The Grinch is not very Grinch-y in the newest version of The Grinch, which came out Friday. That’s the main takeaway, probably. The film establishes a backstory for him (he grew up in an orphanage and without anyone to love him during Christmas, so that’s why he hates the holiday season) and lets him have a few mean moments early on in the story (nearly all of which appear in the trailer), and everything else is pretty much true to the book version and the original cartoon version and the Jim Carrey version. But it’s the softness that’s most interesting, and what makes the movie enjoyable to watch.
(The Grinch is very sweet to his dog, Max, and to a reindeer named Fred he ends up becoming friends with, and the movie ends with him attending a Christmas dinner and apologizing to everyone there.)
I took my three sons with me to the theater to watch The Grinch. We go to the movies a lot together. It’s one of my favorite things to do with them. The older ones—11-year-old twins—and I have been doing it for several years now. Most times, it’s great. Occasionally it’s not, but only once has that reason been because the movie we went to go see was so bad that it was unenjoyable. That was when we went and saw that Fantastic Four movie in 2015, easily the single worst movie we have watched together. Typically, a movie trip gets dropped into the Not Great side of the ledger because the movie I picked for us was too gnarly for them, like when we went and watched Logan, which I realized was a mistake in the first few minutes of it when a woman flashed her breasts, or John Wick: Chapter 2, which I realized was a mistake after he shot his sixth or seventh person in the forehead. But, again: Most times it’s great.
My youngest son, who’s 6 years old, has only recently started going to the movies with us. That’s probably why I was excited to go see The Grinch. The twins, I knew in my head, were too old to be all the way interested in it (but not so old that they would turn down an invitation to go). The younger one, though—I knew he was going to be all about it. And so we all went. And, as anticipated, the twins sat there the entire time without making a sound while the younger one had himself a real fucking ball. He was laughing big and eating candy (Sour Patch Kids, but with a great deal of care so as to avoid accidentally picking up a yellow one) and talking far too loud to me (“DADDY CAN YOU BUY ME A REINDEER?). It was fun, and he was fun, and things were fun, as I’d expected.
What I’d not expected, however, was that the twins, both of whom seemed to be entirely unmoved by the movie, were paying close enough attention to it to talk about it later with real insight. Which is exactly what ended up happening. Because here’s what I didn’t know: What I didn’t know was that they had both already watched a version of The Grinch before this (the Jim Carrey version). And so they went into the new one with a point of reference and with an actual interest in seeing whether the new one was going to be different than the one they already knew.
And so when I tried to talk about the movie afterward with them (a conversation that takes place after we go to the movies, and one that almost always ends in 15 or 20 seconds), they were ready to talk.
They each agreed that the movie was better than the Jim Carrey version (I also agree with this, mostly because a Who is cute as a cartoon thing but horrifying as a real-life thing), and that the movie was good, but not one they had any real interest in ever watching again (I also agree with this, though I would be willing to watch it with their younger brother if he specifically asked me to). Each of their most interesting viewpoints or ideas about The Grinch came when I asked them about it separately later. (I don’t want to type out what their actual names are, but I need a way to identify them here so that things don’t get too confusing. So, for the remainder of this article, I’m going to refer to one of them as Mr. Roboto and the other as Count Megatron.)
When I asked Mr. Roboto what he thought of the movie, he said that it was good. When I asked how he determines whether a movie is good or bad, he said, “It has a lot to do with the main character. If the main character is interesting, then the movie is usually good. With the Grinch, I thought it was good that they showed us why he was mad and didn’t want anyone to have Christmas. You know how in books there’s a part in the beginning where they say what the premise is? If that part sounds interesting, then the rest of the book is usually interesting. That’s what happened with the Grinch when they showed him as a kid. And then later on when he became good, that was a good way to close everything. So that’s what I liked about it.” (I love this explanation. He’s going to be a very good writer someday, when I pressure him into pursuing it in college.)
When I asked him whether there were any parts of the movie that he either really liked or didn’t care for, he explained that he didn’t like how close it was to the other Grinch movie that he’d seen. “They should have changed the story a little. It was all basically the same. Even the little girl had the same name and the same pigtails. They even did the same heart thing, but at least the cartoon version wasn’t as gross as that. It’s like when we saw Spider-Man and it was a new Spider-Man but the same Spider-Man. They should’ve tried something like that. More things should have been different.”
Count Megatron had a similar take: “The graphics were good. And the Grinch himself was good. Like, it’d have been bad if the reason he wanted to steal Christmas was just because he wanted all the candy or presents. But he wanted to steal Christmas because he wanted to make everyone felt how he felt.” (I’m also going to pressure him into becoming a writer too.) When I asked him whether he thought that was a good enough reason to try and steal Christmas, he said, “I’m not saying that I agree with him, but I know why he did what he did,” which was an answer that I thought to be especially tender and nuanced for a sixth grader.
When I asked him, same as I’d asked Mr. Roboto, whether there were any parts of the movie that he either really liked or didn’t care for, he went the opposite direction of Mr. Roboto. “There weren’t any parts that I really liked. It was all the same. I wouldn’t have changed anything, though.” When I asked him whether there was a movie we’d seen together where he felt really connected to a moment or to a character or to the outcome of an event, he said, “Yes. Skyscraper. When the guy was hanging upside down out of the building and his leg was about to come off.” (In Skyscraper, the Rock plays a security specialist with a prosthetic leg. There’s a part in it where he’s dangling outside of the building and his prosthetic leg is slowly coming undone and he has to figure out what to do before it comes off and he falls several thousand feet to his death.)
And look, I could keep on writing out the answers Mr. Roboto and Count Megatron were giving me to the questions I was asking them, but the point is: They were well-thought-out answers, and I’m happy and proud that they’ve gotten to the age where they’re able to think and speak critically about things like this.
I wanted to ask their younger brother all the same questions I asked them, but by the time I’d finished talking to each of them he was already in his bed asleep. I called my wife the next day from a hotel room in a different state and asked her whether he was nearby so I could talk to him. She reminded me that he is terrible on the phone, and so I FaceTimed him instead so that he could see me, which (for some reason) helps smaller kids understand the point of a phone. When his face popped up on my screen, I smiled at him and said hello and that I wanted to talk to him about The Grinch. He didn’t say anything back, though, and I could tell by his face he was in a bad mood. I tried again. “Hey, son,” I said, “I wanted to talk to you for a second about The Grinch. Remember that movie?” (I considered making a joke about him being a grinch, but he figured out how to hang up the phone last year and so ever since then I’ve had to tread lightly when I FaceTime with him.) I tried one last time and still nothing. I said, “That’s OK, son. We can talk about it later.”
To which he replied, “I don’t wanna talk about it later.”
To which I replied, “Well then what do you want to do?”
To which he replied by taking a breath, considering his options, then saying, “I’m gonna go cuss at my brothers ’cuz they’re making me mad.”
And then he gave the phone to his mom and walked away.
He’ll be 11 in a few years, at least.