The 2000 How The Grinch Stole Christmas (starring Jim Carrey in the titular role) was received with mostly lukewarm reviews from critics and mixed reaction from the public. And yet, 18 years on, the film has become something of a staple for some families. Deciding to make an animation of Dr Seuss’s original 1957 story seemed rather needless, and is rather indicative of the current state of mainstream Hollywood – it’s decision to tap up pre-sold audiences through sequels and remakes as opposed to anything new and therefore unsafe. The even sadder thing is that this new version is likely to face a simillar fate as it’s predecessor in terms of a mixed reception upon arrival.
The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) has lived alone, far away from his birth town of Whoville for many years after a living a sad childhood filled with bullying. Technically he doesn’t live alone, he has Max the dog, but Grinch doesn’t really acknowledge that fact or Max himself. After running out of supplies one day he has no choice but to go food shopping. Except it’s during the last few days before Christmas, peak-Christmas, and Grinch hates Christmas. Which is the exact opposite of Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) who plans on using the magic of Christmas to help her long-suffering single mother (Rashida Jones). Grinch and Cindy’s path bang into each other, literally, with life-altering results.
What the 2018 version has over the 2000 version is something of a rebrand. This version is more appealing, both in terms of visuals and our central character. The animation quality is gorgeous, with some magnificent landscape and intricate world-building. An incredible amount of care has gone into the smaller details, the recreation of Whole Foods for just one example. The gadget-like construction of the city is exceptionally pleasing and adorable in it’s thoughtfulness; obviously unlike Grinch for most of the film. Except… this is a Grinch that is slightly gentler than his past incarnation.
He feels more approachable from the outset than Carrey’s version ever did. The film really emphasises, in a way that is far more subtle than it sounds, that all of Grinch’s behaviours stem from his own unhappiness and envy. This adds to the film’s overall messages, which are well handled, about kindness and caring for others. That’s in amongst some very funny moments. There’s some utilisation of cut-aways, a la Family Guy, that are catch-you-off-guard then laugh-out-loud, along with the Grinch’s use of ‘mold spice’. The bulk of the humour is aimed at the younger members of the audience but with an added few perks for the adults in the room. The Grinch’s choice of song whilst playing the organ has me in stitches.
The fundamental problem, however, may just be that there isn’t enough of a story to stretch to just under 90 minutes. It entertains for the majority of the film time, but it does run out of stem towards the end. And, like the more recent films to come out of Illumination, it feels like a sugar-induced assault of colour that doesn’t necessarily have a fully owned personality. It’s bigger than the last film, and mostly better. But it’s not got enough about it to be totally beloved, at least not by anybody over the age of 8. The decision to release the film at the start of November could be a sign of no confidence as it’s likely to get lost in the run-up to Christmas, another sign that this won’t necessarily be a new Christmas staple movie.
A festive treat that is a sort-of delight.
Dir: Yarrow Cheney , Scott Mosier
Scr: Michael LeSieur , Tommy Swerdlow , Dr. Seuss (based on book by)
Cast: Rashida Jones , Benedict Cumberbatch , Angela Lansbury , Cameron Seely , Kenan Thompson , Pharrell Williams
Prd: Christopher Meledandri, Janet Healy
Music: Danny Elfman
Run time: 86 minutes
The Grinch is in UK cinemas from Friday 9th November.