Genre: Comedy and Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Release Date: November 9th, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier Actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Tristan O’Hare, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, Angela Lansbury
t’s Christmastime in Who-ville, where giraffe-shaped antelope stroll down the roads, snowball-making machines churn out ammunition for mischievous children, wreathes are passed out to everyone on the street, and mice find time to ice-skate. It’s a dreamy collection of fluffy inhabitants, ready to celebrate the holidays in full force – save for the Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch), who resides in an icy cave north of Who-ville. He despises everything about the cheeriness and the festivities, largely due to an unhappy childhood in an orphanage.
Rap versions of recognizable songs supplement this updated, slightly modernized take on the classic Dr. Seuss tale, which shifts the previous iterations’ traditional animation and live-action-with-costumes presentations to a fully CG endeavor. Many of the designs are faithful enough to the source material’s artwork, though some of the technology on display resembles the inventions of “Despicable Me’s” Gru, whose films are also from Illumination Entertainment. The Grinch’s home is outfitted with plenty of hi-tech gadgetry, as if a mad scientist’s laboratory. The look is vivid and highly detailed, yet it’s not terribly original; in adapting a well-known property, there’s an inherent loss of creativity present, as the focus on designing conventional characters overtakes completely reinventing Who-ville and its famous antagonist.
Fortunately, there are a few unique gags (the villain’s miserliness is quite funny), from a kid getting a snowball launched into his face, to a “Citizen Kane” dinner table for the Grinch and his dog sidekick Max, to the green goon breaking the last jar of Christmas chutney so as to deprive a fellow shopper. “His heart is two sizes too small,” recites the narrator (Pharrell Williams), combining classic lines with a number of unfamiliar rhymes. Supporting roles are also expanded, such as Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely), who gains a subplot to meet Santa at the North Pole, which requires a whole gang of youths, headed by Groopert (Tristan O’Hare); as well as the “unbearable” Bricklebaum (voiced by an instantly recognizable Kenan Thompson), one of the biggest revelers and a self-proclaimed friend to the Grinch. And Fred the overweight reindeer is the most notable addition, though he tends to be outdone by a bleating goat, which seems to be an embracing of pop culture trends.
The relationship between Max and the Grinch has been comparably inflated, along with a drive by the mayor to make Christmas three times bigger than last year (complete with an enormous tree and its lighting ceremony). But instead of propping up a short story, the many additives feel like filler, simply to prolong an adventure that has been told before, effectively (by Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff in 1966), in under 30 minutes. The visuals are nevertheless enticing, aided by sharp animation (the snow effects are unusually sensational) and countless cute moments – the kind that do nothing for the story, but give audiences an opportunity to chuckle at the absurdity or slapstick or puppy eyes.
The finale expectedly tackles the notions of the materialistic nature of Christmas, the healing power of music, uncommon kindness, indomitable good spirits, and forgiveness, while also commenting on the struggles of single parenting and crushing loneliness. Minor details have changed since the last version of the Grinch’s scheme to destroy holiday merriness, but they’re not significant enough to warrant this newest take. It’s moderately amusing, but it has a difficult time justifying its own existence; it’s simply unnecessary to revisit the Seuss masterpiece yet again, especially when there’s no fresh angle from which to approach it.
– Mike Massie