Bigger is not always better, and more is not always better. If the holiday season release of Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch is a testament to anything, it is that those two ideas are absolutely true. The Grinch has everything that the 1966 How The Grinch Stole Christmas could never hoped to have had. The film delivers on some of the best computer-generated animation that Hollywood studio money can buy. It had a $75 million budget. It will get a wide release with millions of more dollars put into a global marketing campaign. And it will make a ton of money. After all, the Grinch is the modern age Scrooge from Dickens’ classic story. These are the kind of stories that are timeless and popular. Still, the one thing this film doesn’t have over the 1966 television short is that it’s heart is two sizes too small.
We all know the story. The Grinch (Cumberbatch) lives high atop Mount Crumpet. He’s a rather grouchy old soul, and he lives in isolation from the Whos, who live, appropriately enough, down in Whoville. He lives alone with his dog Max, who is the model of man’s… Grinch’s best friend. He manages to tolerate the bright and happy Whos from a distance except when Christmas rolls around every year. It is then that the singing and celebration get entirely out of control. So imagine his surprise when he discovers that the mayor has issued a decree to make Christmas three times bigger. For the Grinch, that can only mean three times louder. So he devises a plan to steal Christmas from the happy citizens and assure himself a nice and peaceful December 25th.
Meanwhile down in Whoville, we meet Little Cindy Lou Who (Seely) who lives alone with her hard-working mother Donna Who (Jones). She has unselfishly decided to seek out Santa Claus and make an important request. She doesn’t want more toys. She wants Santa to find a way to take the strain off of her mother. She conspires with her gang of friends to set a trap and capture Santa Claus so that she can make her plea in person.
It’s obvious from very early along that these two schemes were going to collide at some point in the film, and indeed they do. Cindy Lou Who captures the Grinch, and her heartfelt plea begins to thaw the freeze that has been around the Grinch’s heart.
I have to admit I always hoped that Benedict Cumberbatch would bring his considerable talents to a Who story. Unfortunately, I was thinking less of a Dr. Seuss story than a different kind of Doctor. I didn’t quite expect him to live in a frozen castle, but rather in a police call box. Cumberbatch certainly attempts to bring great emotion to the character, and at times he truly does. Still, he’s fighting a script with too many holes that takes too many easy outs to reach for the heart.
The narration is provided by Pharrell Williams, who has a wonderful voice, but it’s often too cheerful. He also has no sense of the timing for the Dr. Seuss method of phrasing a line, and it stands out badly throughout. It was a huge distraction as he read familiar lines but without that iconic phrasing. I found myself correcting him too often in my head. And that’s with the classic stuff. The writers took it upon themselves to “improve” on the words of Dr. Seuss and added much more of their own story and even rewrote the traditional lines. It wasn’t but ten minutes into the movie that I was thinking about how I might get in touch with Colin Clive. Clive, you see played Dr. Frankenstein in the Universal 1931 classic film, and his major accomplishment was to bring Boris Karloff back to life. All I can say is we need Boris Karloff more than ever before. Karloff had the cadence just right, and the emotion he put into the words still move me over 50 years later. This film will never be remembered so long.
The film features some of the classic music, but You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch is given an urban, almost rap style. The Who Christmas Carol is still very much the same, and it shines as one of the few reminders of a 50-year old classic.
Each year on the Eve
each Eve I would see
that horrible Grinch
with my eyes all a-glee.
Voiced by a creature
by a monster I swear
but for 26 minutes
I would have not a care.
He still holds my attention
though I’ve seen him before
but with every new viewing
I see so much more.
Now he’s part of the season
as is that star that shone bright
and for whatever reason
no one else gets it right.
Still they’ll keep trying
for there’s great money at play
but my Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day.
I’ll sit warm and comfy
where there’s no reason to go
wouldn’t touch this new Grinch
“With a 39 and a half-foot pole”.