Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier
Stars: voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Kel Thompson, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, Tristan O’Hare.
Under the pseudonym of Dr Seuss, Theodore Geisel (who died in 1991) is one of the best-selling authors of children’s books and he wrote over 40 books. Surprisingly he also penned the script for the bizarre 1953 film The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr T.
Many of his books have provided material for a number of short films and animations, while a handful have been turned into feature films. But live action versions of Seuss’s tales are a bit of a mess, as demonstrated by the awful 2003 film The Cat In The Hat starring Mike Myers. Animated films like Horton Hears A Who and The Lorax have been much more enjoyable and have captured the essence of Seuss’s creations.
The Grinch is based on the rather thin 1957 book How The Grinch Stole Christmas, about the green grouch who plans on ruining Christmas for the good folk of Whoville. It was previously filmed in 1966 as a whimsical animated short directed by Chuck Jones and narrated by Boris Karloff, and then again in 2000 by Ron Howard as a live action feature starring a frenzied and manic Jim Carrey as the grinch. This third version gives us another animated take on the familiar story, and it seems as if animation is the best way to bring the misanthropic character to the screen. The Grinch comes from Illuminations Studios and is the ninth feature from the creative force behind Despicable Me and the cute minions.
Here Benedict Cumberbatch (tv’s Sherlock Holmes, etc) voices the character of the titular grinch, and he does a superb job. Cumberbatch’s gruff sniggers and mean-spirited putdowns suit the character perfectly, but he lacks the nasty streak that Carrey brought to the iconic character. He is sarcastic, and his one-liners and puns are amusing, but he also brings an emotional depth to the character that was missing from Carrey’s interpretation.
He lives atop Mt Crumpet, isolated from the cheerful folk who live in Whoville, whom he despises. His only companion is his faithful dog Max, who is more of a servant than pet. The gGrinch only ventures into town when he needs to buy provisions. But he despises Christmas even more – never having known a family he experiences loneliness at Christmas and can’t enjoy the holiday.
But one Christmas he has to travel into town to buy some necessary provisions and is immediately struck by the joyous tone of the festivities, the singing and the lighting of the giant Christmas tree in the town square. Sickened by all the colour and glitz, and especially the annoying choir and the optimism, he sets out to ruin the holiday for everyone else. He decides to impersonate Santa Claus and take down all the decorations and steal all the presents. But then he undergoes a change of heart after meeting the perky, high spirited Cindy-Lou (voiced by Cameron Seely, from The Greatest Showman, etc), a sweet natured young girl who only wants Santa to make life easier for her hard-working single mother.
The Grinch has been adapted to the screen by writers Michael LeSieur (Keeping Up With The Joneses, etc) and Tommy Swerdlow (Cool Runnings, etc), who have distilled the essence of the story. But they have also stretched the thin 60-page tome out to nearly 90 minutes with some extra padding and subplots.
The film has been directed by former animator Yarrow Cheney (co-director of The Secret Life Of Pets, etc) and Scott Mosier, a former producer for Kevin Smith, making his feature directorial debut here. The pair have taken inspiration for the look and feel of the film directly from Seuss’ book. The CGI generated animation design for the town of Whoville itself is quite striking, creating a veritable winter wonderland of snow and colour. There is also a scene stealing reindeer named Fred that could well become a collectible toy if the marketing department gets its act together.
Cheney and Mosier have assembled a strong ensemble vocal cast to bring the other characters to life. Singer Pharrell Williams provides the rhyming voice over narration as well as supervising the seasonal music choices for the soundtrack. Danny Elfman provides his usual bombastic score. The vocal cast also includes Rashida Jones as Cindy Lou’s mother Donna; Kenan Thompson as the eternally cheerful neighbour Mr Bricklebaum, who outlandishly decorates his house; Angela Lansbury as the town’s mayor who orders that Christmas celebrations this year be bigger than ever. And hip-hop artist Tyler The Creator brings a grittier take to one of the more iconic songs You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch.
The film’s uplifting moral messages about the importance of family, friendship, kindness and inclusion at this festive time will resonate strongly with older audiences, while the younger audiences will love the colour, some inventive visual gags and the slapstick humour. While the grinch himself may have a small heart, this film itself has a huge heart. This new animated version of The Grinch is perfect family-friendly viewing for the upcoming holiday season.