Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Almost seven years after adeptly bringing The Lorax to animated life, Illumination is sipping from the Dr. Seuss well once again, giving the nasty-wasty green one an update in The Grinch. Heading in, you may find yourself wondering if we really need another take on How the Grinch Stole Christmas! but after watching it, you’ll have your answer. We may not need it, no, but it’ll certainly make the holidays a little more entertaining—not only this year but in the annual repeat viewings that are sure to follow.
Starring an Americanized Benedict Cumberbatch (more on that in a minute), the film makes it very clear from the get-go that this is a kinder, gentler Grinch. Sure, he still wants to thwart the Whos holiday plans, and, yes, his heart is still two sizes too small, but maybe he’s just misunderstood? If nothing else, he’s much nicer to his doggie Max.
Little Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) is still in the mix, and we’re also introduced to her single mom Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones). Plus we also get the super-festive Bricklebaum (a hilarious Kenan Thompson), whose overly ornate house (along with the mayor’s announcement that this year’s holiday will be three times bigger) is the straw that breaks the Grinch’s back.
As the Grinch sets his un-holiday plan in motion, we’re introduced to plump reindeer Paul and a host of other colorful characters, all of whom work together to bring the film to life. And then we finally, via a brief flashback, get our answer to the Grinch’s grumpiness, and, with it, a more sympathetic fella emerges.
I’m sure purists may cry foul, convinced that Dr. Seuss is rolling over in his grave at this sacrilege, but that falsely assumes the good doctor has stopped rolling over after 2000’s disastrous Jim Carrey-led live-action version. This thing is a whole heck of a lot better than that (the bar was low, admittedly), and it actually serves as a nice complement to the original (and still the best) 1966 TV version.
With all the trimmings of prior Illumination outings—the Despicable Me series, The Secret Life of Pets, and Sing—The Grinch offers up whimsical character design and rainbow-sherbet art direction, making it a true visual treat, and Danny Elfman’s bouncy score only adds to the experience. As for the animation itself, there are more than a few moments your mind may be legitimately boggled, as you realize that every single snowflake, Grinch hair, and twinkly light was created from scratch.
It’s clear that co-directors Yarrow Cheney (The Secret Life of Pets) and first-timer Scott Mosier had an absolute ball putting The Grinch together. Equal parts adorable, hilarious, and flat-out fun, it’s plenty-good enough to become a yearly ritual for families gathered around the tree.
If there’s one head-scratcher bit, it’s the vocal stylings of the dashing Mr. Cumberbatch. I’m not entirely sure why he was picked since he jettisons his British accent and just winds up sounding vaguely American anyway. Were there no American actors available? I kept picturing what J.K. Simmons could have done with the role. Or maybe Ray Liotta. And tell me it wouldn’t have been a hoot to hear Hank Azaria’s take. Cumberbatch’s voice doesn’t detract from the film, certainly, but it can’t help but distract a little.
Nevertheless, we have a new, soon-to-be holiday classic on our hands, and with any luck, it will delete the sauerkraut, toadstool, and arsenic aftertaste left behind after the 2000 film. That thing makes a bad banana with a greasy black peel seem positively inviting.