Mr. Cumberbatch is a mean one in Seussically magical ‘The Grinch’
“THE GRINCH” — 2½ stars — Voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely; PG (brief rude humor); in general release; running time: 90 minutes
The Grinch is back, with enough baggage to pack a stolen sleigh.
Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier’s “The Grinch” is the third screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ beloved book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” which follows the story of a green, Scrooge-like miser who tries to ruin Christmas for his pure-hearted neighbors (funny enough, the film’s narrator is pop star Pharrell Williams, well-known for the hit single “Happy”).
Following the 1966 animated TV version and the 2000 live-action movie with Jim Carrey, the Illumination people have gone with a feature-length animation for their take on the story. Here, Seuss’ basic foundation is in place, although the directors have had to pad quite a bit to get to a feature-length run time.
The story takes us to the colorful, exotic mountaintop village of Whoville, where a cheerful brand of pointy-fingered humanoids charge headlong into the Christmas season each year. Meanwhile, in a cave high above the village, a bitter green character called the Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) broods with his inexplicably loyal and long-suffering pooch Max.
The Grinch loathes all contact with the Whos — contact that mostly comes in the form of grocery runs to Whoville. But he especially hates Christmas and all of its gaudy charms, thanks to a sad and lonely childhood as an orphan, spent watching all the other kids reaping the fruits of the holiday spirit.
His deep-rooted bitterness leads to snide interactions with locals like Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), who the Grinch explains is naive enough to think they are friends.
Another of the Grinch’s neighbors is a little girl named Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), who has Christmas troubles of her own. Cindy Lou’s mother Donna (Rashida Jones) is raising her children on her own, so Cindy Lou is hoping to persuade Santa Claus to find her overworked mom some help.
For the most part, it’s Christmas season as usual in Whoville, but when the Whos erect a giant Christmas tree in their town square, the Grinch decides enough is enough. He hatches a plan to sneak into town on Christmas Eve — on a giant stolen sleigh — and steal all the Whos’ decorations, presents and holiday paraphernalia. He assumes that by robbing the town of its material goods, the infernal Christmas spirit will vamoose along with it.
As well-known as the classic story is, it’s unlikely audiences will be surprised at where “The Grinch” is going; rather, they might be surprised at how long it takes to get there. Where Seuss’ book is focused on the Christmas Eve caper, “The Grinch” pads its story out with a lot of prep work — stealing the sleigh, recruiting reindeer, etc. On the plus side, the film feels true to Seuss’ style and provides plenty of gags to keep the kids laughing, including some fun animated visuals once the actual caper gets underway.
It’s an uneasy mix, and altogether, most audiences will probably still prefer the ’66 TV special, which featured Boris Karloff as its voice talent. But comparisons aside, “The Grinch” does offer some laughs, and its familiar story is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit — even if Thanksgiving Day hasn’t rolled around yet. But if you do see “The Grinch,” be sure to also read the book so you can get that real dose of Seuss magic.
Rating explained: “The Grinch” is rated PG and is appropriate for most children as it’s filled more with scenes of physical comedy and pratfalls than actual scares.
Joshua Terry is an award-winning writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. He has written weekly film reviews for the Deseret News since 2013.