The last time the Grinch was featured on a big screen, it was back in 2000. Ron Howard tried to do wonders with Jim Carrey as the green, furry, Christmas-hating curmudgeon, and while the box office numbers were big, the audience satisfaction was low.
Now Universal is trying again with another sure thing: Illumination Entertainment, producers of the Despicable Me franchise, and directors Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney give their take a visual fluidity and Christmas spirit.
Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch delivers on the basic source material with minimal obnoxiousness or runtime bloat.
The residents of Whoville are preparing for Christmas, with a good neighbor such as Bricklebaum (voiced by Keenan Thompson) promising the biggest celebration in the town’s history. Inside his nearby mountain lair, the Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch), who hates Christmas, lives a disgruntled life with his loyal dog, Max.
Unable to avoid Whoville’s enormous decorations and holiday spirit, the Grinch decides to make a mess of things, preparing, with help from reindeer Fred, to assume Santa’s identity and steal everything in town.
However, young Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) is in need of Santa’s magic, hoping to secure a special Christmas wish for her mother, Donna (Rashida Jones), who’s trying to make ends meet for her three children.
Screenwriters Tommy Swerdlow and Michael LeSieur stick to the basics of Dr. Seuss’ original book. The Grinch is still the Grinch here, keeping his distance from Whoville and trying to avoid anything even remotely resembling Christmas. The Grinch doesn’t turn the titular character into a monster, just a mild bully with no patience. The Whovillians aren’t obnoxious either, just enthusiastic, bringing in a mountain-sized tree for the centerpiece of their festivities. While it’s still a cartoon, Mosier and Cheney keep loudness to a minimum, having more fun arranging annoyances for the Grinch.
The directors order up kinetic visuals that fly around Whoville and up the Grinch’s mountain. Such energy gives the picture momentum, especially when the villain makes his plans to attack the town, using Christmas tools and a special sleigh to collect lights, trees, and presents from the sleeping residents. It’s a colorful feature—it has to be—but Moiser and Cheney crank up the red and green lights, and the character design is tasteful, staying true to Illumination standards and Seuss imagination.
Less enchanting is some updating, implemented to appeal to today’s kids. Pharrell Williams (who’s not an actor) narrates the film, while rap tunes dominate the soundtrack, including a needless reworking of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from Tyler, the Creator.
There are certainly better ways to spice up older material, but Christmas vibes remain, from sweeping vistas of a celebratory Whoville to some timeless Nat King Cole playing in the background during the closing scene.
Moiser and Cheney don’t drown the movie in sentiment, but they maintain gentleness to match expectations. The Grinch stays steady and short (under 80 minutes) with minimal bloat. The helmers are trying to be respectful as they shift little elements around, and they come up with an amusing effort that delivers on the source material.