Dr. Seuss’s iconic children’s story How The Grinch Stole Christmas! was first adapted as a thirty-minute Christmas special narrated by Boris Karloff in 1966, and to this day, is still revered as a holiday classic, while Jim Carrey starred in a live-action feature-length adaptation of the same story in 2000 that came out to a divisive, but box-office record-breaking reaction. Now the creators of Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets have adapted the story into The Grinch, a feature-length animated film that thankfully stays true to the cartoonish nature of its source material with a unique depiction of the Grinch, entertaining slapstick and fast-paced fun for the whole family.
When Whoville looks to celebrate the holiday season bigger and brighter than ever before, The Grinch looks to steal Christmas and ruin the holiday for the entire village.
The holiday season is here once again, and with it, comes a slew of yearly traditions only done with Christmas on the horizon: decorating festive trees with colorful ornaments, baking sugar cookies, listening to Christmas carols, and watching only the best Christmas movies and specials. Considering that the most famous holiday songs are covered year-in and year-out from different artists and cultures, it makes sense for multiple versions of the greatest films centered around the Christian holiday to exist as well, each of them executed with a fresh and creative spin.
Disney’s big-budget The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is the fourth feature-length retelling of Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballet, while A Christmas Carol has a plethora of unique cinematic versions starring the likes of Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, Bill Murray, Michael Caine and even Jim Carrey, who knows more than a thing or two about the re-cyclical nature of Christmas stories, having starred in the feature-length live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas eighteen years ago.
The film was the highest grossing film at the box office in the year 2000 despite reviews that considered it a dark and mean-spirited contrast to the classic storybook and the 1966 animated special. Flash forward to 2018, and with Illumination Entertainment in charge of the animation, Universal Pictures has released The Grinch, a CGI-animated feature-length rendering of the iconic Seuss story, and it proves to be a lighthearted, festive and entertaining alternative to the live-action version thanks to a dedication to the spirit of its source material and stellar voice acting from Benedict Cumberbatch.
Now in its third re-telling, the story of The Grinch still hasn’t changed: it’s Christmas time once again in the town of Whoville, and the citizens are out and about buying Christmas presents, adorning their houses with bright, colorful lights and decking their snow-covered yards out with large inflatable Christmas balloon decorations. Meanwhile, The Grinch (Cumberbatch) lives above them in his decrepit home of Mount Crumpit with only his dog Max, dreading the upcoming season for reasons he keeps private. But when a series of events while out on the town bring back painful memories of the trauma responsible for his disdain of the festive holiday, The Grinch elects to plan an elaborate scheme to assume the role of Santa Claus and steal the presents from every house in Whoville, hoping to ruin the holiday for the entire town.
The story is as straightforward as it’s always been, but like the live-action version before it, there is an added subplot involving Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), a little girl who, this time around, aspires to capture Santa Claus on Christmas Eve night in hopes to ask him personally for help and assistance for her workaholic mother Donna Lou (Rashida Jones). But while Cindy served as the audience surrogate as she investigated the origins of the titular Grinch in the 2000 adaptation, the subplot of Cindy in this feature animation is unengaging, if only because the film doesn’t spend any time developing her, nor does it slow down for any dramatic moments to let audiences get invested in her character. Instead, she spends the days leading up to Christmas with her friends planning and testing mischievous traps in which to trap jolly ol’ Saint Nick.
Sequences of slapstick like these are standard operating procedure in everything Illumination Entertainment has produced since their theatrical debut in 2010 with the first Despicable Me movie. Their body of work has often been criticized for having nothing for adults to latch onto, and only existing as something to entertain children for its runtime, and that sentiment can be applied to this Seuss adaptation to an extent, as scenes of The Grinch going step by step in his plans to stop Christmas from coming are centered around energetic Looney Tunes-style shenanigans.
Notable moments include one where The Grinch and Max use a reindeer mating call to capture the right reindeer to guide him in his exploits only to end up attracting an obnoxious goat and an overweight reindeer, which they name Fred, and one where The Grinch and his pets attempt to steal a massive sleigh from the roof of their Christmas-obsessed neighbor Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson).
Normally, this would lead the adults in the audience to start checking their watch, but it’s worth arguing that sequences like these are more than welcome in The Grinch because they’re done in the spirit of its source material. In true Seuss fashion, The Grinch uses elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque inventions to get himself through his morning routine, and wears shoes on his heist that propel him high enough in the sky that he can sleuth the rooftops of Whoville with intimidating ease. It’s also worth noting that the characters are modelled and designed so much like those of Seuss himself, one would assume they came straight out of the storybook.
Another noticeable way The Grinch stands out on its own from the first two variants is its depiction of The Grinch as a character. The 1966 holiday special left his reasons for hating Christmas ambiguous, while the 2000 live-action film portrayed him as a cruel, glass-eating creature ridiculed in his youth for being different from his peers, but The Grinch in this version is characterized in a relatable manner as someone with a case of holiday blues. The citizens of Whoville welcome him to their city with open arms, but The Grinch’s response is to mask his depression and push them away, if not with a sardonic quip, then an action that spoils everyone’s holiday fun.
All this is conveyed in stellar fashion through Benedict Cumberbatch’s voicework; his range in the titular role leaves viewers guessing what his real voice sounds like as he expresses the sinister intentions, grumpy temperament, sarcastic sense of humor and insecurities of The Grinch at the turn of a dime with his versatile charisma and infectious charm.
Illumination Entertainment’s version of The Grinch isn’t going to reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t need to. It just needs to get audiences excited for the holiday season and keep children entertained for its run time, and at just under 90 minutes, it’s a harmless and very fast-paced watch. The animation is colorful and vibrant, the voicework is well-done and the execution of its story and slapstick is in the same fun, bouncy vein as the beloved story upon which it’s based. It doesn’t have as much emotional weight as it should, but if you’re looking for something to get yourself into the holiday spirit and entertain children with something light-hearted, visit The Grinch in theaters this weekend. This is a version of the Seuss story you can touch with something much shorter than a 39-and-a-half foot pole.