DR. Seuss’ THE GRINCH
2.5 out of 4 stars
While not nearly as garish and off point as the 2001 live-action version, this second feature adaptation of the 26-minute 1966 TV special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” bares only a passing resemblance to the genuine article.
Animated with flawless, CGI perfection, “The Grinch” replaces the borderline horror aspects of the original (narrated and voiced by horror legend Boris Karloff) with bouncy pastel slapstick, an up-to-the-minute nod toward ultra-political correctness and an overall softening of all the edges which has kept the ’66 original among the most enduring holiday specials ever produced.
When it was announced that the esteemed thespian Benedict Cumberbatch would voice the title character, “Grinch,” purists and Dr. Seuss fans were guardedly optimistic. Like Karloff, Cumberbatch is British with a lower-register voice yet in the film speaks with a higher-pitched, American accent that is completely lacking in personality or danger. Generic as it can be, it is the single worst factor in the movie and almost instantly lends the production as a whole an overwhelming sell-out, vanilla feel.
It may seem nitpicking but the Cumberbatch Grinch — like everyone else in Whoville — has perfect teeth. The original Grinch’s gnarled orthodonture added greatly to his menace factor. Vanilla is also an apt description for the even higher-pitched yet thankfully brief narration turned in by one-hit wonder Pharrell Williams (“Happy”).
Another big change — one many will embrace — is the extended participation of the equally iconic Cindy Lou Who. In the original, Cindy Lou (voiced by animation legend June Foray) was a naive child without much of a clue, but here (voiced by Cameron Seely) she is a go-getter, girl power type. This is great inasmuch as she gets the best lines and has the greatest character depth, but might be too far removed from the original for die-hards.
One of better new wrinkles weaved in by screenwriter Michael LaSieur is the attention Cindy pays to her younger, misbehaving twin brothers, her (divorced or widowed?) single mom, Donna (Rashida Jones), and her mild obsession with, not so much unmasking Santa Claus, but rather just putting a face to the name, which leads to a quality uptick in the third act.
LaSieur is able to take the last 10 minutes of the TV special and meld it with the last half hour of this new film and make it work. Perhaps co-directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier realized straying too far would lose older audience members, and maybe that is why the finale is as close to the spirit of the original as anyone could rightfully expect.
Thanks to the time of year, the power of the brand and the onslaught of tie-in marketing of every conceivable source, “The Grinch” will likely crush at the box office and establish legs for the rest of the holiday season. It’s certainly not the disaster it could have been, but neither does it do anything to get it close to “classic” holiday fare.
What might be really interesting would be putting together one (or two or three) 90-minute anthology movie in equal 30-minute parts with today’s finest animators delivering new interpretations of the original piece. Although they could be wildly different in quality and in style, it’s unlikely any of them could be worse than the 2001 live-action debacle directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey.
This work by Dr. Seuss is essentially bulletproof. You could do and re-do it to death and still not fully besmirch the legacy. “The Grinch” is far from ideal but also not quite the disaster it could have been.