By Jessica Owoc
November 9, 2018
“That could have been so much worse!” exclaimed The Grinch moments before he was catapulted from the top of Mt. Crumpit into the town of Whoville and, quite frankly, Illumination’s updated take on the Dr. Seuss classic elicited the same response. Another remake is bound to have many asking “why.” However, like its predecessors (the 1966 television special and the 2000 Jim Carrey live-action version), it doesn’t take long to get caught up in the magic of the world Dr. Seuss created and to fall in love with the unlovable green monster as we watch his heart grow three sizes in one day.
Most are familiar with the plot of The Grinch and this rendition sticks to the formula. The Grinch (voiced here by Benedict Cumberbatch) hates Christmas and the Whos of Whoville love it. The Whos make too much noise on Christmas Day and drive the Grinch crazy, so he hatches a plot to steal Christmas accompanied by his loyal dog, Max. This rendition however, adds in other plot elements and a few new characters to freshen it up.
In this more modern take, Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) is the daughter of a single mom (Rashida Jones) who spends her time working and taking care of Cindy Lou and her young twin brothers. Cindy Lou, a more rambunctious version than we are used to seeing, has only one Christmas wish: for Santa to help make her Mother happy. The supporting cast is rounded out most notably by Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury and by Pharrell Williams as the narrator. Besides The Grinch and Cindy Lou, the rest of Whoville is regulated to bit players and background fluff. While Thompson’s character, Bricklebaum (who proclaims he is The Grinch’s best friend) delivers some truly funny moments, the rest of the cast feels more like time fillers, trying in vain to flesh out this 90-minute tale.
Cumberbatch brings a more empathetic take to the mean Mr. Grinch who, in this retelling, isn’t that mean at all. Throughout the film, we catch glimpses of a softer side of the Grinch. Whether he is letting his newly recruited reindeer, Fred, go back to his family, remembering his painful past, or letting his trusty sidekick Max sleep in his bed, it appears that maybe his heart isn’t two sizes two small but he’s just lonely and misunderstood.
Illumination, best known for films such as The Minions, Secret Life of Pets and Despicable Me, has made a name for itself in the animation world and is on the cusp of becoming a rival for the giant Pixar. With many of its films over the last few years striking mass popularity, it seems likely that familiarity with this beloved holiday tale will keep the streak going. Illumination’s animation stands its ground with bright and colorful recreations of the world of Whoville. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they sure gave it a shiny new coat of paint that’s beautiful to look at. Additionally, updating the classic with a more pop-style soundtrack (listen to Tyler, The Creator’s “I Am The Grinch”), helps make the film feel fresh.
But even with all the bright colors, funny moments and star-studded voice power, it’s still another Grinch movie. The themes and lessons learned are still the same, and after you leave the theater you’re not left with anything game changing. Other than introducing the characters to a younger audience and putting a slightly modern spin on it, the film doesn’t roll out any new ideas. It’s a fun ride while watching, but didn’t add enough to The Grinch universe to make it feel necessary.
Remaking a beloved holiday tale isn’t easy, especially one as iconic as this one, but The Grinch does a decent job, better than expected. Most of the jokes and recurring gags land well and even though the message doesn’t change, the emotional elements still hit in the right spots. The Grinch provides a fun, colorful, and family-friendly escape and while it won’t replace the original, it could have been much worse.
Star Rating: 3 out of 5