‘The Grinch’ is Soft, Yet Traditional in Latest Holiday Heist
For over 50 years, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has been hailed as an undisputed holiday classic. Whether you gravitate more towards the 1966 Boris Karloff TV special or the 2000 live-action Jim Carrey is a personal or generational preference. Tipping the scale back to the animated side, Illumination Entertainment attempts their hand at a third version, aiming to be a contemporary homage to the original.
The Grinch has no need to spin the age-old holiday story. As Christmas approaches in Whoville, the reclusive Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is challenged once again by the happiness, camaraderie and gift-giving that goes hand-in-hand with the holiday. Traumatized by holiday childhood neglect, the Grinch simply hates anything associated with Christmas. Assisted by his trusty dog Max and misfit reindeer named Fred, the green meanie from Mount Crumpit devises up a scheme to steal Christmas from the Whos.
Like the Jim Carrey version, Illumination’s The Grinch is forced to stretch a 69-page children’s story into a 90 minutes of movie. Glossing over the Grinch’s past and holiday hatred, little Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) plays a more prominent role in the recent adaptation. Concerned with her mother’s workaholic regiment, she hopes Santa can magically fix the situation. Mrs. Who (voiced by Rashida Jones) is her widowed mother, trying her very best not to constantly pass out from exhaustion. As the Grinch plots and plots his way to holiday mayhem, Cindy Lou and her Whovillian gang (voiced by Tristan O’Hare, Ramone Hamilton, Sam Lavagnino and Scarlett Estevez) devise their own plans to capture and ask Santa for help.
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Illumination’s version of The Grinch doesn’t break the mold of Seuss’ story. Ridding itself of the kooky tone littered in the live-action film, directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney defer to a safe, albeit enjoyable experience. In fact, it may very well be the studio’s most delightful release in nearly five years. Cumberbatch’s Grinch surprisingly enough dialed back the signature meanness. That wicked smile is absent, while cracks of goodness break though from time to time. Perhaps that shrunken heart isn’t as small as we’re let on to believe. Illumination is no stranger to lovable bad guy. Though Mr. Grinch is the O.G. baddie, Despicable Me’s supervillain Gru might have taken a few pointers early on. You have give the green guy some much-needed love when he’s enduring a few depressive eating episodes.
Traditional at its core, The Grinch tends to venture off into more modern territory. Rapper Tyler, the Creator puts a spin on Thurl Ravenscroft’s (often attributed to Karloff) “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Anyone familiar with Illumination’s other animated properties is fully aware the studio insists on injecting a bit of soft rap. It’s not a bad decision either, especially with songs like “Welcome Christmas” and some Nat King Cole holiday themes revisited as well. Frequent Illumination collaborator, Pharrell Williams takes over the narrating duties from Boris Karloff and Anthony Hopkins from the 2000 film. Again, a perfectly serviceable choice for this new take on the Grinch story.
Clocking in at a brisk 86 minutes, The Grinch condenses the straightforward tale as much as it possibly can. Granted, it still has to function within a theatrical run time. Luckily, subplots involving Cindy Lou and Bricklebaum (voiced by Kenan Thompson), a overly jolly Whovillian who often gets under the skin of the Grinch, stitch the narrative together. The Grinch’s vile escapade will always be the highlight. This time, his homemade tech’s even received a few fun upgrades.
Even if you’re one of those curmudgeons during the holidays, The Grinch might very well be the most viable option for holiday cheer this season. Despite its vibrancy and pure spirit, The Grinch still may lack the desirable lasting effect in future holiday repertoires. Only time will tell where Mr. Grinch’s third go-around will rank.