Two of the more notable Christmas figures aren’t exactly big fans of the holiday. Dickens offered us Ebenezer Scrooge, a man that oozes greed and disdain for those who bear an affinity for the Christmas season. The story is about reflecting a man’s loneliness, a man’s absence of humanity, as the core cause for his insignificant life. How no one will remember him, because no one knew him. The hardening of his heart is designed to melt, as is Dr. Seuss’ (Theodor Geisel) furry, green, and charmingly vile figure “The Grinch.”
A classic since its publication in 1958, the book inspired its fair share of adaptations. However, the mimicking of Seuss’ aggravating rhymes and symmetrical storytelling has always been something of a nuisance for myself. I know that it is an epochal trait of Seuss’ style or form as a children’s novelist, but it's a formalization of narrative that only feels quintessential for the youthful reader. It’s more of a bolstering blister for the adults in the room, which is how Scott Mosier (acclaimed Kevin Smith producer) and Yarrow Cheney (co-director of “The Secret Life of Pets”) fabricate the newest illustration of Seuss’ iconic holiday tale.
The backstory and the narrative itself are all-too-familiar, barely sketching diverging pathways for previously acquainted audiences. The differences in the story are slight, hardly noticeable. In fairness, the adaptation of a story (especially one as beloved as this one) is a challenging feat. Maintaining a native resemblance to the original and a nuanced form for the next generation, that’s not exactly a mixture of storytelling that arrives with ease. Nor is the blending of maturity and adolescent-targeted screenwriting, as the best of the family genre resides in that crux of genius. How a story like “Toy Story” can latch itself to both the whimsical nature of kids and the reserved insecurity of adults, that’s something of a feat of higher-level thinking that “The Grinch” strays away from, which should come to no surprise.
“Despicable Me” was a film only as good as it's childlike entertainment values, never competing with the likes of “Inside Out,” “Finding Nemo,” or any of the other peaks of the American animation cinema. Illumination has never attempted to breach that barrier, choosing to remain reserved and predominantly careful with their films. Targeting an audience, and one audience only, “The Grinch” remains grounded by its lack of maturation or adult-like motifs and messages to be delivered through childhood wonder.
That said, there are some lunges in diversity that are welcomed. The idea of a strong-mother storyline in which Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely) hopes to have one gift, and one gift only, for her year-long benevolence. It’s not for her, but for her double-shift working, exhausted, and continuously devoted mother (Rashida Jones). Watching her lead a gang of hoodlums and pranksters is a joy to see, as is the amusing recapturing of Seuss’ infamous main-character.
First depicted, at least filmatically, by Boris Karloff in the 1966 television featurette, and most recently portrayed by Jim Carrey in the 2000 live-action picture, directed by Ron Howard; “The Grinch” is a character that has shredded many green fur coats, and now Illumination has quite possibly upstaged them all. Now, Karloff’s 1966 version is incomparable in many ways, seemingly unable to be overshadowed for its prominence as the original film debut for the character. However, Benedict Cumberbatch most certainly levels that of his contemporary Jim Carrey. Jim’s performance always walked the tightrope between Carrey’s improvisational brilliance and an authentic enlivening of the grassy, grizzly Skrooge. At times, he leans far too much into Carrey’s comedic genius, straying away from the character itself and masquerading the Grinch beneath the presence of the immaculacy that is Jim Carrey.
Cumberbatch, though performing through voice-over, encapsulates the character’s childlike freight, while maintaining a warm, fuzzy sense of a lonely man looking for someone to accompany him on these destructive adventures. He strays away from his well-known captivating techniques, choosing to invoke an American accent to veil his identity beneath the pixelated animation. It’s not great enough to surpass Karloff’s iconic depiction, but it certainly outdoes Carrey’s spontaneity.
The modernizing of animation lends a helping hand as well, manufacturing a level of world building that is brilliantly intricate and imaginatively festive. It’s delightfully Seussian, slanting and curving through the wondrous world of Whoville. The festivity is animated with splendor, fabricating captivatingly illustrative gingerbread villages, mitten-shaped windows, and snow-enriched environments that encapsulates the aesthetical gala of the Christmas season. The Grinch’s monstrous cave is drenched in child-like curiosity, stretching far and wide in solidarity and isolation like that of the devious smile of the frivolous Grinch.
The gadgets and equipment the Grinch creates are devilishly clever, the action scenes are slapstick and energetic, and the music, is livelily reimagined by Danny Elfman, but trespasses the pop-ridden modernizing with a propped up version of Thurl Ravenscroft’s classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Tyler the Creator. A lot of it feels that way though, teetering between ridiculously renovated and sharply adapted.
“The Grinch” is a welcomed treat nonetheless, a warm enough illustration of the famous Christmas tale that will thaw the coldest of hearts. It’s charming and cute, never losing that fantastical juvenile mischief; able to firmly plant itself in the thickness of the snow and provide enough heart-warming cheer to make even the most cynical man cry.