Updated: Feb 7, 2020
The Grinch is one of the most enduring characters in all of holiday literature. Everyone knows the story: a grumpy green curmudgeon plans to make the people of Whoville as miserable as he is by ruining their Christmas. Dr. Seuss’ original story is so sweet and clever with a message valuing family above materialism. It was turned into an excellent animated short in 1966 by the brilliant Chuck Jones. Then it was extended into an awful live action movie in 2000 starring Jim Carrey.
Considering the short still gets played on television to this day, it was not really calling for another adaptation. Regardless, now we get The Grinch, a feature length computer animated movie. It is undoubtedly better than the Carrey version, but nowhere near the Chuck Jones cartoon. It fleshes out The Grinch’s tale with plenty of sight gags and physical comedy, uses much of the music from the short film (though updated, of course) and is very pleasant to look at. However, it never feels like anything other than an attempt to milk a beloved property for more money.
Mr. Grinch is a mean one who despises the townspeople of Whoville for their constant happiness and, even more so, their love of Christmas. He is a lonely, angry, creature who spends his days venting to his devoted dog Max. As he schemes to steal Christmas, there is a subplot about little Cindy-Lou Who trying to figure out how she can tell Santa Claus what she really wants for the holiday. There is nothing inherently wrong with the added story beats, but the execution feels so padded. The story was perfectly fine at 25 minutes. At 78 minutes (minus the end credits), The Grinch lengthens it without adding anything necessary.
The Grinch did not seem quite as committed to his grouchiness this time around. There is a sequence where he walks through Whoville causing havoc but, besides that, there is the sense that, deep down, he just wants to be accepted. He was not born mean; he became that way out of self-preservation. That takes a lot of the impact away from the ending because it is even more inevitable. In this movie, The Grinch is more Gru from Despicable Me than the selfish jerk who needs his heart melted.
The animation is bright and lively, especially the town. The filmmakers certainly captured the feel of the drawings from the book. The jolliness of Whoville mirrors the personality of its people. Similarly, the self-isolation of the title character is echoed by the cavernous emptiness of his home on Mount Crumpit. It is a well-designed production, just not a particularly funny one.
I did not laugh much at The Grinch. Some of the line readings are amusing, specifically from Benedict Cumberbatch as The Grinch, Rashida Jones as Cindy-Lou’s Mom and Kenan Thompson as the friendliest man in a very friendly town. They contributed a few chuckles, as did the adorable Max, whose relationship with his master is the best thing in the movie. The biggest problem with it is how pointless it is. Little kids may enjoy it. There is, after all, still a valuable lesson to be learned from this story. But it will not replace the book or the 1966 version in the hearts of fans.
2½ out of 5
Benedict Cumberbatch as The Grinch
Cameron Seely as Cindy-Lou Who
Rashida Jones as Donna Who
Tristan O’Hare as Groopert
Kenan Thomson as Mr. Bricklebaum
Pharrell Williams as Narrator
Directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier
Screenplay by Tommy Swerdlow