Review: ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch’ is a Big Step Forward for Illumination But Adds Nothing New

When watching animated films, the genre often gets a bad rap for not tackling serious issues or appealing to adults. This often comes up when the subject matter does not push any boundaries or limits. These kinds of movies often have small gags, meant more to keep kids engaged than tell a story. In the case of Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, this is certainly the case. Yet despite that need to pander a bit more to the kids in the audience, the latest adaptation of The Grinch delivers a satisfying and enjoyable product that pushes Illumination Animation on the artistic front in a good way.

The Grinch follows the titular Dr. Seuss character (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the days leading up to Christmas. In this version, he is not so antagonistic to the people of Whoville (Rashida Jones & Kenan Thompson). Yet he isolates himself from the town despite their kindness. As an Orphan, The Grinch never had a family, and so he hates the Christmas season.

This year, the mayor (Angela Lansberry) has pushed for Christmas to be three times bigger than any other Christmas. This creates a breaking point for the miser, who begins to formulate his plan to steal Christmas with his dog, Max. Meanwhile, Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) begins to formulate a plan to speak to Santa Claus.

The voice cast is good in their roles, making the events enjoyable. Cumberbatch injects a level of loneliness into the Grinch, making his version stand out. He’s more level than most of the iterations of the character. He’s not as ridiculous as the Jim Carrey version, and not as mean as the Boris Karloff version either.

This mostly comes from the tone Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney direction. They dropped most of the meanness/negativity from the Grinch. In doing so, they turn him into a misunderstood hermit. This ultimately hurts the film from hitting some of the emotional beats that make the original so resonate. They also choose to let some of the iconic beats go, opting for a short mashup of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” from Tyler, The Creator. Avoiding the iconic song is an interesting choice, but helps show they were not beholden to the past versions.

Most peculiar in this adaption is the dropping of the central thesis of the film. In the original story and subsequent retellings, the line that solidifies the Grinch’s change of heart comes from the “maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” line. Coupled with the appearance of capitalism ruling over the holiday, this revelation brings real passion and a timelessness to the story. The way in which this film handles that moment is interesting and suggests the importance of being selfless. Yet it does not live up the iconic wordplay of one Theodore Geisel.

However, there are many positives to take away from this version. By toning down the actual meanness of the Grinch, the story seems to tell the audience that we are all good-hearted in our core. We can change and we can embrace others. Support within the community to work together also comes through on several occasions.

One of the aspects of the film that I appreciated a change was in the handling of Max. He steals the movie over and over again, creating a genuine throughline for the dog. He’s funny, adorable, and very much a high point of the story. The way in which their relationship changes for this version, as well as Max’s upbeat personality, helps add an adorable element to the film.

That feels like what Illumination shot for in this version, and they make much of The Grinch more appealing than past versions. Most of the character design feels like Despicable Me, but with a huge upgrade to the quality of the animation. This is the greatest bump the movie gets, easily surpassing The Lorax in its depiction of Dr. Seuss’  world. Whoville is bright, colorful, and is an enjoyable place to spend time. Even the Grinch’s cave feels more lively than previous iterations. The Illumination touch of adding slapstick humor to the story continues, and while there is not anything quite as ridiculous as the Minions, there are several characters that feel like they’re present to help sell toys. However, you’ll look this aspect off, especially given the way in which they help sell the comedy.

The Illumination adaptation of The Grinch will appeal to mass audiences. It is the perfect kind of humorous, stakes-free storytelling to draw in families and moviegoers. There is very little to outwardly dislike about this iteration, even if it doesn’t break new ground. Then again, Dr. Seuss’ opus might be the greatest holiday story ever. The minimalistic and cute version here might be the best way to take the already iconic story.

GRADE: (★★½)

What did you think of Illumination’s The Grinch? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments below! 

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