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Art of the Adaptation: The Grinch



Yes, it’s frustrating to have those bajillion reboots and re-imaginings out there. I’m pretty sick of them too in principle. Still, there’s a silver lining to every cloud, and one of the benefits of multiple adaptations (as far as I see it) is to watch writers put familiar characters under new lights. Sometimes if an adaptation is really good, it respects the original material and expands upon the character’s innate message. It might even highlight whole new aspects to their personality. Plus, it’s kinda fun to theorize how a story could’ve gone differently. Even if a reboot is just for ‘cash-grabs’, that doesn’t mean they can’t possess some class or (at minimum) something to offer. Adaptation is a newer storytelling art after all and one worth studying.

When it comes to plethoras of reboots, Christmas classics are probably most notorious. We’ve been redoing holiday characters long before Disney started their incessant reboot kick. Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol alone had been adapted to film at least two hundred times! Now, I would like to dive into Ebenezer Scrooge someday. However, since he’s already one of the most analyzed characters in fiction, I settled to start this new blog category with the second most notorious Christmas-hater: the Grinch. I’m specifically referring to three renditions: the Boris Karloff cartoon, the Jim Carrey live-action film, and the Benedict Cumberbatch animated flick. Now, this isn’t about arbitrarily determining a superior Grinch. Everyone has their favorite. My Art of the Adaptation blogs are about celebrating what they each uniquely bring to the table. A popular character tends to carry the same message, but how their message is presented affects which pieces of the message receives greater focus.



1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff)


The much beloved Boris Karloff cartoon is simplistic storytelling at its finest. I partly credit nostalgia for its wide appeal, but it’s mostly because it decided not to re-invent Dr. Seuss’s wheel. Dr. Seuss aimed to challenge children with a singular lesson in his book. ‘Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Christmas means more.’ Nowadays, we’re told deep messages need complex storytelling. That’s not always the case. An uncomplicated character like the Grinch kept the message clear. Kids didn’t need to know why the Grinch hated Christmas. They just needed to know he hated it. His distaste alone stuck deep in reader’s minds. It also adequately drove the Grinch’s actions and made his change of heart extra memorable. Because sometimes openness says more in subtext than outright statements ever could. When the Whos sing, we wonder if we’d do the same. When the Grinch learns Christmas means ‘more’, we ponder what ‘more’ means. Simplicity gives people room to think for themselves, and anytime a person must do their own thinking the experience becomes doubly meaningful. The book is quite timeless because of it, and the cartoon (for not straying from this principle) is every bit as timeless as well.



2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jim Carrey)


Some hate it. Some love it. I love it. Jim Carry’s Grinch is just too wildly entertaining for me to dislike, and I applaud the artists behind the Grinch suit. It’s one of the most impressive outfits to this day. It’s incredibly detailed yet didn’t restrict Carrey’s expressions in the slightest. As for the story itself, it introduced extra content. It made the Grinch the least hygienic being alive for one thing. Then it added a backstory to his Holiday grudge. What’s particularly unique, though, is this movie presents two wrongful attitudes toward Christmas. It’s interesting to see the Grinch no longer as the sole guilty party. True, his grouchiness is an obvious issue. However, this version shows how Christmas fanaticism is equally bad through its Whos. Most Who characters aren’t purposely treating Christmas the wrong way, but there’s a problem when one’s celebration efforts overshadow the reason for celebrating. That’s what this film is all about; how two opposing opinions of Christmas can send one side to angry resentment and the other to insensitive exclusion. It’s inexcusable behavior, yet it’s understandable. So by the end, the character growth from both Grinch and Whos meets a healthier balance. After all, what’s Christmas without the kind of compassion and forgiveness Christ gave to us?



3. The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch)

I’ve heard countless criticisms regarding this film. ‘The Grinch is too nice.’ ‘It’s too modernized’. Well, this may be an unpopular opinion, but this is actually my favorite Grinch. There’s so much to glean from him, he’s deserving of his own blog. To summarize my reasons though, this Grinch showcases a deeply nuanced, human understanding of social anxiety—something many struggle with at Christmas time. In this version’s backstory no one mistreats Grinch during his childhood, but no one reaches out to him either. Some viewers called that a weak reason to hate Christmas. However, many don’t understand how realistic this truly is. I’ve watched introverts get deeply hurt this way. You see, God didn’t design anyone for isolation - especially introverts. They just value the sincerity in a relationship so much that reaching out terrifies them. Then when no one bothers to connect with them, they feel they’re not even worth a thought to anyone. It’s not that anybody meant to hurt anyone. Still, after one too many disappointments, an introvert can shut down into depressed bitterness. They might even convince themselves they’re better off alone. It’s a daily tragedy—one without a distinct culprit. However, it’s not without remedy, which is something this film also understands well. It’s extremely touching ending captures a very Biblical principle that cures the Grinch’s hurt. It’s a thing of beauty, and it’s something I’d like to discuss in greater detail in it’s own article soon.


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