WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Grinch, in theaters now.
Sorry, Benedict Cumberbatch, but 18 years later, Jim Carrey's depiction of the Grinch remains second only to Boris Karloff's original. That live-action performance from 2000 deftly blended humor and angst to create something that would have surely received Dr. Seuss' approval.
While Cumberbatch makes a valiant effort in the 3D-animated The Grinch, now in theaters, he falls short of what Carrey so effortlessly achieved.
Carrey's Grinch Has A Better Origin
In the new film, the Grinch's backstory fails to forge an emotional connection between the audience and Cumberbatch's bitter character. We learn he was abandoned at a Whoville orphanage, and grew up without ever receiving a gift, or experiencing Christmas. Watching the Whoville children get presents over the years turned him against the holiday, to say nothing of the townsfolk. That feels really surface-level.
Carrey's Grinch resonated more, accomplishing what Seuss intended: for audiences to feel sorry for the creature. He too was an orphan, but still grew up with light in him. It's only when he went to school and was bullied over his appearance by Augustus -- who'd grow up to become mayor -- that he went over the edge. This Grinch experienced isolation and xenophobia because his classmates saw him as "the other," someone to make fun of. This telling of his backstory has substance, as opposed to Cumberbatch's Grinch, who's more like a spoiled brat.
Carrey's Grinch Had A Better Reason to Steal Christmas
As he grew older, Cumberbatch's Grinch holed up on Mount Crumpit, where he stewed in bitterness and wallowed in self-pity. However, the citizens of Whoville did nothing to really warrant his ire. They never bullied or mistreated him, nor were they to blame for his miserable childhood. With no real motivation to hate them, there isn't any reason for the Grinch to steal the presents of the townspeople. This new movie simply jumps to that moment because that's what the Grinch is supposed to do.
Carrey's villain, on the other hand, was laughed at by these people, who grew up to be parents themselves. He hates them because he could see them raising kids every bit as superficial as they were, obsessed with materialism. But what really makes viewers empathize with his festering dislike for Whoville is his torment in front of Martha, whom he's loved since childhood. He was driven away thinking she'd never love someone like him, and when Taylor Momsen's Cindy Lou lured the Grinch back into society, Augustus (Jeffrey Tambor) once more tried to turn the town against him. This repeated abuse drives him to go overboard and attempt to ruin their festivities. It's something we don't condone but that we completely understand, because the Whos showed him how ugly they could really be.
Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney, The Grinch stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Ariel Winter, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely and Angela Lansbury. The film is in theaters now.