The Grinch is the newest big-screen iteration of the classic Dr. Seuss tale, this time from Illumination Entertainment (the minds behind films such as Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing). You probably know the story already, but the movie is about a grumpy hermit who hatches a plot to ruin Christmas for a nearby town.
This film is certainly cute, and having quite a bit of nostalgia tied to the story — the book was published in 1957, the television special was released in 1966, and the Ron Howard live-action version was released in 2000 (meaning that multiple generations grew up on some of the story) — it is sure to have a big draw and its fair share of admirers.
However, even though it may look and sound like it, this is not the Grinch that we have all come to know and love. No, this is a brightly-colored kids’ movie that abandons some of the spirit of the original for the sake of creating a movie that is even more widely appealing. It feels like a shell of the original (and the live-action version, for that matter).
One of the biggest problems with the story is that it lacks the redemption arc. This story is all about redemption — Grinch’s heart was two sizes too small, but grew when he realized the meaning of Christmas. This movie does not do a good job of establishing that the Grinch was bad in the beginning. Yes, there has to be a “redeemable” quality in the beginning that allows the audience to sympathize with him; however, this film went too far, instead making it seem like he was already mostly good.
The movie also contains a lot of derivative humor. Seeing the Grinch wipeout again and again can only get so many laughs. Regardless, it is still somewhat amusing and will definitely please the younger target audience. The parts that stood out were those that were heavily ironic, subverting expectations. Many of these involved Max, the Grinch’s trusty canine companion. Max was the absolute highlight of the film, stealing the screen in almost every scene and serving as the most effective emotional focus.
The voice cast for this movie was surprisingly small, but that is likely a result of its heavy dependence on narration. The narration by Pharrell Williams does get old at times, but that has always been the case with these films. Benedict Cumberbatch does a good job as the title character, but he doesn’t really stand out. He captures the personality well and delivers the comedy with ease, but didn’t do anything to make the character his own. The only other two significant “names” in the supporting cast are Rashida Jones and Kenan Thompson. Jones was hard to recognize in her role, but was fine. Thompson had some of the funniest moments in the movie.
Illumination’s skills in animation are undeniable, though. They are quickly cementing themselves as one of the leaders in the field in terms of visuals. Even though their stories sometimes need more originality, their animation is always brilliant. This film is incredibly detailed, with a complete world being formed. It is fun to just look at some of the contraptions thought up by the animation team.
Overall, The Grinch wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t what it could have (or should have been). It looks great, but it fails to capture the spirit of the iconic source material, and as such, struggles to capture attention.
The Grinch opens in theaters November 9.