and the “good people” with as much depth as a People magazine.  The Grinch (or at least we don’t assume) doesn’t go back to slapping small children as a way to spend time on Dec. 26th, no no.  He’s a better person because of his Christmas revelation.

But this is different in the remake movie.  First, it’s three times longer than the ‘66 special, which was ALREADY padded the hell out.  It was cute and entertaining padding, but the Grinch’s theme, the sleigh ride, all padding.

Now when the backstory had to be decided (not fleshed out, CREATED it’s important to remember), they decided to make the Grinch the victim.

And, personally, I think this is what people hate about it.

We like stories of “redemption” in Scrooge and The Grinch.  But what people don’t realize is that it’s a story of conformity (well, mostly, in Dickens’ own time most people thought like Scrooge, Dickens was in the minority.  But his book shifted public opinion in an incredible way that we barely begin to fathom).

Social Commentary in a Christmas review? Egads!

We like conformity, as a society. We don’t like people who think or act differently, or look for that matter, we aren’t beyond that yet.  I think, more than anything, this has been the most prevalent complaint about Grinch2000 I’ve seen.  “Well they messed up the Grinch”.

First, as Humans, we have a need to conform.  We are social animals, conforming is a way to ensure larger social groups, and thus better viability for our community over other communities, because in Africa those 4 million years ago many species of Homo- walked and competed, and most were wiped out by the other branches, with us finally emerging as the last man standing.

So yes, it is natural for us to want to coexist.  It is also natural for us to want to be the top of the social circle, and put down those on the margins to keep their genes from producing. If someone is unpopular the chances of them reproducing is slimmer, and thus better for the alpha’s offspring (of course, some of us *cough* are genetically inclined to have the anti-opinion in this regard.  Aspie’s: Nature’s Counterinsurgency!).

Now what would drive someone away? Being shunned.  There were two ways to go about this.  Pose the Grinch as an ordinary guy who was ostracized (the path they took), or show the Grinch as being VASTLY superior to the Whos and leaving of his own choice (which is kind of what the ‘66 was showing us).  But if he’s so much more interesting and developed why would he reconcile at the end of the story?  It would turn the Grinch from a conformity story into a greek tragedy.  I don’t think that’s what we want from our Christmas stories either.

Little less of this....

So we are left with the Grinch2000.  I admit I don’t particularly like this movie, but mostly because, it’s average.  I expect more of a Seuss franchise.  I seriously think they could have used an extra writer, and perhaps reeled in Jim Carey a TEENIE bit.  Don’t misunderstand, I think Carey is perfect for the Seuss characters they’ve been having him play, very few people can pull it off right.  I think though, that we saw TOO much Ace Ventura and not enough Grinch.  And wouldn’t that be just perfect? Have Carey play his dark, dramatic Cable Guy/Sunshine

...little more of this.

persona surrounded by all the goofy Seuss-tech?  I can see where with maybe ONE more revision this movie could have been golden.

The jokes worked (mostly) but one of the great powers of the movie was how uncomfortable the Grinch’s childhood was.  It was hard, for me, to watch because of all the memories it brought back regarding my transgender confusion problems at that age, especially the shame felt at shaving, that part I had to look away.  Like the Grinch, I withdrew, just checked out of society altogether to get rid of those feelings.  But as soon as I became social again, they came back (this time, I’m confronting them….obviously =P)

But I recognize that the Grinch’s problems mirror the issues facing any child who gets bullied.  And I think for a good deal of people on the other side, the jocks, the Augustus May Who’s of the world, it was also probably difficult to watch.  I can’t say it was particularly DARK, but the relentless piling on in the Grinch’s backstory about the social life he had was definitely BRUTAL.  People don’t want to be shown the harsh, bitter realities of the world in a Christmas movie.  From a marketing perspective this was probably a bad move.  But I think it’s brilliant.

“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere”, as said MLK.  And Cindy Lou brings this theme out of the Grinch film.  If we, as a society, are celebrating the time of merriment and majesty and peace on earth, and all those wonderful feelings, how do we rationalize leaving out the people who need it most?  The Grinch in Grinch2000 is exactly that.  When he is being celebrated by the citizens of Whoville, he warms up.  He WANTS to be popular, he WANTS to fit in.  It isn’t until Augustus starts in on the jokes and insults that he goes crazy and decides to seek his retribution.

And maybe that’s a part of what people don’t like about the Grinch.  He’s the good guy.  In the 2000 version he is THE sympathetic character.  He isn’t the dastardly supervillain we see in the ‘66 special.  In the cartoon, we see the Grinch as simply wanting to destroy Christmas to keep him cave quiet on the 25th December.  In the movie, it is much more personal, much more human.  The Grinch as its whole could be said that it’s like an allegory for Western Powers, how we must respect the traditions of others and even enjoy them ourselves.  The Grinch sees Christmas AS a commercial holiday.  He doesn’t think that there could be some underlying theme until the very end, and when he sees the heart of the holiday, he comes around, and embraces it.

In Grinch2000 it is much more gray.  And it really is the tripping point.  The Grinch learns the same moral, but he didn’t take the frivolous toys and food because he thought it was meaningless garbage, he took it to HURT the Whos.  When he sees he hasn’t hurt them, eh, what the hell?  He suddenly feels compassion?

I think the events of the ending sequence needed to be shuffled a bit more.  As it stands there are five events of the Grinch’s change of heart, as I see them…

-Ready to dump the gifts
-”It came without ribbons! etc etc”
-Heart grows three sizes
-Save the gifts, fails
-Cindy Lou appears, save the gifts, success!

Now, I would have swapped this around a bit, maybe reworked the script and, I know, go AGAINST the source material.  But if your villain’s motivation is different, his resolution MUST be different.  It’s like the reverse of The Last Airbender, when Shyamalan said “I felt that Aang couldn’t learn the lesson of fighting, I wanted him to learn something more profound”.  Except, that WAS the point of the first book, Aang had run away and caused all this pain, so he learns to face life head on. This is the reverse of that.

As it stands, Cindy Lou appears to him as he is trying to save the presents, and he asks her why she’s here and not with her family after all the horrible things he did, and she tells the Grinch “No one should be alone on Christmas”, which gives him the strength to save the sleigh.

Within this sequence we HAVE the events for a touching ending.  I would have had Cindy Lou appear to him AS he was ready to dump the presents, and had her scene.  I think it would have redeemed the Grinch to see this small girl showing him sympathy even after all the terrible things he did.  THAT should have been his revelation, not the scripted version as is in the ‘66 cartoon, because as I said, you’ve changed the essence of the Grinch, he won’t be swayed by the same thing as the old Grinch.  And personally, in the Grinch’s position? I’d know that Christmas is about loving, but only THEM.  Those OTHER people, the ones who get to be happy.  I don’t give a flying fuck if they love each other, they’re all united in their hatred of ME.  So, also from a realism perspective, the ending flops.

Evil. Just like that.

Still, even this flub aside, as a CHARACTER I like the Grinch2000 better.  But as a symbol of the season, I still have a soft spot for the classic Seuss Grinch.  He’s so wicked, so sneaky, so evil, it’s downright delicious >^.^<


One Response to “The Grinch (from, duh)”

  1. While the book and cartoon are very good, they’re too simplistic. They lack any detail whatsoever. The movie gives us the entire story. The movie is very powerful and deep. Also I believe the Grinch was the victim from the very beginning. It was just hidden under all his meanness. In “The Grinch Grinches The Cat In The Hat” it was revealed the Grinch had a dead mother whose loss he mourned at the end. No matter how mean he was in the old days the Grinch was always a victim.

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