While it's certainly arguable that the curmudgeonly Grinch is a little less of a curmudgeon in Illumination Entertainment's revisiting of Dr. Seuss' The Grinch, the film, co-directed by Yarrow Cheney (The Secret Life of Pets) and longtime Kevin Smith producer Scott Mosier, is a refreshing return to the wonder, warmth and wit of the classic tale and still superior 1966 original presenting a Grinch who is still certainly more than a little evil but more sad than mad and desperately wanting to be glad.
In other words, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch is quite rad.
I laughed and I cried during this slight and breezy 90-minute endeavor, a vastly more satisfying experience than Jim Carrey's overblown, overwrought and freakishly grim 2000 live-action version that managed to disappoint even with low expectations. Expectations may be similarly low for this version given it comes to us from the same production house that gave us Despicable Me, Minions, and The Secret Life of Pets.
While this Grinch occasionally misfires, most notably with a musical accompaniment that is spry and fun yet destined to keep the film from ever truly attaining status as a classic, more often than not the warmth, wit and wicked sneer of Dr. Seuss' original material shines through here and there is much holiday jeer and cheer to be had.
Not surprisingly given the involvement of Illumination Entertainment, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch has a vastly brighter color palette than the 2000 film that is further enlivened by the aforementioned musical soundtrack including Tyler, The Creator's heavy vibing, hip-hop version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
The tale itself should be familiar to most anyone seeing the film, though the script by Michael LeSieur (Glory Daze) and Tommy Swerdlow (Snow Dogs) only pays minimal attention to Grinch's backstory while taking full-on advantage of rapper Pharrell Williams' presence here as the film's narrator in creating Seussian couplets that enhance the film's authenticity.
The master stroke here is the vocal casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Grinch. Cumberbatch is a vocal chameleon capable of immersing himself in even the most unique of characters and his work here is less snarly, a little gnarly, deeply felt, possessing of so many tiny vocal nuances that you can't help but fall in love with him even as you know you're kind of supposed to hate this Chrismas stealing curmudgeon. Cumberbatch wisely avoids any comparisons to the iconic Karloff vocal work, though thankfully he also avoids Carrey's broadness. While some may consider it a safer interpretation, it's faithful to the source material and put this otherwise Grinchly film critic in the Christmas spirit full-on.
At 90 minutes, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch avoids over-extending the story to the point its unrecognizable with the main editions being a wee bit of insight into Grinch's Dickensian upbringing and the presence of a Christmas loving chap named Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson) whose holiday decor is more than a little bit on the extreme side. While the story also tosses in a bit of extra insight into why Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely, The Greatest Showman) is so desperately seeking Santa, none of the additions ever feel extraneous as LeSieur and Swerdlow have woven them so thoroughly into the film's tapestry.
Kudos must be given to the film's production team for a rather magnificently manifested Whoville, a festive, snow globe-like Christmas village that reminded me of everything that I love about classic Christmas shows with their celebratory festive spirit and immersive, chill-inducing warmth. It's no wonder such a place would send Grinch over the edge.
Rashida Jones' vocal work is an absolute gem as Donna Lou Who, while Angela Lansbury, as the Mayor of Whoville, has a far too brief appearance sure to put a smile on your face. Tristan O'Hare is also wonderful as Cindy Lou Who's best friend Groopert.
While falling a bit short of the holiday classic we would all like it to be, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch is a witty and wonderful wonderland of holiday spirit sure to put a smile on the faces of adults and children alike while also reminding us of the immense depth and meaning behind Dr. Seuss' writings. Filled to the brim with opportunities to laugh and a few moments where your heart may very well grow three times larger, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch is a delightful way to kick off the holiday season.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic