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Review: The Grinch

November 9, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

First published by Dr. Seuss in 1957, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has become a beloved staple of the holiday season, with its rhyming story and heartfelt message about rediscovering the true meaning of Christmas. The book has been adapted multiple times over the years, furthering the prevalence of the story.

First there was the beloved 1966 TV special, which still holds up beautifully year after year with its gorgeous hand-drawn animation and iconic songs. It was followed by Ron Howard’s feature length, live action rendering of the story starring Jim Carrey in 2000, which is remembered by some as being a garish mess and viewed by others as a misunderstood childhood classic.

This was followed by a stage show, which incorporated elements from both the animated special and the live action movie. Now Illumination has brought the story to the screen once again, this time as an animated feature simply titled The Grinch. Yes, it takes some liberties with the original story, but the film really won me over with its beautiful animation and huge amount of heart. It works because it mostly stays true to the spirit of Dr. Seuss’ book, while expanding it in some heartfelt ways.

The basic story remains the same. The Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) lives alone in a mansion atop a mountain that overlooks Whoville, and every Christmas he gets irritated by the increasingly elaborate holiday displays that are put on by the Whos, from their brightly coloured decorations to their constant singing. It’s the seeming frivolousness with which the Whos celebrate Christmas that the Grinch resents, so he hatches a plan to steal Christmas, with help from his faithful dog Max, an obese reindeer named Fred, and a collection of elaborate gadgets.

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a great vocal performance in the title role, not only using an American accent but also doing a thoroughly convincing Grinch voice as well, capturing both the annoyance and emotion of the character perfectly. This version of the Grinch is more lonely and sad than he is truly bad, and while he still has moments of meanness, like during an early trip down to Whoville to get his groceries, he is also presented here as a hugely sympathetic protagonist. This just makes his awakening at the end all the more heartwarming and bittersweet.

While some might say that the point of the original story is that nobody really knows why the Grinch hates Christmas – it’s literally right there in the rhyming text that “no one quite knows the reason” – I think this choice actually works quite well in how it gives a slightly new angle to this retelling. This story is as much about “why” the Grinch stole Christmas as it is about “how” he does it, and the moments that show the Grinch’s loneliness, including a few heartbreaking flashbacks to his childhood in an orphanage, are some of the best scenes in the film.

The film’s secondary storyline focusing on Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), a precocious kid who in this version is far more than two and has an overworked single mother (Rashida Jones), isn’t quite as well fleshed out and feels somewhat more derivative. It’s still charming stuff, but the scenes focusing on the Grinch himself are naturally the strongest parts of the film. The subplot with Cindy and her friends hatching a plan to capture Santa Claus at times feels like it was added to pad out the story to feature length, but it is still sweet to watch and does tie in quite nicely to the main story by the end.

The film itself looks great, with Illumination’s bright and colourful animation style being a good fit to bring this world to life. The narration by Pharrell Williams is, of course, written in rhyming verse, lifting many quotes directly from the page while also fleshing out the story and going in its own direction at certain points. There are a few moments from the original text that I wish the filmmakers had kept in, but overall The Grinch does a pretty wonderful job of paying tribute to the classic story while also feeling like its own thing, setting a new high bar for Dr. Seuss adaptations.

I found the film to be very entertaining to watch, and also genuinely touching at certain points. It not only has the potential to make your own heart grow three sizes by the end, but it might just make you tear up as well, as it did for me. It’s ultimately the beating heart at the centre of it all that makes this version succeed, and The Grinch is a delightful movie to watch as we head into the Christmas season, especially when paired with the 1966 classic.

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