The Grinch

 

            The story is the same:  all the people of Whoville are sweet, charming, and unfailingly nice.  Mr. Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch), as the only Grouch in the Group, chooses to absent himself from all the frolicking and merrymaking because he finds it sickeningly sweet.  He hides in his bachelor cave up on the hill overlooking the town, where he's contrived many inventions to save him time and effort, all of which has resulted in adding to his pot-bellied, lazy, grumpy unhappiness.  Since he's gorged himself on food, his cupboard is bare, and he's forced to go to town to buy supplies.  He's not looking forward to all the dreadfully ubiquitous good cheer he is sure to find there.

            But the story line has some cracks in the armor.  Mr. Grinch owns a loyal dog, Max, and though Grinch has taught the dog to serve him coffee, still, Grinch considers Max a good companion, and even pets him on occasion.  Nobody who's kind to a dog could be all bad, right?  And the mellifluous narrative voice of Pharrell Williams foreshadows a much lighter tone, even for Grinch.

            We also get a backstory about how Grinch grew up in an isolated orphanage, where there was no company, and no Christmas celebration.  That's why he's hardened his heart to everyone else's cheerful holiday spirit.  But we also get the feeling that all Mr. Grinch needs is a little kindness, and that three-sizes-too-small heart of his is going to start expanding.

            One of the little Who girls, Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), is determined to see Santa, because she wants to ask Santa to help her Mom, Donna Lou Who (Rashida Jones), who's busy all the time and tired all the time and could very much use some rest and relaxation.  We're not sure what Cindy Lou expects Santa to do about her Mom's sense of being overwhelmed, but Cindy Lou manages to catch Santa on Christmas Eve.  Except it's Grinch in a Santa suit, busy stealing everybody's presents and decorations.  Cindy Lou shows Grinch kindness, anyway, and it melts Grinch's firm resolve to be cruel to everyone.  Cindy Lou even invites Grinch over for Christmas dinner, and finally Grinch enjoys the holiday gathering he never had.

            Though the artistic work is masterful, and the Christmas spirit wins in the end, there's not really enough dynamic tension to make the transformation interesting.  It's certainly safe for little kids, but is too innocuous to become the new Christmas animated classic.  And I miss the old theme song, “You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch....”

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association