The Grinch

While it’s only March, it’s already time for holiday films to begin their promotional campaigns. Likely to be a forerunner in that category for families is Illumination Entertainment’s take on The Grinch. Set for release statewide November 8th this year, the film takes on the bright 3D animated style that Illumination (The Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me) is known for, a marked change in style following the live action version starring Jim Carrey back in 2000, and of course the classic, hand-drawn TV special from 1966.

The trailer isn’t shy about letting you know the studio’s pedigree, either – the title card for Illumination is the first thing we see, even featuring a minion, the small yellow creatures from Illumination’s Despicable Me series, in favour of anything Seussical.

Musically, the trailers conducts a double fake-out. At first, we are lead to believe we are in for an epically orchestrated trailer; deep, driving strings beginning from the first title card proceed to full-blown brass and winds in a rollicking 6/8 theme in a harmonic minor key as the camera swerves steadily up what is presumable the Grinch’s keep. Soon enough, the imagery of the Grinch’s bedroom – looking decidedly well kept and civilized – foreshadow what’s about to happen musically: the orchestra cuts out, and the clock strikes seven, at which point a mild breaking of the fourth wall occurs. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” emits from the clock radio; it is possible that that musical choice is as much an intertextual allusion to the use of the same song in Despicable Me 2 as it is a not-so-subtle stroke of situational irony, as the Grinch grumpily wrestles with the unwelcome alarm.

This scene serving to clearly tie together Illumination’s past successes with what they hope to bring to the Grinch’s story, then, at 0:52 that point is hammered home with a card citing as such (“from the creators of Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing”). Alongside this, we hear a new cover rendition perhaps the single most recognizable musical riff in all of Seuss: the jazzy, bluesy brass of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”.

After a scene showcasing the Grinch’s comically grouchy morning routine with his dog Max, we finally get some spoken word thanks to the inner monologue of Benedict Cumberbatch, who assumes to the new mantle as the mean green one. The music continues without lyrics as he proceeds to embark on some shenanigans, subtly causing strife in the lives of those down in Whoville. In this respect, the film already appears to be taking a slightly different narrative tack than it did in the original, which featured a decidedly more hermit-like Grinch.

The final musical flourish at 2:00 ties in nicely with the turning on of a large holiday lighting and float display, culminating in the accidental walloping of the Grinch by an inflating snowman.

It is pretty clear, whether looking at the musical choices or the title cards, that Illumination is leaning rather heavily on past works and suggesting it is an indicator for future success. While it is hard to argue that there is anything here that is genuinely new, using “Happy” as an intertextual marker is a fairly subtle and likely effective strategy for imparting that message competence. Moreover, the use of a faithful-yet-new cover of “You’re a Mean One” works well with the visual style, which clearly adheres to the illustrative style of the original books.

Everything about this trailer seems to prioritize safe bets over artistic risks, and under the consideration that this is likely the studio’s goal, this trailer achieves that goal with aplomb.


– Curtis Perry