Benedict Cumberbatch gives good Grinch.
This is a fact some of us have long suspected, of course. But Illumination Entertainment’s reimagining of Dr Seuss’s Christmas antihero leaves us in no doubt. Only an Englishman trained in the theatrical arts could truly convey the unique mix of resentment, anger, envy and ennui that the most wonderful time of the year inspires. And, though he may deliver his animus in an American drawl, at shrunken heart, The Grinch is every inch the Ebenezer geezer Mr. Dickens imagined.
The Grinch lives in delicious hermitude, in a cavernous cave dwelling perched high above the bustling town of Whoville. Waited upon by his loyal hound Max, The Grinch spends his days luxuriating in his own loneliness; playing Phantom-esque dirges on a magnificent organ and smashing the fa la la la las out of his persistent alarm clock. His number one priority: to shun Whoville and all who dwell within. Until the season to be jolly has jolly well gone.
Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) cannot WAIT for all the fun to begin. Even in a fantastically festive town like Whoville, the determined little girl and her Christmas spirit stand out a mile. This year Cindy Lou has one sole objective: to get her letter to Santa so her wish may come true. Meanwhile her weary mum Donna Lou (Rashida Jones), dispensing breakfast on autopilot under the burden of her towering sleep deficit, tackles the treadmill of the new day with resignation.
Plump enough for hibernation from a season of eating his feelings, The Grinch finds his plans to remain cave bound have been thwarted by that very appetite. Stropping off to town, with Max at his side, he mutters threats of ultra violence towards any townsfolk who may dare to make merry in his direction. Threats which are immediately undermined by the space-invading greeting of his neighbour Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), a man of unshakeable good cheer and the equally unshakable conviction that he and The Grinch are old friends.
This affront sends a new wave of wickedness through The Grinch’s shriveled heart and he hits the town with malevolence in mind. Embarking on a familiarly despicable path of petty destruction, mildly messing with everyone in his wake yet leaving unsatisfied. Unseating Cindy Lou from her sledge and upsetting her plans without giving her a second thought. Setting the two on an emotional collision course far more devastating than the plot to steal Christmas he has just decided to devise!
Pharrell Williams smile-infused narration keeps Dr Seuss’s classic story bouncing along for a brand new generation of cinema-goers who may now be mercifully spared the puke green hell dimension prosthetics and gurning delivery of the Jim Carrey helmed Grinch we met at the turn of the millennium. Not quite the wispy creature of Ted Geisel’s whimsical illustrations, 2018’s Grinch is still picture book endearing and rendered with colourful charm in a style familiar from 2012’s The Lorax, on which co-director (with Scott Mosier) Yarrow Cheney was an animator.
Like previous Illumination Entertainment feature Despicable Me, the film excels during its dafter caper moments. The Grinch’s elaborate theft of Christmas allows the creative team to do their thing and the entire sequence is a delight as The Grinch – tooled up and terrible – creeps from house to house with increasingly complicated gadgets. The terrible tension of the bulging sacks ascending the mountainside and tottering above the townspeople only allayed when genuine emotion intervenes.
For here lies The Grinch’s greatest strength: its heart. Its beautiful, soppy, oversized, heart. Bursting with all the festive feels and casting off our it’s too early for Christmas cynicism to deliver a shot of pure sentiment that hits like Pulp Fiction’s adrenaline. (And overcomes the pedant urge to ask where the line about Christmas not coming from a store has gone…) The Grinch will steal your heart too. It has Christmas carols, life lessons, a gargantuan reindeer and Angela Lansbury (as the Mayor of Whoville) for heaven’s sake. You’d have to be made of stone to resist!
The Grinch will be released across the UK on 9th November