‘The Grinch’ isn’t naughty or nice, but somewhere in between

Modern spin on a holiday classic is unoriginal but sufficient

ae-thegrinch2018-courtesyuniversalpictures

The latest iteration of holiday classic "The Grinch," while beautifully animated, adds little to the Dr. Seuss lore.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

No Christmas watch party is complete without some iteration of the Grinch, Dr. Seuss’ beloved furry cynic. Whether an adamant purist that finds only the original TV special to be a worthwhile watch or a parent that derives some sick satisfaction seeing Jim Carrey strike the fear of God into their children, all viewers eagerly anticipate the fictional character’s cardiomegaly each December. Illumination Entertainment jumped the gun in 2018 and released a new version of the story in early November, boasting an all-star cast including Benedict Cumberbatch and Angela Lansbury. Although “The Grinch” is sure to delight modern youth, it wastes acclaimed actors in a paltry rendition of a holiday classic.

“The Grinch” follows the plot of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” fairly closely, with the titular character (Cumberbatch) irked by the holiday cheer in Whoville and plotting to rob the Whos of their holiday. There are a few divergences from the original, including a brief storyline involving Cindy Lou Who’s (Cameron Seely) Christmas wish of support for her overworked mother, Donna (Rashida Jones). But promotional posters — which featured an adolescent Grinch — suggested that the movie would delve into the character’s past, much like the 2000 version. Lacking in a substantial explanation for the Grinch’s misanthropic ways, the new movie adds little to the traditional narrative.

This iteration of Dr. Seuss’ classic also squanders an incredibly talented cast. The use of Cumberbatch’s voice for the Grinch detracts from his threatening aura. Although the British are thought to sound standoffish, this does not equate to the tone needed to convey the sinister plan of the main character. Similarly, Jones’ presence as Donna Lou Who is inconsequential. And what motivated Lansbury, a six-time Golden Globe winner and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, to take on the minor role of Mayor McGerkle, only God knows. The lone actor to truly enhance his character with his voice is Kenan Thompson as Bricklebaum, the jolliest Who in Whoville and a neighbor of the Grinch. While his lines are limited, Thompson’s exuberance in this role puts a smile on even the most exasperated viewer’s face.

In terms of animation, Illumination Entertainment’s style is bubbly and cheerful, a perfect match for Whoville. The bright colors and avant-garde architecture encapsulate the spirit of Christmas and will appeal to younger viewers. The extension of this design to the Grinch, however, makes him less creepy and more cuddly, a sore misstep. And, while it may seem old-fashioned, the basic yet rich colors of the TV special evoke a sense of nostalgia that will be difficult for “The Grinch” to emulate.

Though it may just be a consequence of growing older, the film also makes it far more easy to see things from the Grinch’s perspective. Who wouldn’t vow to wreck the holiday season after being accosted by carolers and run over by a child in a sled, all in the name of Christmas cheer? If anything, perhaps stealing all the decorations and gifts wasn’t enough. The real villains of this story, the aggressive citizens of Whoville that couldn’t leave a poor recluse alone, ought to be taught some manners instead of forced to grapple with ubiquitous materialism.

“The Grinch,” while not a must-see this winter, will nevertheless be an adequate way to pass some quality time with the family. For those going into the theatre expecting to establish a new holiday tradition, however, be warned — the film’s Metacritic score of 51 percent is an apt assessment. 

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