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Film Review: The Grinch

25 November 18 words: Ashley Carter

That grumpy old green sod is back again, this time for a feature-length animated version starring Benedict Cumberbatch... 

Director: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams

Running time: 86 mins

Dr. Seuss’ curmudgeonly green creation is back on the big screen for a largely unnecessary, but mostly enjoyable, turn in The Grinch. On the off chance that you hatched out of an egg yesterday, the story follows the Grinch, a grumpy, solitary figure who lives in a cave on the outskirts of Whoville with his lovable dog, Max. Disgusted by the festive good-cheer of Whoville inhabitants, he attempts to put an end to Christmas by stealing every Christmas tree, light and present from the town on Christmas Eve. 

The Grinch marks the second Seuss adaptation from animation studio Illustration, following 2012’s impressive The Lorax.  Whilst it lacks that film's charm, The Grinch succeeds in invoking the same feeling of majesty in its creation of a visually stunning, immersive world. The Whoville presented here is sweetness personified, with an element of structured chaos at its core. There are no straight roads, no two buildings alike, but the town runs like a well-built Rube Goldberg machine, as inhabitants happily live their Seussian little lives in bubblegum bliss, eagerly awaiting Christmas. But misery loves company, and mean old Mr. Grinch can’t allow the inhabitants to enjoy their pre-yuletide cheer whilst he wallows in isolation.

It creates a cast of cutesy characters, and a much softer, empathetic Grinch, seemingly aimed at selling merchandise to impressionable young viewers.

There is much to admire in this adaptation, not least of all the re-worked character of Max, the Grinch’s loyal dog and only companion. Rather than being a frightened, timid creature that does his owner’s bidding, we instead see a lovably goofy animal that stands out as the film’s main highlight. Much of this is down to his treatment by a Grinch that in previous versions has subjected his dog to mistreatment, but now holds him as a sort of canine consigliere. This Grinch isn’t just mean for the sake of it, he is given a more fleshed out back-story to justify his hatred of Christmas, and invoke a sense of understanding.  For better or worse, in these times we live in, it’s unlikely that any animated film could just have an outsider or villain that was presented any other way.

Whilst the voice acting talents of Kenan Thompson and Rashida Jones are welcome choices, the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role feels like something of a misstep. His nasally, irritating performance grates after the first few scenes, and sits uncomfortably for the remainder of the film. 

Sadly, his voice isn’t the only problem with the film. Whereas previous tellings of the story have focused on the original message, a critique of the over-commercialisation of Christmas, the 2018 version seems to miss the point entirely. Instead, it creates a cast of cutesy characters, and a much softer, empathetic Grinch, seemingly aimed at selling merchandise to impressionable young viewers. 

Is it necessary? Not really. Has it missed the actual point of the Grinch’s story? Probably. But does it pack enough charm and entertainment value to make it worth watching? Just about.

Did you know? The studio originally wanted Benedict Cumberbatch to voice the Grinch using his natural voice, but the actor felt that, since the rest of the cast is American, the Grinch himself should have an American accent.

The Grinch is in cinemas now

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