*** ½ out of five stars
Dr. Seuss’s beloved holiday tale, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, is adapted for the big screen yet again. This latest take on the fable utilizes colorful 3-D CGI animation for a different look than Grinches past. How does this incarnation of the yuletide yarn fare? Let’s take a look.
As in all other versions of the story, the Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a grumpy, green-furred fellow who lives in seclusion right outside the town of Whoville. Unlike the cheerful Whos of Whoville, the Grinch cannot stand the holiday season, having spent his childhood as an unloved orphan. He ultimately plans to steal Christmas from the Whos by dressing as Santa Claus and robbing presents instead of giving them away. Meanwhile, the young Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) wants to contact Santa to help her overworked single mother Donna (Rashida Jones).
Ever since Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was released as a children’s book in 1957, its title has appeared many times, on the screen, stage, and other forms of media. The most well-known direct adaptations of the original story have been a 1966 animated TV special (directed by Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame), and a 2000 live-action feature film (directed by Ron Howard). The 1966 special has stood the test of time as both a holiday favorite and a loyal translation of its source material. The 2000 film (starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch), by comparison, has received a more mixed reception by comparison. Although the Howard film has many fans, especially viewers who grew up with it, some have criticized it for its darker, more stylized visuals and lewder Carrey-esque humor.
This new Grinch movie (produced by Illumination Entertainment of Despicable Me fame) sticks closer to the spirit of the original book and the Jones TV adaptation then the Howard film in some aspects. The Whos in the original book and special were portrayed as unshakably cheery and good-natured. In the 2000 film, the Whos were largely caught up in the materialism of Christmas (minus the disenfranchised Cindy Lou) and their mean-spirited treatment of the Grinch as a child lead to the latter’s hatred of holidays. This time around, the Whos are once again presented as genuinely jolly, and the Grinch’s miserly attitude is due to experiencing indifference as a child rather than outright cruelty.
The portrayal of Cindy Lou Who is where this film reflects the modern world. As mentioned above, her mother Donna is single and has her hands full caring for Cindy and twin baby brothers Buster and Bean while working. Another interesting addition comes in the form of the Who children who make up Cindy’s band of friends and comrades in her quest to reach Santa. They all have charming personalties, as do the Grinch and his dog Max in their own plotting to steal Christmas. The film is not laugh-out-loud, but manages to be charming and not obnoxious, and largely steers clear of the edgier humor that polarized viewers of the 2000 Grinch film.
It may not be the most groundbreaking animated film in recent memory, but directors Yarrow Cheney (an Illumination veteran) and Scott Moiser (a longtime collaborator of Kevin Smith) have crafted a delightful movie with attractive holiday visuals that respects the vision of Dr. Seuss’s classic tale. And this film is especially notable for being the swan song for Seuss’s widow Audrey Geisel, who is credited as a producer prior to her death a month after its release. It’s unknown what the future holds for further Seuss adaptations, but The Grinch is recommended as a cinematic Christmas treat. The filmmakers certainly deserve a spot on Santa’s Nice list.