The Grinch is directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, and features the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s the third screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ 1957 book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, following a 1966 TV special and a 2000 live-action film.
NOTE: This review may contain light spoilers for this and other versions of the story, which are necessary for a compare and contrast.
The town of Whoville is populated with happy and optimistic people who love Christmas more than any other time of the year. But the Grinch, who lives just outside of town, doesn’t share their optimism or love of the holiday. Disgusted by what he sees, he puts into motion a plan to wreck Christmas in Whoville with the help of his trusty dog Max. But why does he loathe the holidays so much, and can his cold heart be changed?
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is arguably the most famous story in the entire Dr. Seuss canon, and the 1966 special, animated by Chuck Jones and featuring the voice of Boris Karloff, is a true Christmas classic. The live-action 2000 film directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey was a mess, though Carrey fared well enough as the titular character.
Did we really need a third adaptation of this story?
The Grinch (the new 2018 adaptation) features quality animation, fun environments, and its look and sound definitely capture the Dr. Seuss atmosphere; I’d say I enjoyed this film more than the 2000 live action adaptation, but like so many Seuss adaptations, it lacks the sweet simplicity of its source material, something only the 1966 animated TV special was truly able to do. Benedict Cumberbatch is miscast in the title role, and the overemphasis on subplots, new characters, and physical slapstick humor don’t work to the production’s favor.
If nothing else, I must give the movie credit for its look. The character designs and the look of Whoville and the surrounding environments are likely creations Dr. Seuss would be proud of. It’s a colorful, bombastic production that is sure to have the attention of younger audiences.
Unfortunately, other aspects don’t fare as well. Adapting Dr. Seuss stories to feature-length films is challenging because the original stories are short, simple, and sweet. Filling them to the brim to make a full-length movie means lots of padding and filler. The film, though relatively short at just under 90 minutes, still three times longer than its 1966 animated counterpart, and it still isn’t as satisfying or effective. The subplots and additional characters drag the production out more than necessary. Much like an earlier Seuss feature film adaptation, The Lorax, the simplistic and sweet morals of the original tale are drowned out by the often over-the-top production values and Hollywood treatment.
Arguably the biggest disappointment here is the titular character. Benedict Cumberbatch voices the character like a bumbling goof rather than a sly, devious being intent on stealing Christmas. As much as I love the actor, he was wrong for this role. Despite his bad deeds, the writers make the criminal mistake of having the Grinch be too sympathetic far too early in the film. In the original story and the 1966 TV special, he had no feelings of kindness or remorse whatsoever until he saw his plan to steal Christmas did nothing to deter the spirits of those in Whoville.
The overall tone of the movie ditches Christmas cheer and sweetness for an over-the-top extravaganza of action and slapstick humor sequences. Much like the 2000 film, efforts are make to turn Cindy Lou Who into a larger character, but her primary character arc devolves into a generic “let’s try to see Santa on Christmas Eve” story we’ve seen in a million other children’s movies. I won’t lie though; I did laugh a few times throughout the movie. The use of contemporary and real-world music and references also suck the viewer out of the fantasy experience, which is disappointing. At the end of the day, it’s all largely filler and padding added to a story previously known for being simple and sweet.
I love Dr. Seuss stories, and it’s a shame Hollywood hasn’t had better luck with adapting them into feature films; their short and simple nature makes this a difficult task. It’s harmless fun for parents looking for a decent Christmas film to enjoy with their kids, but sadly does nothing to improve on the 1966 adaptation of the story, which accomplishes more in a third of the time! Personally, I’d say break out your home copy of the ’66 TV special instead.
Rating: One-and-a-half stars out of four.
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