Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a delightful tale of how a green-furred misanthrope bungles a massive heist and becomes a better creature for it. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel) wrote and illustrated the short tale back in 1957. In the process he also reminded children and their parents that Christmas should be, and is, more than handing out trinkets.
In 1966, Warner Bros. animation veteran Chuck Jones masterfully adapted the tale for TV and added enough wit of his own to match Seuss' verse. It didn't hurt that horror movie legend Boris Karloff perfectly embodied the Grinch and provided the droll narration.
85 Cast: Voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Cameron Seely, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, Angela Lansbury
Directors: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier
Rating: PG, for brief rude humor
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Because Jones' cartoon is so delightful and timeless, it seems pointless to try repeating the alchemy of the previous adaptation. Sadly, 18 years ago, Ron Howard delivered a garish and creepy live action reworking that featured a fitfully amusing performance from Jim Carrey and a sense that some expenses should have been spared.
Illumination, the French studio that gave us the Minions and The Secret Life of Pets, has better luck capturing the tone and charm of Seuss and Jones' original versions. Directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier have better instincts than Howard did on how to bring Seuss' distinctive creations to life.
Whoville, which seems to have the world's biggest Christmas celebration, looks cheery and festive despite the frigid temperature. Unfortunately, the holiday season does nothing to make the Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) happy. While it's understandable that he doesn't like hearing premature Christmas carols on his alarm clock (who does?), his hatred of people is so pronounced that when he does venture into Whoville, he does whatever he can to ruin the town's Noel.
He turns the town's grocery into a disaster area by barely lifting a finger. With just the flick of a finger and a sneer, he manages to ruin other customers' days. Cheney and Mosier set up a series of gags that are remarkably subtle for a children's movie as the Grinch and his inexplicably supportive dog Max find novel ways of briefly ruining the town's food supply.
The directors and screenwriters Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow have trouble matching the same level of comical chaos after that.
Seuss created a sturdy foundation, but his story can be read in about 15 minutes, so it's understandable that the filmmakers are struggling to reach a 90-minute running time with credits. As with the Ron Howard version, we now have to know why the Grinch hates the holiday when it was more fun to watch him simply be a spoilsport.
There are some welcome developments in the new version. Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) has a more active role in the story and wants something for Christmas that can never be put in a gift registry.
She's adorable in the initial tale, but now one can admire her as well. Apparently, her struggling single mother, Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones), has raised her properly.
While Donna Lou and Cindy Lou are reasonably fleshed out, only SNL veteran Kenan Thompson's turn as Whoville's gushiest fountain of Christmas cheer leaves much of an impression. Most of the supporting cast barely registers. Whoville seems curiously bland.
Actually, Max is remarkably expressive for a character who can only bark. One wonders why the Grinch isn't kinder to the pooch. In addition to his unconditional affection, Max brews a wicked cup of coffee.
Because of the book, there's still fun to be had
But the Grinch is more fun when he's simply just bad.
MovieStyle on 11/09/2018
Print Headline: The Grinch