Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch: Bah Humbug

Benedict Cumberbatch voices the Grinch in "Dr. Seuss' The Grinch" from Illumination.

After an 18 year gap, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch gets its first animated big-screen adaptation of the 1957 classic book without much to enjoy.

Because the story is one that airs as a television special every year, I’m not going to discuss much of the plot.  The biggest difference from the book appears to be the larger role for Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely).  This goes back to the Ron Howard-directed film in 2000.  With regards to the animated film, this is really the only thing taken from the other adaptation.

The film dives into an emotional backstory of the Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) with hope that the audiences can relate and root for him.  He was raised at an orphanage and spent much of the years all alone.  There’s a sense of sadness acquired in knowing what makes him the way he is.  It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy the holiday but if you had to spend the holiday alone all the time, you’d be miserable, too.  Surely, this would have made him cynical along the way.

Cindy-Lou Who sees how hard her single mom, Donna Who (Rashida Jones), is over-worked.  She has one wish and that’s to make things easier on her mom.  Nobody could blame her since her mother is so exhausted from working all night and taking care of the family during the day.  But the Grinch has another plan in mind and that’s to steal Xmas from Whoville.  We all know how the rest of the story plays out.  His heart grows three times bigger and finally sees the light.

Because the book is only 69 pages, it means Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow create new characters with their script.  Some of these are nice additions but that’s all they are.  Don’t get me wrong as there are some fun moments involving new character Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson) and his four-legged friend.  It’s not quite stealing the show but you can see some of these moments coming.  Meanwhile, Whoville really becomes a town in a way it’s never been portrayed before.  It’s got a Who Foods for crying out loud!

If there’s one reason to see the film, it’s not because of the message of teaching kindness and generosity.  No, it’s to see the loyalty of Max.  Max is a cute dog.  Because of this, Max steals the show.  He is more than the loyal best friend!  Honestly, I just want a spin-off that is all about Max.  Is this too much to ask from Illumination?  Reindeer Fred is an interesting addition to the Grinch cannon.  Pharrell Williams’ narration adds another layer to the story, too.

Maybe it’s because animation has come such a long way in the past two decades but there’s a lot of care that goes into The Grinch.  We get vast cinematic visuals that wouldn’t be seen in such a live-action film without a lot of CGI.  Benedict Cumberbatch is such an unlikely choice to play the villainous Grinch but the Sherlock star pulls it off.  I say this because I haven’t seen the actor in many comedies, if any at all.  Even though it’s been some time since viewing the live-action 2000 film, I prefer his take to that of Jim Carrey.  The upside to an animated film for Cumberbatch is that he didn’t have to endure the tortuous makeup process like Carrey.

When you’re dealing with adaptations of such classics, it’s inevitable that comparisons will be made.  In going the adaptation route, there’s a lot more leeway than with a live-action film.  Some things don’t change, however.  “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is a requirement and the new version is performed by Tyler, the Creator.  Composer Danny Elfman gives the film a score that pays homage to his previous works while also giving the film the right feel.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch stays true to the original story, gets deeper into what drives the Grinch but ultimately, it never quite lives up to the original animated special.

DIRECTORS:  Scott Mosier, Yarrow Cheney
SCREENWRITERS:  Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow
CAST:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, with Angela Lansbury and Pharrell Williams

Illumination and Universal Pictures opens Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch in theaters on November 9, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.