Without breaking new ground, this new computer animated Grinch proves to be the least memorable of the Seuss inspired characters in this Illumination adaptation.
Just in time for the holidays, the classic story from the pen of Dr. Seuss is given yet another cinematic treatment, but with a less frightening central protagonist than the live-action version from Ron Howard with comedian Jim Carrey. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, the Grinch is not nearly as intimidating, instead he’s depicted as a hapless loner, who, of course, is cared for by his loyal canine Max. Naturally, chief on the Grinch’s hate list is Christmas, and from his cave dwelling high above the town of Whoville, he plots to put an end to the holiday.
This rather ordinary telling of the familiar story benefits greatly from producer Chris Meledandri and his Illumination Entertainment’s approach, which is influenced by their blockbuster success, the “Despicable Me” franchise. Hints of other Illumination properties can be detected. The tone is bright and joyful, even when the Grinch is at his lowest. And Max is always there to comfort the ultimate curmudgeon.
Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) seems to be a little older in this version, as she assembles a team of her bike riding tween Whos to ensnare Santa on Christmas Eve. At times, she resembles a Minion, especially when she puts on three winter coats in order to search for Santa in the snowy night. Cindy Lou’s mother Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones) is a single mom, who works late hours and has to deal with raising three kids. I didn’t catch any backstory as to what happened to the father, but part of the narrative concerns trying to give Cindy Lou’s mother a break.
In addition to the adorable Max, we get a funny goat, that is right out of the growing Illumination canon. Every time the goat is on screen, you get a chuckle. And when the Grinch goes searching for reindeer to pull his slay, we are introduced to a rotund creature that helps melt the Grinch’s heart and is good for some homespun humor.
SNL’s Kenan Thompson has some of the best lines playing the eternally optimistic Bricklebaum. He’s the Grinch’s polar opposite, as he loads up his house with festive adornments and claims to be the Grinch’s best friend. Pharrell Williams adds his voice as the narrator, and the hip score benefits from composer Danny Elfman’s fresh licks. Finally, it’s great to hear the iconic 93-year-old Angela Lansbury providing the voice of The Mayor of Whoville.
Certainly not a bad reworking of the famous Seuss material, “The Grinch” is fine animated family entertainment, but it’s no classic that will replace the enduring strength of the 1966 TV movie.