Movies & TV Shows

Grinch Animated Movie Is Better Than Jim Carrey’s Cult Classic

Outside of the 1966 television special starring Boris Karloff, The Grinch has gotten the big-screen treatment, starring both Jim Carrey and Benedict Cumberbatch in the eponymous role — but the 2018 animated feature is arguably better than Carrey’s. Based on the beloved Dr. Seuss tale How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the iconic Christmas story has been adapted three times to the screen, each with their own success and failures. In 2000, director Ron Howard made the first live-action version of the story, with the title the same as the book, starring the likes of comedian Jim Carrey, actress Christine Baranski, Taylor Momsen, and Jeffrey Tambor.


For almost two decades the live-action version was the go-to Grinch movie. Then, in 2018, the Grinch’s story was retold in an animated fashion, with Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch taking the lead and acting alongside Rashida Jones, Cameron Seely, and Pharrell Williams. This shiny CGI version stayed closer to its source material, not bothering to go into the politics of Whoville and its various inhabitants. Although it seems counterintuitive, shedding this narrative depth may have worked in its favor. While the How the Grinch Stole Christmas movie isn’t necessarily bad, the cult classic still has its problems when compared to Cumberbatch’s animated romp. Here’s why The Grinch turned out to be a better Christmas movie than Ron Howard’s adaptation.

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Both Grinch Movies Put Their Own Spin On The Dr. Seuss Classic

How The Grinch Stole Christmas — the book — was written by Dr. Seuss and first published in 1957. The book’s underlying aim was to criticize the commercialization of Christmas, something that is even more prevalent in this day and age. It tells the story of the cave-dwelling Mr. Grinch, a mean, nasty, and cantankerous creature whose heart is two sizes too small. Fed up with hearing the Christmas festivities taking place in Whoville, he decides to steal Christmas, disguising himself as Santa, and his dog, Max, as a Reindeer. He then sneaks around Whoville in the dead of night and takes every decoration and present. Undeterred, the people of Whoville (which technically includes characters from Horton Hears a Who) still gather to sing a happy Christmas song, since Christmas is something that takes place in our hearts. Upon hearing this, the Grinch’s heart then fills with love, and he returns all the presents before being invited to the Whoville Christmas lunch.

Both the 2000 Howard version and the 2018 animated version follow the same premise, but both have padded the story out in order to make it into a feature-length film. Arguably, the animated movie tells a more simplistic story, with flashbacks to the Grinch’s time alone in an orphanage presenting a justification for the Grinch’s Christougenniatikophobia (fear/animosity towards Christmas) that even very young audience members can grasp. It’s easy to understand, and gives more time to focus on the story at hand, whereas Howard rather painstakingly tells of Grinch reluctantly saving the life of Cindy-Lou (played by a much younger Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen), who then becomes interested in his backstory, discovering he was adopted by two elderly sisters, and badly bullied at school by the Who who went on to become town mayor.

The Animated Grinch Is Better For Younger Viewers

How The Grinch Stole Christmas Universal Movie

The extended backstory in How The Grinch Stole Christmas is interesting, but the movie takes a while to get going, and the more complex nature of the Grinch’s past means that very young children (ages 4-7) begin to get restless and tune out. By contrast, 2018’s The Grinch gives enough time to the backstory to make it relevant, but it doesn’t dwell there. Instead, there’s more time spent on moments such as Grinch and Max trying to locate a reindeer, or Max diligently preparing his master’s breakfast each day. These moments are easy to watch, fun to see, and completely engaging for younger viewers, who laugh out loud at some of the sillier stuff. For adults that might mean the Christmas movie has a little less substance, but despite the nostalgia factor Dr. Seuss’s stories create for their own childhood, grownups aren’t the target audience.

The Live-Action Grinch Is Darker (But More Musical)

Grinch with a creepy smile in How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Another stark difference between the two is the color palette. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is darker, both visually and in its story, whereas The Grinch is bright and bubbly in its tone. In part, that’s down to animators being able to heighten and intensify the colors in production, but both movies send a clear message; one aims to have that bleaker, more adult edge to it, while the other is out to bring happiness to the masses. The central character, the eponymous Grinch, is adorable in The Grinch, while he’s jaded and rather unappealing in How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

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Jim Carrey’s Grinch outing contains easter eggs and more music, which is more prominently featured. That’s not to say The Grinch doesn’t have a fun and enjoyable soundtrack though, because it certainly does. It’s just more based in Christmas classics; there’s an especially fun rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” performed by the Whoville choir (and Pentatonix on the soundtrack). Both movies also draw on songs used in the original 1966 animated TV special. They also share featuring a narrator, but while Howard’s version features Anthony Hopkins in the role, The Grinch has Pharell Williams. Known to millions of kids as the man who sang “Happy,” recruiting him once again was a real coup for Illumination.

The Animated Grinch Understood The Brief

The Grinch 2018 poster

Both The Grinch and How The Grinch Stole Christmas use Dr. Seuss’ original text, but both add their own embellishments to differentiate themselves from what’s come before. Both movies have also been met with mixed reviews, but ultimately, Cumberbatch’s The Grinch has so much heart that it’s hard not to see it as superior. Undoubtedly, there will be those out there who prefer Carrey’s darker, meaner Grinch, but Cumberbatch does a fine job of voicing his own version — a Grinch who, although still mean, has a lovable nature about him right from the start. It’s this particular notion that makes the 2018 animated Grinch movie more affable for families, especially those with very young kids.

Dr. Seuss’ Grinch was the perfect storybook villain for youngsters; someone they could decry while still finding him cute and endearing. Much like what has been done with the Minions franchise, Illumination has managed to deliver a likable villain that kids will root for throughout the movie, even if they’re not quite sure why. Indeed, even adults find it hard to dislike Cumberbatch’s Grinch, as well as his adorable dog, Max. The movie provides its own glimpse into the Grinch’s bleak past, and it’s all audiences need to realize that the Grinch doesn’t mean to be this way — he just needs someone to reach out and show him some kindness. That comes both in the form of Bricklebaum (brilliantly voiced by Kenan Thompson), Whoville’s jolliest resident, and young Cindy-Lou, who shows the Grinch kindness even as he steals her Christmas.

One major plus that The Grinch has over How The Grinch Stole Christmas movie is the animation. Put simply, it’s stunning — from the Grinch’s fur to Cindy-Lou’s hair. Even the food looks appetizing and realistic in this Christmas/holiday movie, and the snow seems so pure audiences feel that they could reach out and touch it. This, along with a joyful voice cast, lifts a simplistic children’s tale to a whole new level. Illumination proved yet again that it’s an animation powerhouse to be reckoned with, one that continues to push forward with more and more daring projects, and with The Grinch Illumination showed they can be trusted with beloved franchises as well as their own IPs. However, this isn’t a huge surprise. The Seuss original stories, with their quirky illustrations, perfectly lend themselves to animation. Becoming live-action? Not so much. While 2000s How the Grinch Stole Christmas movie was certainly a product of its time and is likely fondly remembered by adults who watched the film as children, The Grinch is, frankly, better, and it will please a whole new generation of moviegoers who weren’t around to see Jim Carrey’s live-action grinch all those years ago.

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The biggest criticism of the Christmas movie The Grinch has been that, while sweet, it adds nothing new to the source material. Since this is a children’s book adaptation, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Dr. Seuss left an incredible legacy; stories that will be remembered, recited, and loved for generations to come. That Cheney and Mosier have managed to capture that magic and reproduce it in a charming movie that’s full of heart and holiday spirit is admirable. The Grinch is a movie whose heart is three times as big, and it’s the perfect movie to kick off the holiday season.

Next: Why Ghostbusters 4’s Christmas Release Date Makes Perfect Sense

Key Release Dates

  • The Grinch 2018 movie poster

    How The Grinch Stole Christmas

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