‘The Grinch’ is colorful, but the elaborated story loses sight of Dr. Seuss’ work.
Kernel Rating: 2.5 (2.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 90 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 5+. This updated version of Dr. Seuss’ classic story mostly sticks to the formula of a lonely Grinch resenting Whoville for their Christmas celebrations. The Grinch is rude and mean; a married couple kisses; a guard dog aggressively barks; there are some physical humor moments with characters flying through the air; and a larger-than-normal reindeer is very lightly mocked for not being in shape.
By Roxana Hadadi
Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a very simple story, and for many generations, the 1966 animated version starring Boris Karloff is the classic. It adapts Seuss’ work most accurately and soulfully, and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is inimitably catchy. In the realm of remakes, “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is more in line with that work than Jim Carrey’s 2000 live-action version, but still, the story is too built out here, the narrative too stretched. The film is bright and colorful, but the messaging still feels a bit off from what Seuss may have originally intended.
This animated film comes from Illumination Studios, who also created the “Minions,” and their typical tricks are applied here, too. The Grinch lives in a cave full of high-tech tools and gear, and Whoville is a place that practically screams, “more, more, more” — more lights, more gifts, more ornaments, more materialism. And that is what feels different about this version of the Grinch than the original animated version: In that film, the Grinch’s aversion to Christmas truly seemed to come from a place of his heart being “too sizes too small.”
This time around, he’s given a backstory that seems too neat and tidy, and the people of Whoville — well, they do seem to buy more into the consumerist qualities of Christmas than anything else. They spend much of the film buying more things, spending more money, opting for a gargantuan-sized tree and dozens of gifts and rows upon rows of Christmas stockings to be filled. It would be understandable if this Grinch objected to all that greed, but the film doesn’t make a meaningful point about materialism and its damaging effects. What it adds to Dr. Seuss’ story seems to distill the original work’s messaging instead of enhancing it.
In this version, the Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, of “The Avengers: Infinity War”) lives in a cave overlooking Whoville with his loyal, loving dog Max, and for more than 50 years has hated Whoville’s Christmas decorations and how they grow increasingly ostentatious. So with five days to go until Christmas, he decides to pretend to be Santa Claus and wipe out all the town’s Christmas paraphernalia, teaching them a message about — well, the film isn’t clear what the message is about. The Grinch’s grievances are at first about how over the top their Christmas celebration is, but then it transforms into a message about loneliness and exclusion, and the latter message seems to nullify the former. Children may feel encouraged to be more friendly with an understanding of the Grinch’s loneliness, but the “more” mentality doesn’t really go away.
While the Grinch is planning his nefarious deeds, the film also spends time with young Cindy Lou (voiced by Cameron Seely, of “The Greatest Showman”), who is worried that her letter to Santa Claus won’t make it to the North Pole. So she decides to capture Santa instead so she can tell him her wish: happiness for her hard-working single mother Donna (voiced by Rashida Jones, of “Inside Out”). Can Santa make that come true? And if the Grinch is pretending to be Santa, what happens to Cindy Lou’s wish?
Those built-out subplots are also joined by another involving a large reindeer who the Grinch tries to solicit to help them, drama between the Grinch and an overfriendly neighbor, and extended focus on the bombastic nature of Whoville’s decoration. All of it adds up to a film that feels a little too far away from Dr. Seuss’ original work, with little added payoff. The film is brightly colored, and the gadgets the Grinch uses feels like something Gru would have developed in “Despicable Me.” But those additions don’t feel worthy enough of paying for the 3D version of this film when you could just watch the animated version at home.
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