Genre: CG Animation
Director: Scott Mosier, Yarrow Cheney
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, Tristan O’Hare, Scarlett Estevez
Runtime: 1 hr 26 mins
Released By: UIP
Official Website: https://www.grinchmovie.com
Opening Day: 29 November 2018
Synopsis: For their eighth fully animated feature, Illumination and Universal Pictures present The Grinch, based on Dr. Seuss’ beloved holiday classic. The Grinch tells the story of a cynical grump who goes on a mission to steal Christmas, only to have his heart changed by a young girl’s generous holiday spirit. Funny, heartwarming and visually stunning, it’s a universal story about the spirit of Christmas and the indomitable power of optimism. Academy Award® nominee Benedict Cumberbatch lends his voice to the infamous Grinch, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpet with only his loyal dog, Max, for company.
Dr Seuss’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ is one of them ageless holiday children’s stories, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood would decide to follow up Ron Howard’s live-action version back in the year 2000 that starred Jim Carrey as the seasonal meanie with yet another big-screen adaptation.
The folks responsible for this latest is none other than Illumination Entertainment, best known for the ‘Despicable Me’ movies and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’, and as befitting their French-inspired style, this one is brightly lit, visually appealing and vividly animated. Those qualities alone pretty much guarantees that ‘The Grinch’ will delight kids, although we cannot quite say if their parents in tow, or anyone above the age of 12 for that matter, would find themselves similarly entertained.
At the risk of being called, well yes a grinch, we found this new animated version pretty dull. It is pretty as it is to look at all right – right down to the fleece on a jacket, to the fur on the Grinch, and even to the snow in the village of Whoville – and its message about the true spirit of Christmas is no doubt well-intentioned, but ‘The Grinch’ seems all-too comfortable sticking to the basics within the book, and comes off all the poorer for it.
Like the old tale, this one revolves primarily around the Grinch’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) plot to disguise himself as Santa Claus in order to steal all the Christmas gifts in Whoville, with the help of his loyal dog named Max. Just as in the Seussian saga, the Grinch lives as a hermit on the snowy Mount Crumpit that overlooks the town, and begins the story suffering from a heart “two sizes too small”. It ends the same way, i.e. with the Grinch realising that there is much more to Christmas than just presents, deciding to return everything that he stole, and joining the Whos’ Christmas feast where he is given the honour of carving the Roast Beast.
But, as the cherished 1966 television special showed, that is probably enough material to fill about half an hour, meaning that there is still plenty the writers had to do to stretch the story to feature-movie length. Unfortunately, what isn’t directly from Seuss’ book feels underwritten and largely inconsequential. Whereas Howard’s version spent a good deal of time diving into the Grinch’s backstory, this one gives it just enough treatment to the Grinch’s sad past as an orphan to register, but not quite enough for his loneliness and desolation from his rejection by the Whos to truly resonate.
It devotes more time instead setting up Cindy Lou Who’s plan to ambush Santa Claus, so that she can convey her Christmas wish directly to him – i.e., she’s hoping that he will let her frazzled single mom Donna (Rashida Jones) catch a break, seeing as how she works all night as a nurse and has barely time to rest in the day taking care of her twin baby brothers. While that may sound like potentially poignant stuff, directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier turn Cindy’s mission into some kind of grand action adventure with her friends, and forgo therefore the opportunity for something more emotionally compelling.
The best bits of the movie’s additions lie at the front, including a sequence where ol’ Grinchy is forced to go into Whoville to interact with its cheery inhabitants during Christmas season after binge-eating his whole month of supplies. His daily routine is also a hoot, made up of scenes such as that with him wearing tighty whities in bed, blowing and combing his body of fur, choosing between identical sets of clothing with miserable to wretched labels, and playing Eric Carmen’s ‘All By Myself’ on a giant baroque organ. Just as amusing too is his hunt for reindeer to pull the sleigh intended to hold all the presents he means to steal, settling for a plus-sized scene-stealing beast named Fred after a series of run-ins with a screaming goat.
If it isn’t yet obvious, this Grinch isn’t quite so fearful after all. Sure, knocking over a kid’s snowman or placing a can of ingredients on a supermarket shelf too high for an elderly shopper to reach might be nasty, but at no point does the Grinch come off as anything more than a curmudgeon. That also makes Cumberbatch’s rendition a bit of an oddity; after all, one wonders why he was even chosen in the first place if not to lend his dulcet English tones to the character. Notwithstanding that, it is still both an enthusiastic and empathetic voice performance, and one that makes the film more interesting than it is actually is.
Even though it clocks in at a concise 87 minutes, ‘The Grinch’ clearly feels like it is a movie in need of more material. Like we said, what’s in the book works well, but what’s been added in is diverting yet underwhelming. Kids will be enthralled by the flawless animation, but anyone outside that age demographic will probably be left wanting. That said, the movie doesn’t lose the essence of its source material, especially in portraying the Christmas spirit as one of love and kindness; so as far as spreading the holiday cheer and the meaning of Christmas, this adaptation will satisfy even those whose hearts are two sizes too small, even if it may not make it grow three times as big.
(The animation is beautiful, and it's got its heart in the right place to put you in that Christmas mood, but this adaptation of Dr Seuss' holiday classic needs more compelling material to stretch its story out to feature length)
Review by Gabriel Chong