‘The Grinch’ plot is two sizes too small
The Grinch Rated: PG for brief rude humor. Running time: 86 minutes. 66 out of 4
“The Grinch” is a film for moviegoers who liked “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” but walked away from the classic 1966 TV special thinking, “that could have used some hip-hop music, and a more sympathetic Grinch.”
And more characters. The computer-animated update pads the narrative with several new people and animal creations that are redundant to the story. “The Grinch” is a movie that can fill up the toy shelves, even as it insists in continuing the original message that Christmas is in your heart.
The sarcastic comments mostly end there. The makers of “Minions” and the “Despicable Me” movies find a consistent offbeat humor in the adaptation, while retaining the sneaky emotional core. Effort and creative energy are visible from beginning to end. But the new film highlights the greatest problem of any big-screen Seuss reimagination: It’s very hard to turn this 69-page picture book into a 90-minute movie.
“The Grinch” is based on the 1957 Dr. Suess book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” still a classic, and arguably the best children’s book from the author born Theodor Geisel. That was followed by the even-more-beloved holiday television special, directed by animation master Chuck Jones, with Boris Karloff voicing the Grinch. It retained the look and the poetic pacing of the book, adding a classic soundtrack and even more soul.
“The Grinch” colors outside the lines from the beginning, showing us detail far beyond the Seuss mythology. Some of this is quite inspired. The town of Whoville becomes even more idyllic, with snowball-making machines and a sense of geographical depth that is one of the welcome additions to to the story. “Grinch” co-director Yarrow Cheney was a production designer on the first two “Despicable Me” movies, and his eye for detail (with co-director Scott Mosier) is a consistent asset.
But there are strange deviations. Original Dr. Seuss character Cindy Lou Who now has a friend circle and an overworked single mother (voiced by Rashida Jones), whose problems feel like an odd modern distraction to the central storyline. The Grinch now has a neighbor named Brickelbaum, voiced by Kenan Thompson, who offers little beyond the sight gag of his obsessively decorated house.
Benedict Cumberbatch voices The Grinch, and he seems like a safe and solid choice; the actor’s sterling voice-over history includes the dragon Smaug from the recent “Hobbit” movies. But he adopts a nasal quality, paired with a script that offers excuses for The Grinch’s behavior. Once a cold-hearted grouch, he comes across as more of a whiner.
Danny Elfman scores the film, bringing a welcome “The Nightmare Before Christmas” vibe to the proceedings, especially in the inventive and music-heavy scenes where the Grinch steals the presents and other signs of Christmas from the sleeping Whovians. Tyler the Creator offers a new hiphop infused version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and a new song for the film.
Like almost everything else in “The Grinch,” it’s not terrible. But it’s not necessary either. This is a film that will entertain a few children, satisfy a few adults with low expectations, then quickly be forgotten.
Bricklebaum, voiced by Kenan Thompson, left, and the Grinch, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, in a scene from “The Grinch.”