Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch
You’re a mediocre one, Mr. Grinch
Dr. Seuss' The Grinch (2018)
Directed by Yarrow Cheney & Scott Mosier
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Angela Lansbury
Like the neighbors who put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, Illumination Entertainment (the company behind the Despicable Me films) has rushed its new 3D CGI adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ beloved picture book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! to movie theaters a full two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday, ensuring an endless blizzard of TV promotions, print ads and trailers before Christmas even arrives. As a result, your appreciation of the film may depend less on how much of a grinch you are and more on how much of a complete sucker for anything Christmas-related you happen to be.
It might as well be said, right off the bat, that Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is a perfectly respectable, lovely looking, occasionally amusing adaptation of Seuss’ 1957 classic. But it suffers from the same affliction that kept Disney’s recent live-action adaptations of Cinderella and Beauty & the Beast from cinematic greatness: an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Disney’s films are more or less exact recreations of their animated counterparts (plus, Beauty & the Beast contained so much CGI animation, it barely counted as “live action”). If you’ve seen the originals, you’ve seen the remakes. And, visually sumptuous as the remakes might be, you might as well stick with the originals.
Dr. Seuss’ perennial Christmas fable previously came to light as a highly respected 1966 animated TV special narrated by Boris Karloff and as a popular but bloated 2000 live-action feature starring Jim Carrey. There are few people in the world who haven’t seen these adaptations, probably on multiple occasions. So, at best, this glossy new version is just another log on the wood pile.
The 2018 version of The Grinch finds Brit actor Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock,” Dr. Strange) voicing the title role, a fuzzy green party pooper who hates Christmas and is determined to ruin the holiday for the humble Whos down in Whoville. You know the deal. Cumberbatch plays it safe and middle-of-the-road (watchwords for the entire film) by adopting an American accent and grumbling a bit. His performance lacks the sour menace of Karloff’s version and the … let’s call it volume of Carrey’s. But it’s fine.
All the usual story points are included, of course: Dressing up as Santa, using his dog Max as a reindeer, stealing presents, meeting Cindy-Lou Who. But that’s not enough to fill an 86-minute movie. The 2000 version padded things out with a backstory explaining why the grinch was so grinchy. (He was bullied as a school kid.) This one piles on more flashbacks (turns out the Grinch has got abandonment issues), which make him less villainous, more sympathetic and just generally sort of a grumpy Gus. The script (from the writers of Cool Runnings and You, Me and Dupree) adds another companion to the Grinch’s posse, a chubby reindeer named Fred. Also, Cindy-Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) has been given an overworked single mother (Rashida Jones), affording our Grinch the opportunity to perform some Christmas miracles beyond simply returning a few purloined presents. (A decision that, unsurprisingly for a multimillion-dollar corporate product, blunts the original story’s anti-commercialism theme.) And finally, lest we forget this is a modern remake, the Grinch raps his way through “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (courtesy of Tyler the Creator). Who says you can’t improve on perfection?
The smooth animation makes the images—green grinches, white snowdrifts, twinkling Christmas lights—pop off the screen. Everything is shiny, bright and colorful, and undoubtedly appealing to anyone under the age of 5. Over that and there’s real danger of been-there-done-that feelings, though. With nothing fresh or original or particularly clever to add to what already exists, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is like that Christmas sweater you get every year from your aunt. It’s well-intentioned, perfectly functional and totally expected—but it’s not the most memorable highlight of the holiday season.