Plot: The residents of Whoville are a perky, upbeat lot, but high above the town in an isolated mountain cave lives The Grinch, who despises the Whos and only has one friend, his dog Max. He does venture to Whoville at times, to pick up food and other supplies, but he considers these trips to be a chore and he is hounded by the Whos, at least from his perspective. The kindness and welcome offered to him on these treks is like nails on a chalkboard to The Grinch, but the experience is a hundred times worse during one season, Christmas. The town is louder and more friendly, and it irks him to no end, but this year is much worse than previous ones. He is inspired to steal the holiday from the Whos in order to shut them up once and for all, but will he go through with his plan or will Christmas warm even his small heart?
Entertainment Value: This adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic has a brighter, more relaxed take than Ron Howard’s outlandish live action version, so this is softer and more aimed at younger audiences. The magic of the original with Boris Karloff remains the definitive adaptation to me, but this new animated version is harmless and offers some cool visuals, not to mention an interesting take on the material. The core narrative remains on point, with The Grinch irritated and determined to steal Christmas, but the fresh elements and softer tone help it feel unique from the other incarnations. I liked The Grinch’s interactions with the Whos prior to his holiday theft scheme, as this movie makes him seem just socially anxious, rather than a cruel or warped persona. The scenes with his over the top neighbor Mr. Bricklebaum were a highlight, while the single mother thread seemed odd, but doesn’t derail things. The Grinch doesn’t seek to break new ground, but just put a new stamp on the material that is designed for the young viewers to appreciate. So I wouldn’t rank it alongside the original, but it is a fun watch and is better than I anticipated.
The animation style is similar to other Illumination releases like Despicable Me, with colorful and exaggerated visual elements. But the animation remains faithful to the material and presents the well known characters in recognizable fashion, so you know The Grinch and the Whos right off the bat. Of course, some fresh touches are added to add a unique spin, but the balance is right on the money, I think. The world design is also quite impressive, building Whoville into a bustling, super detailed locale that is rich with small visual cues to look for. The same holds true for The Grinch’s lair, which features his improvised tech creations, various gadgets to make his life easier and later on, serve to assist him in stealing Christmas. The voice cast is fine, but only a few roles get a chance to stand out, as the movie focuses on a small number of characters. Benedict Cumberbatch steps into The Grinch with some large shoes to fill, but he delivers an odd and quirky performance that is quite fun. I took a while to come around on his approach, but it works and feels natural to the character. Kenan Thompson has a small, but fun role as The Grinch’s overzealous neighbor and steals a few scenes. The cast also includes Angela Lansbury, Rashida Jones, and Pharrell Williams.