the grinch trailer

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: it’s much easier to relate to the grumpy, Christmas-hating Grinch than those basic Whos.)

Illumination’s new animated adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – shortened to The Grinch – introduces a younger generation to Dr. Seuss’ iconic green curmudgeon and his journey toward understanding the true meaning of Christmas. But many of us grew up in a world that never knew a holiday season without the Grinch, be it the classic children’s book or the 1966 animated TV special, or Ron Howard’s garish live-action reimagining. The Grinch has always been there – for some of us more than others. While most viewers undoubtedly identify with the Whos of Whoville and their unrelenting holiday cheer, I find the big green fuzzy meanie far more relatable a character, and it’s not just because I don’t particularly care for Christmas.

The new adaptation of The Grinch is surprisingly effective, especially for a story that’s been told and retold time and again, but the thing that stood out to me the most in this version was how strongly I related to the eponymous anti-hero. Unlike Howard’s baffling iteration of the story, the Whos in this version aren’t holding some long-standing grudge against the Grinch for being grinchy; they’re actually quite fond of him – and seemingly immune (or oblivious) to his resentment of their ceaseless holiday spirit. The Grinch’s distaste for Christmas isn’t without merit: A new backstory reveals that the Grinch was orphaned as a child, and after years of watching families celebrate the jolly holiday together, he came to associate Christmas with loneliness and heartache. Being alone never really felt like a choice.

From the earliest scenes in The Grinch, I felt a strong personal connection to this version of the character – surprising for several reasons, including the fact that I wasn’t particularly thrilled about another adaptation of this story. We need another Grinch like we need another Spider-Man at this point. The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t spark much enthusiasm, either; I’ve never really gotten the Cumber-love, and yes, I watched a few episodes of Sherlock. And yet, there’s something earnest and genuine at the heart of this Grinch from the moment he appears on screen – his heart may be three sizes too small, but it’s readily apparent that he does have one. (He’s also much nicer to his dog, Max, this time around, which definitely helps.)

Early on, the Grinch comes to the agitating realization that he’ll have to make a trip down to Whoville because he’s out of food. The anxiety of impending Christmas cheer has driven him to eating his feelings, and what follows is a quick, hilarious montage of the Grinch stuffing his face with pasta and cake. That’s the moment I knew that this Grinch was for me, but as the story went on, it became about so much more than watching him eat an entire sheet cake (although that is my deathrow dream meal) or living in rapturous solitude in an isolated cave with his pet BFF (he doesn’t even seem to have the internet, which is just ideal).

the grinch trailer

The Whos are, in fact, incredibly annoying. Those button-nosed, dimple-faced, Christmas-loving simpletons with all their dumb scarves are exactly one Pumpkin Spice Latte away from achieving their final form as the biggest Basic Bitches of all time (or Darren Aronofsky). To be fair, the new adaptation gives them more dimension – particularly Cindy Lou and her hardworking single mom, Donna. I find it easier to understand how people – especially kids – might relate to this batch of Whos. Still, the Grinch’s annoyance with them, and their letters to Santa and obnoxious holiday lawn decor is completely warranted in my estimation. Imagine the nightmare that must be the Homeowner’s Association of Whoville. I also highly doubt they get this zealous about Halloween, and if you aren’t here for it when it comes to what is actually the most exciting holiday of the year, then I don’t want to know you.

Then The Grinch does something that the previous versions never did, and which truly resonated with me on a much deeper level: It gives us that aforementioned backstory. Sure, seeing a tiny Grinch with big sad eyes tugged on the ol’ heartstrings (I am not, despite what you might think at this point, a total monster). But it was why his eyes were so big and sad that really mattered. As an orphan, he had never known the joy of Christmas and the heartwarming feeling of family and togetherness. That sadness morphed over time into resentment and disgust because it’s easier to sit with those feelings than it is to live in heartbreak. And while I was never an orphan, I identified with so much of the Grinch’s experience.

Several years ago, my stepmom (and the only mom I’ve ever really known) left my father on the eve of his favorite holiday: Christmas. After 15 years together, their relationship had become untenable for various reasons, and though I understood that she needed to leave, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The presents were under the tree, the fridge was stocked with ingredients for Christmas dinner, and the house looked like a festive wonderland. My dad was every bit as zealous as the Whos when it came to Christmas decor; the lawn even had more than one of those giant inflatable holiday characters. There was a fake Santa, sleigh and all, on the roof. He was a Christmas overachiever.

I’ll spare you some of the worst details, but my father’s alcoholism escalated into something monstrous that Christmas Eve. My sister and I spent most of the night and the next day just trying to keep him in one piece. The fact that he was able to make a full dinner (that was actually delicious) without burning the house down was a testament to his commitment to the holiday. But the thing I remember most about Christmas Day was the very specific feeling of surreal despondency as my dad had us open our presents that morning while he looked on, already drunk at 9 am, but still eager to watch his daughters unwrap their gifts. From that moment on, though I will never fault my stepmom for making a tough choice that was long overdue, I no longer enjoyed Christmas.

That was the last Christmas we spent with my dad, who surrendered himself entirely to his addiction over the next several months. He died the following September.

the grinch review

The lights, the trees, the PSLs, the mittens and holiday-patterned sleepwear, the rituals and fruitcakes and all that Christmas entails no longer hold any warm and fuzzy feelings for me. I don’t necessarily begrudge others of their Christmas enjoyment like the Grinch does, but like the big green guy, I do envy their seemingly effortless cheer. I envy their families and traditions. I envy the way they’re oblivious, much like the Whos, to a very specific sense of loss they may never experience and which I hope they never will.

I envy the Grinch, too, who discovers the “true” meaning of Christmas at the end of the story, as he always does. The Whos don’t care that he stole their decorations and trees and presents because Christmas is about families and loved ones coming together. The gifts are just a bonus. It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate the symbolism of this holiday (which is pretty much the same as any other, really) – I envy the Grinch because he lives in a world saturated with such kindness and empathy; the sort of qualities that our actual world is sorely lacking. The Whos aren’t mad at the Grinch for his mass-theft. They even invite him to Christmas dinner because they recognize that his attitude is rooted in actual pain. Hurt people hurt people, as the saying goes, and we each have our own individual backstories and traumas. Cindy Lou’s dad isn’t around; whether he died or just left seems irrelevant because she empathizes with the Grinch and his loneliness. A world where people actually stop to consider why someone is acting like a total grinch, a world where they extend kindness and understanding instead of answering every act of ugliness with more ugliness – it’s downright utopian.

And so I relate to the Grinch. Maybe one day I won’t have to envy him anymore.

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