What’s up with The Grinch?
In my house we had one firm rule – the DVD of Jim Carrey’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a film made all the way back in 2000, could not be played before December 1… ever. It was a rule I attempted to enforce with vigorous parental authority but conspicuously failed on most weekends from Halloween onwards. It duly became a muchloved part of the fabric of our family, despite the distinctly so-so reviews that greeted its release.
And maybe, in turn, the new animated version of the story will duly become part of the fabric of a new generation of families, despite this distinctly so-so review. Yes, the animation is a shiny, pixel-bright delight, and it’s interesting to hear Benedict Cumberbatch doing his American-accented best to lend fresh voice to the green, furry, Christmas-hating curmudgeon that is the title character. But the whole thing just seems lacking in that Yuletide essential: magic.
Purists may say that, barring the interpolation of an over-sized reindeer, the new version is more faithful to Dr Seuss’s original story than Carrey’s ever was. Pragmatists will say that for a feature-length film, Seuss’s 1957 picture book inevitably needs to be ‘padded out’ and that Carrey’s version did a better job of that than the new film. It’s only 90 minutes long but at times it definitely drags, particularly for anyone familiar with the basic story.
For anyone who is not… the Grinch lives in gloomy exile in a cave on towering Mount Crumpit, overlooking the colourful, cheerful, Christmas-loving town of Whoville, the inhabitants of which – the Whos – go into festive overdrive every December. Much to the annoyance of the Grinch, who hates Christmas, partly because his heart is famously ‘two sizes too small’ and partly for reasons that become clear about halfway through. But either way, to cut a short story even shorter, he resolves to steal Whoville’s Christmas altogether – every last bauble, tree and, of course, present. ‘Instead of bringing all the joy and happiness,’ he gloats, ‘I’m going to take it away!’ There’s no doubt the new film makes the Grinch splendidly unpleasant – this is the sort of bah-humbug creature who knocks down children’s snowmen, kicks away walking sticks and deliberately places vital ingredient jars out of reach of short Christmas shoppers. He even nearly gives away the biggest Christmas secret of all when kindhearted Cindy Lou announces her plan to stay up and wait for Santa to ask him something special.
The animation – from the company that makes the Minion films – is good too, not just with a swooping virtual camera that makes the giddymaking best of the snowy, slippery setting (Whoville is a place where residents ride bob-sleighs to work, Cindy Lou slides down mountains on a rubber ring, and the Grinch’s getaway vehicle is an overladen sleigh pulled by his dog, Max), but for Christmas lights that you can see coming on one by one. Nevertheless, this is a film that stubbornly refuses to come to real life, with Cindy Lou rounding up her gang in a way that never really grips or entertains and smacks too much of Charlie Brown. Pharrell Williams narrates a production that has clearly made the decision to make itself more ethnically diverse, but it doesn’t help itself with the turgid hip-hop-ification of songs such as You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch. So, in 18 years’ time, will a generation be looking back as fondly at this version of The Grinch as my family do at Jim Carrey’s? It’s possible – but I doubt it.
‘The animation is a delight… but this is a film that stubbornly refuses to come to real life’ DON’T MISS OUR BRILLIANT IT’S FRIDAY SUPPLEMENT ONLY IN THE
FRESH VOICE: The Grinch is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch