The Grinch and How The Grinch Stole Christmas were both box office hits, but which version of the classic Dr. Seuss story has the superior Grinch?
Both 2018’s The Grinch and 2000’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas were huge box office hits, but which version of the classic Yuletide Dr. Seuss story has the superior Grinch? The titular green anti-Christmas fiend of How The Grinch Stole Christmas has been a staple of holiday media for decades now, beginning with Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones’ iconic 1966 short of the same name. This brief Christmas special may not be a feature-length film, but the cartoon was iconic enough to spawn not one but two full-length remakes in the form of Hillbilly Elegy director Ron Howard’s 2000 live-action hit How The Grinch Stole Christmas and 2018’s more recent animated offering, simply titled The Grinch.
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Both movies received reasonably solid critical receptions, but they were both huge hits with audiences. The 2000 Jim Carrey vehicle made over $345 million at the box office, and soon became the second biggest Christmas movie in cinema history, only for the 2018 Grinch to surpass it with a whopping $511 million box office take. But money isn’t everything, and fans remain split over which is the better adaptation.
With that in mind, there are a lot of criteria that need to be taken into account to decide on the definitive movie version of Seuss’s anti-Christmas antihero. For one thing, having a better version of the Grinch doesn’t necessarily mean one movie is better than the other. One could be more tightly scripted and plotted but still lack the definitive version of the main character, like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie missing Jack Sparrow, while the other could be looser, tonally inconsistent, and overlong but blessed with a brilliant version of the eponymous Christmas-stealer. To get to the bottom of the debate, everything from the Grinch’s appearance to the quality of the movie he’s in, to the performance embodying the character need to be considered.
Which Grinch Looks Better?
It’s always difficult to compare live-action and animation movies, and the case of the Grinch is no different. For many viewers of a certain vintage, the original animated Grinch drawn by Jones is the definitive version of the character’s design, meaning both Carrey’s live-action version and the 3D animated 2018 reboot pale in comparison. However, when the 2000 and 2018 versions of the Grinch are the only ones taken into consideration, it’s hard to argue that the animated incarnation is superior to Carrey’s hairy iteration. The Shining miniseries proved practical makeup effects can make all the difference to an adaptation’s success, and Carrey went through hell to play the character, enduring hours in a makeup chair every day as well as a torturously itchy yak hair costume. However, the transformation was worth it and remains a classic achievement in the annals of onscreen VFX.
2018’s animated Grinch has a couple of cute moments and is a fittingly elastic, cartoony tribute to Jones’ design, but the character looks as smooth and glossy as everything from the film’s parent studio Illumination and lacks a personality. Carrey’s Grinch, in comparison, is instantly recognizable, benefits from the actor’s acrobatic, limb-swinging commitment to the role, and has genuine grossness that the milder 2018 reboot shies away from. Point one goes to Carrey’s Grinch.
Which Grinch Stars In The Better Movie?
While the issue of which Grinch looks better is a solid win for Carrey, the issue of which movie is better is a harder argument for Howard’s live-action film to win. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a needlessly lengthy movie upon a rewatch, and its drawn-out runtime suffers in comparison to the tight 86 minute 2018 version of The Grinch. The 2000 live-action movie dwells on the Grinch’s surprisingly sad backstory, and even hilarious turns from Jeffrey Tambor and Christine Baranski can’t keep the heavier material from bogging down Howard’s film.
Not only is the 2018’s animated The Grinch faster-paced and blessed with a simpler story, but the glossier look of the movie also doesn’t fall into the unfortunate uncanny valley trap of Howard’s live-action movie. While Carrey may look great, the rest of Whoville is populated by creepy creations whose prosthetics are far from makeup mastermind Rick Baker’s best work. As a result, the Jim Carrey-starring Grinch adaptation occasionally has the appearance of a cheap Tim Burton/Terry Gilliam/Jean-Pierre Jeunet rip-off, with the characters looking odd enough to be unsettling but not surreal enough to be impressive. With a tighter runtime and more pleasing visual aesthetic, the better movie is comfortably won by Cumberbatch’s version of The Grinch.
Carrey vs Cumberbatch: The Performances
Here, there is no comparison. To be fair to Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor doesn’t try to match Carrey’s zany performance as the Grinch, opting instead for a dry deadpan iteration of the title character. It’s a canny decision, as Cumberbatch is known for playing steadfast and affectless characters and his take on the part is the exact opposite of Carrey’s. That being said, Cumberbatch taking on the Grinch is the equivalent of Tom Hardy or Dan Stephens offering a brooding version of Austin Powers. It’s funny, sure, and an inspired riff, but the definitive screen portrayal undeniably belongs to Carrey.
Buoyed by the actor’s talent for improv, Carrey’s Grinch is an inspired comic creation whose fourth-wall-breaking and zany asides are as memorably surreal as anything from the actor’s earlier hits Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or The Mask. Carrey plays the character with demented zeal, and despite the film’s uneven tone, manages to wring a layered, complex character out of the potentially one-note Grinch. There are shades of Carrey’s more serious roles in his darker moments as the Grinch and endlessly quotable one-liners in his manic comic moments, meaning this one is comfortably won by Carrey.
Jim Carrey Is The Better Grinch
Thanks to the lush, clean animation style of 2018’s The Grinch and its tight, funny story, this is a relatively close contest. But despite Cumberbatch opting for a different take on the eponymous character, the actor can’t win the title of the greatest Grinch from Carrey. Sure, Howard’s live-action movie may be the lesser of two Grinch adaptations, but its version of the Grinch is easily the best to ever grace cinema screens. Anarchic, silly, and occasionally surprisingly human, Carrey’s Grinch is a perfect character trapped in an imperfect movie. The film’s flaws are very real, and it’s hard to know whether Carrey would have been able to pull off such a memorable version of the part if he were limited to voiceover work (although the actor would have been saved a lot of time spent agonizing in the hair and makeup department). But Carrey did have the advantage of a live-action adaptation in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In comparison, Cumberbatch’s animated effort is perfectly fine, but not quite iconic, take on the part. That said, despite his flaws Cumberbatch’s Grinch does have the benefit of starring in an altogether tighter, better movie than Carrey’s Grinch did.
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