I do love Christmas, and by extension, Christmas films. Miracle on 34th Street and Elf are both favourites, and another personal favourite is the 2000 live-action adaptation of The Grinch, starring Jim Carrey. I understand it’s a very divisive film, and can see why, but like anything nostalgic from my childhood, I hold it up on a pedestal. I do avoid watching it nowadays however, as most childhood nostalgia films I revisit just seem to ruin that sense of nostalgia.
So, on to the present-day, and we have a new Grinch adaptation, made by Illumination Entertainment, the brains behind the Despicable Me films, and it is wholly unnecessary and unneeded when viewed from the outside, there is nothing that can be added to this Christmas classic, it can however add to the bank balance of Illumination’s CEO, so here we are.
In an adaptation of the Dr Seuss classic, Benedict Cumberbatch voices The Grinch, a curmudgeonly creature with a burning hatred of Christmas. Annoyed by a The Who’s persistent optimism, he hatches a plan to steal Christmas.
The story of the Grinch is so well known, it feels redundant to even summarise its plot, so imagine how redundant it is to produce an entirely new adaptation of the film, which I’m going to try and not mention so much as it does get wearing to read about its redundancy, especially since every other critic has said the same.
My first, and most overwhelming, criticism is the animation style. It’s the same problem I have with any Illumination animation, their animation is far too clinical and lifeless for myself, all of the models have an ‘uncanny valley’ feel to them of looking dead behind the eyes. Granted, some of the landscapes look quite nice, but all the character models are still as sterilised as ever, offering no unique and discernible emotions beyond bug-eyed confusion, or making loud noises, which as we’ve learned from the rise of the Minions, Illumination seem to think loud noises constitute character traits. Alas, they do not.
Which may as well bring us on to the cast and characters, for what they are. Firstly, there’s Cumberbatch’s Grinch, which is probably the best realised thing in the film, if you hadn’t known who the voice actor was, you could be forgiven for not guessing it was him, and for what it’s worth he carries the film.
Elsewhere, there’s the typical ‘loud’ characters, here manifested as a group of children, I have a very low tolerance for child actors, when they are talented, they can be as good as any other actor, however when kids are cast in family movies, the result is never an enjoyable experience, they’re either being so saccharinely sweet or shrieking annoyingly about the latest on screen absurdity. The 2000 version had Taylor Momsen, who was at times irritating, she had believable character traits, she toed the line between sweetness and suspicion. Here, the little girl is far too righteously sweet, more than any child has ever been, her gang of friends range in irritability, but rest assured they are cookie-cutter characters, not to mention that they’re all annoying little berks.
In the end though, The Grinch left me with a smile and a warm feeling inside, which tells me the film was better than I give it credit for, its ending hit a nice sweet spot of warm, Christmas feelings, but it doesn’t win points for that as it was basically working off a cheat sheet.
In conclusion, if you can get over the overall redundancy of the film, and it’s sanitised animation style, then you’ll find a passable, if generic, slice of Christmas storytelling. It’s a safe bet with kids and those already familiar with Illumination’s work, I doubt it’ll be one that will stand the test of time however.