This computer-animated filming of the Dr. Seuss classic from the mostly France-based Illumination studio follows the original story fairly closely and is colourful and amusing enough, and yet, like so many Christmas movies, it’s all a bit forgettable – and iffy.
A yuletide favourite almost on the level of A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, Love Actually and maxing out your credit cards, the original 1957 book from Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel) has strangely only been properly filmed three times: as Chuck Jones’ animated 1966 TV movie narrated by Boris Karloff; as a pretty dire live-action epic from Ron Howard in 2000 with Jim Carrey in a ludicrous costume; and as this gaudy would-be-charmer that adds a few modern touches and trips over its moral messages.
After a quick short (Yellow is the New Black) featuring Illumination’s beloved Minions, we then get into this one’s plot with help from narrator Pharrell Williams. The town of Whoville (a version of Seuss’ vision that’s been cleaned-up and apparently coated in candy and gingerbread) is building up to Christmas, and the townspeople (or townsWhos?) include six-year-old Cindy-Lou (Cameron Seely), a kid who oh-so-nobly wants the best for her stressed-out mum Donna (Rashida Jones).
North of Whoville, on Mount Crumpit, The Grinch is then introduced, and he’s, of course, voiced rather nicely by an Americanised Benedict Cumberbatch. A sort of green, furry, pear-shaped man-dog-monkey with a permanent scowl and disturbing y-fronts, this Grinch lives with his long-suffering mutt Max and absolutely hates Christmas and all the commercialised crap that goes with it (much like Seuss – or at least the second part).
Cumberbatch and Illumination’s Grinch isn’t really like the Doctor’s Grinch at all: originally, he was uglier, meaner and more gloating, while this Grinch is almost cute and revealed to have a heart two sizes too small, something that wasn’t helped by lonely Christmases he endured as an orphaned child. The poor love.
Now he loathes all things Christmassy and isn’t above pushing over a kid’s snowman, fleeing from well-wishers and, eventually, concocting his master plan to steal everything even remotely Christmas-esque from Whoville to teach them a damn lesson. And yes, all he really needs is friends. And a hug.
Co-directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, this is the second Illumination filming of a Seuss tale after The Lorax, and it probably won’t be the last either given that Seuss died in 1991 and his surviving family have been making big money licensing his books for films and lucrative merchandise ever since.
And isn’t there something a little off about the eventual moral of all this? The Grinch seizes all the Whos’ Christmas paraphernalia (presents, trees, decorations), but they (watch out because here come the spoilers!) realise that Christmas is actually in their hearts and they don’t need all that commercial stuff when they’ve got each other. Grinchy then has a (genuine) change of heart and returns their yuletide gear and they enjoy a huge Christmas with all that needless nonsense in full force. What?