UK Release Date: 9th November 2018
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Scott Mosier, Yarrow Cheney
Writer: Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Pharrell Williams, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury
Synopsis: A misanthropic outcast living above a town obsessed with Christmas decides to take his revenge on the townsfolk by stealing their presents and decorations while dressed as Santa Claus.
In the space of just a few years, and with the help of some ubiquitous yellow impish things, Illumination Entertainment has risen from obscurity to become one of the top voices in animated filmmaking. Their latest is a new take on Dr Seuss’s classic seasonal story The Grinch, with Benedict Cumberbatch taking the title role as the green, furry Scrooge. As a big fan of the noughties take on the material, in which it was Jim Carrey in the lead, I was slightly trepidatious to see this new version. It turns out that I was right to be concerned.
The story is exactly as we have always known it. Increasingly feeling shunned in the face of overwhelmingly cheery festive preparations down in Whoville, the Grinch decides to steal the presents, decorations and food that the townsfolk have got themselves ready for Christmas, until a young girl (Cameron Seely) awakens his heart. That’s about it in terms of the plot from Seuss’s rather slim original story, so the film is left with a whole lot of runtime to pad in order to get kids into cinemas for a feature-length adventure.
In the Carrey version, there was a lot of very divisive and utterly ludicrous backstory about why the Grinch is how he is. This time around, we get a collection of new slapstick set pieces, some hints at a far more generic origin tale for the eponymous grouch and some overwrought Rube Goldberg contraptions that are more than a little derivative of Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit tales. The entire film is infected with the sense that there’s nothing to mark it out as different to what has come before. It’s a total shrug of an animation, shipped out into cinemas to rake in festive dollars with cold, corporate certainty.
Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t help matters with a lifeless vocal performance that couldn’t be further away from his very impressive work as Smaug in the Hobbit trilogy. He sounds bored and distracted throughout, with little energy elsewhere in the cast either. Aside from a few chuckleworthy lines and occasionally passable slapstick, there’s really nothing to chew on here.
For all that’s wrong with the noughties take on The Grinch, at least it had the courage to take risks and shoot for the fences. The closest equivalent here is the soundtrack, which includes contributions from Illumination stalwart Pharrell Williams, as well as Tyler the Creator, who delivers a truly awful rendition of ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’. In many ways, it’s the perfect microcosm of this film – superficially different to what has come before, but only in ways that are irritating.
Pop or Poop?
Illumination has done a new take on The Grinch because it makes financial sense. And while their end product isn’t offensive or particularly terrible, it does stink of a lack of invention. It’s just sort of there, with no reason to suggest it could or should supplant the previous takes on the material.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.