Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney
Screenplay by Michael LeSeur and Tommy Swerdlow
Based on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely, Angela Lansbury
Narrated by Pharrell Williams
I loved early December when I was a kid. Thanksgiving had just passed, Christmas was on the horizon and my favorite holiday cartoons would pop on the television. I remember seeing Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the inspiration for Illumination’s latest animated feast, “The Grinch,” in theaters this weekend.
That animated feature that I enjoyed as a kid has been recounted numerous times. From what I’m told, I’ve been fortunate to have missed the other versions, so why did I feel the need to revisit a modern retelling of a classic? In a word, I am enthralled by Illumination’s animation. “The Grinch” is perhaps the most photo-realistic animated film I’ve seen this year, right down to the fibers on Max, the Grinch’s trusted canine companion.
Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney direct this third adaptation of the classic story of a mean-spirited individual who has the hair brained idea to steal Christmas from the Whos of Whoville. The Whos are a community who celebrates the best meaning of Christmas. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the Grinch. Cumberbatch brings a cynical menace to the Grinch’s voice that detracts from the character’s meaning to the film while Rashida Jones voices Donna Lou Who, an overworked single mom. She has two kids, but her pride and joy is Cindy Lou Who, voiced by Cameron Seely.
Cindy Lou has one wish and she spends much of this “Grinch” trying to find a way to get to Santa in order to tell him her one wish. On the other side, is the Grinch, who we come to learn a little bit more about the basis of his contempt for Christmas. Keenan Thompson voices Bricklebaum, a jolly citizen of Whoville who embodies the Christmas spirit, a la Clark Griswold. A nice surprise was the beloved voice of Angela Lansbury as the voice of Mayor McGerkle. Though her role is small, it was a nice touch.
As much as I love his music, Pharrell Williams’ narration was the most disappointing aspect of the film. His narration was monotone, less dramatic than say a John Houseman or a Boris Karloff. I suspect that the tradeoff was made here to modernize the story telling and to allow the Grinch character to be more sinister than evil.
Michael LeSeur (“You, Me and DuPree,” “Keeping Up with the Joneses”) and Tommy Swerdlow (“Straw Dogs,” “Little Giants”) do a very capable job with modernizing this classic, but that’s where the story really stops. Within the modernization is a rather simplistic story with a well-meaning message that gets wrapped up rather conveniently.
One of my biggest concerns with Illumination is that they pattern their nefarious characters off of their one, inimitable creation: Gru (“Despicable Me”) and that the Grinch would follow the same pattern, and it does exactly that. Children have a way of tugging at our heartstrings, even if our heart is a lump of coal. But, that doesn’t mean that every single film has to follow the same pattern, even if that’s what modern audiences want.
Modernizing a classic is as much about finding a new audience as it is about keeping that classic theme relevant. Where the Grinch was an ogre to the eight year old me, this Grinch might be the same to an eight-year old today.
This version of “The Grinch” probably won’t be talked about 20 years from now, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful film to look at even if the characters are flat.
1.5 out of 4