‘The Grinch’ is a Simple Retelling, and It Mostly Works

The_Grinch,_final_posterI will go to my grave not understanding the hate for the 2000 Jim Carrey “Grinch” film…

“The Grinch” is the third telling of the Dr. Seuss book, following the television special from 1966 and the live-action Carrey film from 2000. It features the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular green grouch who plans to steal Christmas from the cheery Whos down in Whoville. Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier direct.

The character of the Grinch holds a place in my heart and in my childhood, as I grew up watching the TV special every December with my parents, and the 2000 film starring a heavily-make up’d Jim Carrey (another childhood staple of mine) has plenty of cheer, laughs and impressive production design. I wasn’t overly looking forward to this updated “Grinch,” both because the trailers really looked not-that-good and Illumination, the animation company behind the film, has a spotty track record. And while this does nothing to add to the legend of Dr. Seuss’ character and likely will not go down in holiday history (even ironically like the Carrey film), there is still plenty of heart and shiny lights to distract young kids, and maybe even strike the heart chords of old Grinches like me.

Illumination is an interesting company: half of their animations are gorgeous and detailed but then there are scenes that are equally lazy and bland. “The Grinch” is no different, because there are scenes that are bright and beautiful, especially the sweeping shots of Whoville in all its Christmas glory. While Ron Howard’s version of the city was busy and often shown at night, this rendition is usually colorful and jubilant. The snow also has some painstaking detail, with little dots and sun reflection instead of just a plain white blanket, and the Grinch’s fur certainly took some time to animate.

However in classic Illumination fashion sometimes scenes take place in flat, recycled backgrounds and it also looks like when old films and shows would simply place a still image behind actors in car and try and pass it off as an elaborate backdrop.

The MVP of the show is Max, the Grinch’s mute dog, who has some amusing animations and actions. As for the Grinch himself, Benedict Cumberbatch is fine, really not doing anything special or unique and certainly not displaying the same charisma as Carrey.

The film is narrated by Pharrell Williams and takes some liberties with the classic Boris Karloff rhymes. Sometimes it is fine, they had to cover 86 minutes of story instead of 22, but at other points they omit (or worse, try and rephrase) some lines that should be included without a second thought (like “so I’m taking it home to my workshop, my dear. I’ll fix it up there, then I’ll bring it back here”). It should also be noted that Tyler, the Creator’s rap version of the “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” song is truly awful. Just wanted to get that out there.

The kids in my audience seemed entertained (this is aimed at a younger demo than even the original special) and the end of the film lands quite well. I would be lying if I said there weren’t a few older members of the audience (possibly including myself) who were getting a little choked up.

“The Grinch” is a pretty-looking film with some holiday cheer, and even though it doesn’t reinvent the Christmas movie wheel or the classic Seuss tale, it introduces this character to an entirely new generation and lets older ones revisit an old, grumpy friend. Flaws be damned.

Critic’s Grade: C+

Film Title: The Grinch
Universal Pictures

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