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"DR. SEUSS' THE GRINCH"
(2018) (voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Comedy: In this animated update of the classic Dr. Seuss story and TV cartoon, the Grinch hopes to ruin the Christmas spirit of the citizens of Whoville.
PLOT:
Having grown up as an orphan who received nothing for Christmas, The Grinch (voice of BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH) hates that time of year, especially since the residents who live in Whoville down below his Mt. Crumpit cave simply revel in the holiday spirit. While one such man, Bricklebaum (voice of KENAN THOMPSON), is hoping to do Christmas three times bigger than ever before, young Cindy Lou Who (voice of CAMERON SEELY) only wants one thing and that's for her hard-working single mom, Donna (voice of RASHIDA JONES), to be happy. And she thinks she knows of the right man for the job who should be showing up late on Christmas Eve.

But since she'll probably be asleep when Santa sneaks into their house, she decides to enlist the aid of some of her friends, including Groopert (voice of TRISTAN O'HARE), to set a trap for Saint Nick so that she can capture him and then ask for that wish. Little does she or any of the residents of Whoville realize, however, is that The Grinch is planning on stealing all things Christmas related from the town, accompanied by his trusty canine companion, Max, and a lone reindeer, Fred, to lead their sleigh that night.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
There's a reason for the old saying about "Don't mess with a good thing" and, well, it's pretty much self-explanatory. In that vein, it's a kissing vernacular cousin to "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and both can obviously apply to all sorts of things.

If you're running back is routinely rushing for 200 yards a game, you don't suddenly move him over to wide receiver. If your kid is excelling with his or her classes and has a good and stable group of friends, you don't change schools just to "change things up." And if there's already been a successful, thirty-minute cartoon version of a holiday-themed children's book, you don't try to turn that into a feature-length film.

Okay, yes, that latter example is sort of specific, but when it comes to filmed adaptations, if it's considered a beloved classic, one shouldn't mess with a good thing or try to fix what's not broken. I had this same reaction back in 2000 when director Ron Howard and actor Jim Carrey decided they were going to create a live-action version of Theodor Seuss Geisel's 69-page "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" that was first published in 1957.

Considering the 1966 Christmas animated television special was one of my favorite things from my childhood -- eagerly anticipated each December with just one shot of seeing it before it disappeared for another year -- the notion of turning that into a feature-length film was blasphemous.

And that's simply because it was perfect from start to finish, had legendary animation director Chuck Jones behind the camera and Frankenstein's monster actor Boris Karloff as both the narrator and the voice of the title character. Yet, I gave it a fair shot and actually awarded it with a slight recommendation, albeit one with plenty of reservations.

Now that nearly two decades have passed, the powers that be have decided to give it a go again, this time as a computer-animated feature length offering. Once again, I decided to go in with an open mind and actually anticipated it would be something of a return to form as compared to the over-the-top live-action version.

Sadly, I must report that it's something of a disappointment, what with an interesting but ultimately unsuccessful softening of the main character, an incredibly bad hip-hop update of the most recognized song, and Pharrell Williams lacking the necessary storytelling gravitas as the occasional narrator.

But the biggest problem is that despite it looking quite pretty from an animation standpoint, it lacks any sort of notable imaginative or creative flair, similarly is missing the sort of magic a film of this ilk should have in abundance, and oddly feels flat from the get-go through the end credits.

As directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier from a screenplay adaptation by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow, the story pretty much follows the outline of the source material. There's a misanthrope who lives in a multi-room cave high atop a mountain overlooking the small town of Whoville where everyone is excited about it now being Christmas season.

Needing to make a food run, our title character (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch who, oddly, doesn't really bring anything notable to the character, personality-wise) is forced to go into town and tries his best to avoid interacting with any of the locals, including one (voiced by "SNL's" Kenan Thompson doing his normal vocal delivery shtick) who wants to celebrate the festivities three times bigger than before.

And then there's a girl (Cameron Seely) where all she wants for Christmas is for her overworked mom (Rashida Jones) to be happy, a request she needs to get to Santa pronto. When she realizes the North Pole is really far away and that she'll probably be sleeping when Saint Nick arrives, she plots to capture him to deliver her message face-to-face.

At the same time, The Grinch decides he's had enough of the holiday spirit and would like everyone else to feel the way he does and thus plots to steal everything Christmas related from the town. All so that they'll know what it's like not to have presents on the big day, just like he experienced year after year as an orphan. Yes, there's some back-story here to explain the motivations, but the interesting thing, in general, is that the character has been softened quite a bit from the TV cartoon. Maybe that's to make him less menacing to kids and more sympathetic, but that decision renders him less interesting all around, adding to the overall flatness that pervades the production.

And that latter quality comes as a surprise since Illumination Entertainment (home of the "Despicable Me" franchise) usually offers up films with plenty of fun and creative characters and details. Here, aside from Max the trusty canine sidekick and Fred the newly introduced reindeer, most everything -- including William's utterly forgettable narration -- lacks any real sort of flair or panache, while the updated version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is utterly awful.

I hate to come off sounding like the protagonist, but "Dr. Seuss' The Grinch" is a pretty, but otherwise lifeless lump of coal that pales in every way possible to its far shorter and far, far better TV predecessor. Little kids might enjoy the offering, and there's a smattering of cute bits here and there, but there's no reason to choose this over the original TV cartoon that still holds up to this day despite being half-a-century old. This latest offering rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed November 6, 2018 / Posted November 9, 2018


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