Director: Scott Mosier, Yarrow Cheney
Screenplay: Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Cameron Seely, Angela Lansbury
Runtime: 86 Minutes
1957’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss is a charmingly simple story, as is much of Seuss’ work, which means they couldn’t be more at odds with the excessive bloat of blockbuster storytelling which requires embellishment and further forced conflict in order to get it to feature length.
Adapted to feature once before in the befuddling Ron Howard film of 2000, what mess that made of the source material also makes it perversely entertaining to watch at points, with a go for broke physical performance from Jim Carrey.
So, seeing Illumination Entertainment take a second stab at an adaptation in the more malleable realms of computer animation sounds like something that should work better from a studio looking for another Despicable Me level hit featuring a lovable antagonist, but doesn’t. But unlike their recent adaptation of The Lorax that entirely botched the intention of its own story to a truly baffling degree, The Grinch is somehow even more flavourless than any other Seuss endeavour to the big screen.
Even though the design is certainly appealingly faithful to other translations of the text, and the actually stealing Christmas sequence unfolds with some creative invention and pop, the animation is almost too fluid and safe in a world where everything is a Rube Goldberg machine in a manner of weirdly controlled chaos, thus diluting the effect of the mentioned sequence and centrepiece.
There’s also the casting of The Grinch with a vocal performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, that on paper sounds inspired but in execution just doesn’t come across as much. Cast well before anyone else in the supporting cast, the rationale might have once been the appeal of Cumberbatch’s lower register and vocal countenance, but he plays the role in a nasally American accent that begs the question of why he was even cast in the first place (beyond name recognition) when you can’t even tell that it’s him to begin with.
The same basic structure of the original story is there, but the conflict that is added in the form of other characters and plot cul-de-sacs end up going absolutely nowhere by the end. Elements and characters are introduced, such as a red herring of a dynamic with Whoville being “3 times more Christmassy” not actually coming of anything, and characters that keep dipping in and out with very little function.
The one major addition is a subplot involving the young Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) and her motley crew of friends as they plan to trap Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. All for a reason that is both screamingly obvious and yet held at bay as a surprise that feels like it could have worked as a subversive twist if only it wasn’t bungled in execution and literally spoiled by the officially released plot synopsis.
There’s also the issue of this being another adaptation that once again seeks to explain The Grinch’s backstory, and the one that has been teased – or rather threatened – in the marketing material doesn’t even amount to that much and feels like just another needless detail that doesn’t add to anything beyond another needless addition.
Say what you will of the Jim Carrey version of decades past, clunky and ugly looking as it was, at least it wasn’t boring. But 2018’s The Grinch isn’t even worth getting worked up over. It’s just a very bland, predictable and safe nothing of a thing that’s over quick enough to forget about even happening.