The Grinch (Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney) 2 out of 4 stars
In Illumination’s latest scheme to profit only off of the parents whose children have the lowest of cinematic standards, their signature corporatized sterility and dedication to cheap humor is as present as ever. That is, until it’s not.
It’s immediately evident that this seemingly needless rendition of The Grinch struggles to find a balance between the simplicity of the 1996 television special and the messy, but developed character relationships in the 2000 live-action film. It wants to be both. It instead finds itself in a pendulum between well-meaning mediocrity and outright blandness.
The one thing that it does settle on is its dedication to reinterpret the story to cater to the sensibilities of the contemporary viewer, the Grinch himself being the most evident byproduct of this. Gone is the downright sinister humanoid and in are the attitudes of your local angsty, antisocial teenager with the uncharacteristically energetic voice of Benedict Cumberbatch. While the Grinch aims to stop the unstoppable by donning the age old Santa regalia to steal the town of Whoville’s Christmas, the Whos themselves have much simpler aspirations. Young Cindy Lou Who, the film’s resident beacon for goodness, wishes to ask Santa to help relieve her tireless single mother, repositioning a more nontraditional family structure into this traditional family tale. It’s relatable. It’s relevant. And it’s all set to the edgy sounds of Tyler the Creator.
As the story unfolds, it manages to become both more interesting and more narratively unoriginal. The standard jokes will please the crowd they aim to, especially with the welcome presence of the Grinch’s lovable canine sidekick, Max, who often proves to be the most interesting thing on screen. Beyond the usual shtick, it struggles to be more than a couple of plot points strung together with twinkling lights and tinsel, never quite justifying its runtime. Its characters come and go like the paper wrappings on a child’s Christmas present; they are there for the sake of appearance but are quickly disposed of once their purpose has been fulfilled. Yet, I can’t help but feel that once this Grinch has finally ran through its formulaic milestones, its return to the story’s central, straightforward themes will tempt even the smallest of hearts to grow one or two sizes bigger.
As the familiar “fahoo foreses” and “dahoo doreses” build to a crescendo, the standard message of love and compassion become the films’ emotional crutch. And it works. In the wave of the residual exhaustion from the latest election cycle, it turns out that a story that ends with an embittered man’s heart being transformed by the goodness of a hopeful young girl might actually be the story we need right now.