2018 | DIRECTORS: YARROW CHENEY & SCOTT MOSIER | STARRING: BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, RASHIDA JONES, ANGELA LANSBURY, KENAN THOMPSON, PHARRELL WILLIAMS. | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
So naturally my response has been the classic “wait and see” approach. Who am I to join the chorus when I haven't heard the song? I would agree that the previous film starring Jim Carrey is a bonafide classic. It is one of a few holiday movies that endures and enjoys repeat viewings every year. But that adaptation also took many liberties to reach a feature-length running time. Subplots and characters were created to enhance the narrative, and so it is logical to assume that the latest incarnation would be different, with its own charms and delights.
I regret to admit that the detractors were right. The latest retelling of The Grinch is an underwhelming and lacklustre reflection of Howard's entry, adding very little to the legacy of Seuss's creation. What can I say? Sometimes the optimist loses.
The film was produced by Illumination, the animation studio behind Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets and Sing. I am not a fan of their style of animation, however I did find their previous Seuss adaptation – The Lorax - to be somewhat charming. Therefore I kept that title in mind when anticipating The Grinch, with hopes of something as equally likeable. Given that the world of the Whos was well established by Dr Seuss in his original illustrated story and makes for a strong foundation, it should be noted that he also left plenty of ambiguity and room for elaboration. One would think that an animation studio of their calibre would build upon it with something aesthetically rich and engaging, but instead they have chosen to – more or less – recreate Ron Howard's design, even using his film's comedic muscle to levitate its own laborious script.
The set pieces are basically the same, with the hillside township baring a striking resemblance. The streets and shopfronts, as well as the shape of the surrounding mountainous landscape are all too familiar, with one notable point of difference being the characters themselves, whose features are less exaggerated and more human. The other worthy point of difference is its use of backstory. Just as the previous film created new subplots to elaborate on the Grinch's reason for being miserable, the new film does the same, with a more sentimental angle. Carrey's character suffered at the hands of bullies, as well as having his heart broken, whereas Cumberbatch's Grinch grew up an orphan without any family or friends. It's a welcome moment of sincerity amongst the otherwise routine delivery.
Benedict Cumberbatch assumes the title role and offers a suitable, albeit more subdued, rendition. For this depiction of Mr Grinch they have chosen subtly over exuberance and it's difficult to ignore comparisons to Carrey's take on the character. Cumberbatch's interpretation is fine and does compliment the overall story. Other notable cast members include Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury and Pharrell Williams who simply offer their voices without much gusto. Perhaps Thompson's performance as the Grinch's ever-cheerful, Christmas-loving neighbour is the standout. His moments are endearing and go a long way in embodying the overall holiday sentiment.
And so, sure, a few scattered moments of pleasure help to pass the time, and were it not for the fantastic soundtrack The Grinch would certainly be a forgettable movie-going experience. Legendary composer Danny Elfman brings his unique stamp to the project, although he never stood a chance of reaching the dizzying heights of his other iconic Christmas masterpiece, the Grinch-inspired The Nightmare Before Christmas. He brings an assortment of cheeky tricks to the film, including the unexpected, and entirely welcome, addition of hip-hop music. Rap artist Tyler The Creator recorded 6 original tracks for the film, and Run DMC's 1992 song Christmas Is is also featured with delight. Other musical artists featured include Jackie Wilson, The Brian Seltzer Orchestra and Nat King Cole. It is – to say the least – an ambitious marriage of new and old, making for an absolutely stunning Christmas soundtrack. One particular highlight for me was a rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Pentatonix, which contributes to one fun movie's funniest moments.
It is understandable that generations come and go, and that movies over 10-years old are considered to be "old" to younger viewers. And had Ron Howard's movie dated poorly a new adaptation would have been perfectly acceptable. But like the classics of old (such as The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and Home Alone) his film has not aged one bit. It is a bold and deliciously textured fantasy full of festive wonderment. It holds up remarkably well and despite it being 18 years old (my God) it looks as though it were made yesterday. In my estimation THAT is the definitive Grinch movie, and the mark of Illumination's latest attempt will fade away long before Howard and Carrey's ever will.