3.5 out of 5 stars.
“The Grinch” is a holiday tradition for many, whether it’s watching the classic animated television special, the 2000 live-action adaptation starring Jim Carrey, or reading the original story by Dr. Seuss. Now, Illumination Entertainment puts their spin on a 3D animated version of the Christmas classic, directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier. And while this new Grinch doesn’t add anything ground-breaking to the story, the choices made for the characters and the nostalgia it plays upon makes it worth adding to your holiday watchlist.
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the voice of the Grinch, who lives alone on Mount Crumpet with his dog Max and who hates Christmas and the Christmas-loving Who’s of Whoville. This film hits all the same beats of the original story: the Grinch gets fed up enough to decide to steal all of the Whos’ gifts and decorations on Christmas Eve, but upon witnessing the true spirit of Christmas, his heart grows three sizes, he returns what he stole, and is welcomed into the Whoville holiday celebrations. The film has a lot of the same slapstick humor we’ve come to expect from Illumination films like “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets,” but it manages not to drift too far into immature territory, resulting in the movie having a sense of humor that can be enjoyed by audiences of any age. And the animation and environments are colorful and beautiful, from the dreary depths of the Grinch’s lair to the blazing holiday lights of Whoville. There’s some really nice direction too, like the opening tracking shot that whisks the audience through Whoville and up Mount Crumpet to where the Grinch lives. Even the movie’s music, which includes a bumping new hip-hop version of the classic song by Tyler the Creator, is pretty darn catchy.
But outside of some creative background visuals, “The Grinch” lacks the imagination expected from a Dr. Seuss story. Perhaps much of that is due to the fact that so many of us are so familiar with the story of “The Grinch” already. We know what happens and what to expect, and this new movie plays into those expectations instead of giving us something new. And yet, while it may be disappointing to see this film play it so safe, there’s a lot of merit in its simplified story, which gets straight to the heart of the characters and conveys the warmth and good-feeling we come to this sort of movie for.
It’s the way the characters are portrayed that sets this film apart from the other versions of the story. This Grinch is not overly diabolical, or mean for no reason; nor does he act over-the-top, or suffer from a complex backstory like the Carrey film. The audience is given just enough to understand why this Grinch doesn’t like Christmas, and that’s because he has always been alone. This Grinch, even when he’s being mean or rude, is endearing because he is so relatable. He buys food in bulk so he doesn’t have to go to town and be around people, and then proceeds to eat his feelings. A small but really fantastic thing that this film does that it different from the other versions is that it extends the ending of the story a bit to further expand on the Grinch’s insecurity about interacting with people, and the self-doubt he has about putting himself out there. The character is aided by a great voice performance from Cumberbatch, who makes the Grinch’s transition from cranky loner to lovable friend believable.
“The Grinch” also does something a bit different with Cindy-Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely), the little girl who helps the Grinch change his mind about Christmas, and people. Some of the spotlight is given to Cindy-Lou’s mom Donna (Rashida Jones), an overworked single mother trying to balance her job with raising her kids. Cindy-Lou wants to do something for her mom, so she prepares a trap for Santa so she can talk to him when he comes on Christmas Eve. The sequence of Cindy-Lou preparing for Santa’s arrival is nicely juxtaposed with the Grinch preparing to impersonate Santa, and it gives Cindy-Lou’s character purpose without detracting from the Grinch’s story or making her an annoying character. There are a few new amusing side characters as well, including Mr. Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), a relentlessly happy Who who is oblivious to the Grinch’s rudeness, and a fat reindeer named Fred (because in an animated feature, one animal sidekick simply isn’t enough).
“The Grinch” may be predictable, but it has plenty of heart and Christmas cheer to make up for it. Like most remakes, it isn’t a necessary reboot, but it is a worthwhile one that deserves to become a holiday tradition itself.
Runtime: 90 minutes. Rated PG.