Blast this Christmas music! It’s joyful…and triumphant!
Most know the story of the Grinch; the green recluse who hates Christmas and steals everything, only to have a change of heart at the end when the Whos celebrated Christmas all the same. At the turn of the millennium, Hollywood made a full-length movie out of it. To say the least, a lot of people didn’t like it. More accurately, they were pissed, and to this day, it’s popularly remembered as a disgrace to the original children’s book and cartoon. And yet, a lot of other people sit down to watch it every year and dedicate Twitter accounts to quoting Jim Carrey. Yep. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it movies. Well, looks like I’m gonna have to shift the public opinion barometer closer to the love side.
Here goes. Five reasons why the Grinch movie is totally, indisputably not a terrible film, and actually pretty freaking awesome:
(Obviously, spoilers, as well as an alert that this post is going to delve into discussing mental illness. Also, “totally, indisputably” is tongue-in-cheek.)
1. It’s a fractured fairy tale.
Don’t forget the Grinch. I know he’s mean and hairy and smelly. His hands might be cold and clammy, but I think he’s actually kinda… sweet.
SWEET? You think he’s sweet?
[nods] Merry Christmas, Santa.
Nice kid…baaad judge of character!
The major point of contention with the film seems to be that it’s not a faithful adaptation of the original Dr. Seuss story. The Whos are jerks, the Grinch has an unnecessary backstory, and so on. Well, yeah, from reading the original, Seuss didn’t seem to have all that in mind. However, remember all those revisionist fairy tales in which the villain is actually misunderstood and has their own reasons for being a jerk (one of the most popular ones being Shrek)? The whole concept of the Grinch becoming a misanthropic asshole because he was ostracized by the Whos is standard for that kind of adaptation. I honestly believe that a good deal of the hate comes from people not realizing it’s a fractured fairy tale, but expecting a straighter adaptation, and if it was properly advertised as the former, it would have been better received.
Of course, just because it’s a fractured fairy tale doesn’t automatically make it good, but that’s what the other reasons are for.
2. The Grinch is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of mental illness.
The nerve of those Whos. Inviting me down there – on such short notice! Even if I wanted to go my schedule wouldn’t allow it.
4:00, wallow in self pity
4:30, stare into the abyss
5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one
6:30, dinner with me – I can’t cancel that again
7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked!
Of course, if I bump the loathing to 9, I could still be done in time to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and slip slowly into madness. But what would I wear?
This is what goes through the mind of us socially anxious people whenever we get told to go out and meet people, come out of our shell and socialize. Also, the Grinch debating with himself whether to go to the Whobilation or not, coming close to stepping out the door before turning back and insisting he’s not going? We do that too, at least in our heads. Maybe out loud, but where no one can hear. And then getting humiliated with the reminder of the ostracism that made us socially anxious in the first place, causing us to retreat back to our secret lair and give up on ever fitting in (hopefully temporarily)? Well, we hope it doesn’t happen, but it’s expected.
Heck, most of the Grinch’s lair scenes show him clearly being depressed. Yeah, I know, he looks like a manic jerk. Believe it or not, that’s one way depression manifests itself. The word implies a sad sack, but that’s not how it always looks. Outwardly, he performs anger and sarcasm, but his words give him away:
- I tell you Max, I don’t know why I ever leave this place. I’ve got all the company I need right here.
- Am I just eating because I’m bored?
- And of course, his schedule.
He also gets frustrated and in denial when Cindy Lou ends up seeing through his performance. This is because society tends to frown upon people being open with their troubles and appearing weak as a result. So he tries to cover it up the best way he can: by playing the role of the villain and pretending he doesn’t care about his or anyone’s feelings. That’s why when his heart goes three sizes, he has a nervous breakdown. His emotions are almost literally exploding out of him. When you’re finally free of depression, uncontrolled crying fits, at least inwardly, are to be expected as you reflect back on your depression, likely regretting how much of a jerk you’ve been to people in the process.
His unusual birth, both in appearance and behaviour, also serves as an applicable metaphor for physical or mental abnormalities. Most of the conversation focuses on his appearance, but there’s still a clear subtext of being unable to fit in because he doesn’t act normal.
Also worth noting, anime fans will recognize the Grinch as that manic-depressive character archetype known as a tsundere. Best example is his “Oh Max, I love you,” followed by telling him to scram. Opening up to people takes time, after all.
3. Cindy Lou Who is an amazing heroine.
But the book does say the Cheermeister is the one who deserves a backslap or a toast. And it goes to the soul at Christmas who needs it most. And I believe that soul is the Grinch. And if you’re the Whos I hope you are, you will too!
The whole “Mayor Augustus Maywho gets owned by kid” scene is great. And if you don’t believe this is realistic for a girl her age, well, try listening to Severn Cullis-Suzuki at the Rio 1992 Environmental Summit, or reading Madison Kimrey’s essay to Phyllis Schlafly. For the namesake of “gets owned by kid,” albeit older, try Jesse Lange vs Bill O’Reilly.
Seriously, Cindy Lou Who is astonishingly underrated, especially considering she’s from a big name movie that grossed more than $300 million worldwide. People often think “Strong female character” means a girl or woman who excels in punching people, but as child activists show, that’s not the only form of strength. And just because someone looks “girly” doesn’t mean they’re weak.
Cindy is brave. In the face of condescension from the mayor, disbelief from the town’s populace, and the frightening legends, she presses on regardless, determined to learn the truth about the Grinch.
Cindy is smart. She actively goes out to research the Grinch’s history and to put the pieces together. She read the Book of Who enough that the Mayor can’t bullshit her in the debate to nominate the Grinch as Cheermeister. Heck, she’s the only one aside from the green man himself to question why everyone is making themselves miserable in their gift obsession in an ostensibly cheerful season.
Cindy is kind. She knows the Grinch isn’t exactly right in the head, but sees the good side of him he so desperately disguises, and tries to help him unconditionally. And while that sounds like the typical manic pixie dream girl, she’s not doing it out of any obsession with him. She’d do that for anyone in need, which includes herself. By helping the Grinch, she helps herself realize the joy of being there for someone in need and rediscovers the Christmas spirit.
And anyone who ever tried to make a difference, anyone who’s constantly underestimated by society, especially little girls, will recognize this:
Did anyone listen to me? No, you choose…to listen to a little, not to be taken seriously, GIRL!
This pretty much sums up the main argument from a lot of conservative adults. But in the end, because she stuck to her convictions, her timid father came to her defense, and so did the entire town. She’s been my inspiration ever since I saw this movie as a kid, and as an adult who’s been around the political scene for a while, even more so.
4. The movie doesn’t contradict the original message. It expands it.
I’m glad he took our presents. I, well, I, I’m glad.
He’s glad! You’re glad! You’re glad everything is, is gone. Heh hah heh. You’re glad, that the Grinch virtually wrecked, no no no, not wrecked, pulverized Christmas! Is that what I’m hearing from you, Lou?
You can’t hurt Christmas, Mr. Mayor, because it isn’t about the…the gifts or the contest, or the fancy lights. That’s what Cindy’s been trying to tell everyone…and me….
I don’t need anything more for Christmas than this right here: my family.
In the tradition of a good fractured fairy tale, this movie adds another dimension to the original story. I mean, the Grinch didn’t have a particularly developed motive before, and people are naturally going to ask (just like Cindy did!). Heck, psychologists have essentially detailed the plot of this movie as a possible explanation for why anyone would steal Christmas. (If that’s not vindication, well, I still have one more reason to go). Telling the audience to look beyond the materialistic trappings of the holiday season is a natural extension of “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags!” It may take creative liberties with the original story, but it still carries the same spirit.
5. It essentially has the same plot as Frozen.
Let’s see: emotionally repressed main characters have some aspect of themselves that they cannot control, and shut themselves out from the world as a result. Eventually, they are found out, and run away to a snowy mountain where they hide for an extended period of time, building impressive abodes in the process. The other main characters: brave, headstrong girls, come over to their lairs to get them to open up and overcome their social anxieties. Both the Grinch and Elsa have scenes where they go out in public just to feel rejected. And in the end, they find the inner strength to rescue Cindy and Anna respectively. Heck, all four of them even have their own theme tune, which are recurring for the latter two.
And yet one is regarded as a Disney classic (despite having little to do with The Snow Queen), while the other is scorned as a butchery of a Seuss classic. What the hell, people? Yes, I know Frozen is itself controversial, but it just goes to show how much the context in which a movie comes out can inherently change audience opinion.
I mean, sure, the movie isn’t perfect. There are some logical inconsistencies in the movie’s story, such as why the Grinch’s caretakers didn’t seem to care that he was gone for so long. But it does so many things right, and uncommonly for a Hollywood movie to boot, that it doesn’t deserve the negative reception it got. It’s like Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Once upon a time, people hated it because it took a lot of liberties with the source material, the gargoyles were jarring, Quasimodo didn’t get the girl, etc. But now, people appreciate just how awesome it is for taking on Christian fundamentalism, slut shaming, male entitlement, prejudice and racism, and so much more while reaffirming the ideals of Christianity itself (not to mention the beautiful animation). For us Grinch movie fans, there’s hope that people will eventually come around to it in a similar fashion.
Plus, it’s extremely quotable.