FILM REVIEW – THE GRINCH. With the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams. Written by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow. Directed by Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier. Rated PG for brief rude humor. 90 minutes.
Just how many Grinches do we need? Dr. Seuss wrote his beloved book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” in 1957. An equally beloved 1966 cartoon version was created for television by legendary animator Chuck Jones, memorably voiced by Boris Karloff. Perhaps less known is a 1992 video, voiced by Walter Matthau. This was followed by a problematical live action version in 2000 directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey. With all of these readily available, there will be a stage version in Boston this season, as well as this new movie, animated by the same company that gave us “Despicable Me.”
We start with the idea that there’s absolutely no need for yet another version. Nonetheless, here is THE GRINCH. You know the story. Everyone in the utterly Christian village of Whoville is happily anticipating the arrival of Christmas. (There is apparently no one there celebrating any other holiday.) High up on a nearby mountain lives the Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who despises Christmas and the joyous fellowship shared by the residents. He comes up with a plan to steal Christmas by making off with all the decorations and presents on Christmas Eve, only to discover that the holiday is not about such trappings but about peace on Earth and goodwill towards Whos. This causes his tiny heart to grow, leading to a happy ending appropriate for the season.
So how is this new version? It’s certainly true to the spirit of the Dr. Seuss book. The Grinch may be bitter and cynical, but there are all sorts of hints about his ultimate redemption. His relationship with his devoted dog Max shows just how hungry he is for love and friendship. When he recruits a reindeer for his plot to steal Christmas disguised as Santa Claus, he releases the comical creature when its family shows up. His being touched by little Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), whose Christmas wish is not for herself but for her overworked single mom (Rashida Jones), is the logical outcome of the story.
In terms of the production, the animation from Illumination Entertainment is top-notch, bringing the surreal and cartoonish images of Dr. Seuss to life. Children should enjoy the colorful and imaginative settings, from the Rube Goldberg-like mechanisms of the Grinch to the busy yet efficient businesses of Whoville. Likewise, the depictions of the characters, particularly the Grinch, and the voice cast, is solidly done.
The one flaw is the music. Danny Elfman’s score is up to snuff, but for some inexplicable reason they’ve decided to update the key song associated with the story since the 1966 cartoon. This film’s discordant rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is so out of sync with the rest of the movie that it’s amazing that the project proceeded with it. They might have heeded the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This “Grinch” is not the mess that the live action movie was, and should entertain family audiences. Skeptics will remain unconvinced that there was any need for a new version.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.