Since it’s publication in 1957, How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss has been an enduring holiday classic. Finding appeal both in adults and children, the book’s enormous popularity was solidified further in 1966, with the Chuck Jones-directed animated special with Boris Karloff. Then in 2000, Ron Howard would make a live-action take starring Jim Carrey in the title role. Feeling like an amalgamation of both prior versions before it, this third take from Illumination Entertainment, the creators of The Secret Life of Pets and Despicable Me, attempts to add new to the story, only barely scraping that goal with a 39 and a half foot pole.
When it comes to the curmudgeonly Grinch, few performers feel as perfect for the vile creature with a soul of garlic as Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch is well regarded for his very theatrical presence, often playing these very larger than life characters in grand fashion. That experience suits him well in his virtually unrecognizable voiceover performance, wherein he runs the gamut of charisma, sarcasm, wickedness, and surprising tenderness. The best sections of the film so often are those scenes shared alongside his canine companion Max, whose every scene put a huge smile on my face as he filled the screen with delightful comic details and cuteness, and features more personality than the majority of characters from The Secret Life of Pets.
Also serving the film well is the animation, and although Illumination has yet to match Pixar or Dreamworks in terms of creating a great story, they are plenty capable of matching them in beautiful visuals. Clearly, great inspiration was taken from the Chuck Jones special, especially in regards to the simplest of character expressions and squash and stretch all the way through the film. While not all of the gags are winners, this is still quite a funny movie, with sometimes brilliant use of comedy throughout.
All in all, The Grinch is a perfectly harmless diversion, but that’s all it really has going for it. By the end of it, The Grinch just feels like a product that was made solely to exist. This film is absolutely breathless, and while I’m all for a quick movie, this movie so frequently glosses over more potentially interesting story nuggets. One of these is Cindy Lou Who, and the weight carried by her overworked single mother, leading Cindy to attempt to trap Santa and ask him to make her happy. This could have provided great insight into how less fortunate families become affected by the abrasive season, but only pays absolute lip service to it.
And that certainly isn’t helped by the film’s nagging marketability plays, and how it feels so blatantly like a product. I’m convinced the filmmakers just don’t get what made Seuss’ story so enduring, because rather than keeping to its commentary of overbearing and alienating Christmas commercialization. It almost feels like it’s subtly glorifying that commercial angle, especially with how aggressive the studio’s marketing angle tends to be. I also think the film really undermined the point of the Grinch, and his tragic backstory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The entire point of the Grinch is that he’s vile. But not only is his portrayal somewhat toothless in this film. Even when he is at his cruelest, the people of Who-Ville are perfectly accepting and welcoming to him. There is seriously no reason he couldn’t be a perfectly normal citizen who just happens to hate Christmas.
All in all, this new take on The Grinch is perfectly harmless and entertaining, but completely unspectacular, as is the case with all of Illumination’s output. They know how to market their films, but are so far behind in making genuine quality films. At least it’s better than The Lorax. I'm going to give "The Grinch" a 5 out of 10.