Though the title doesn’t go into plot details, The Grinch is specifically about that green grump trying, once again, to steal Christmas. In the second feature-length adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book (the beloved 1966 animated version was a short television special), Mr. Grinch’s antics remain devious, though his heart doesn’t seem to be in it as much.
Sticking to the general plot of the book, Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) generally dislikes Christmas. Instead of showing a deep hatred, as the 2000 Jim Carrey How the Grinch Stole Christmas detailed, this version of the Grinch is softer. He’s annoyed by the Whos, but he is their neighbor. He pops into town for groceries, and is even chummy with one of the jollier residents of Whoville (Kenan Thompson). He’s a curmudgeon, but he’s not evil.
This gentler Grinch makes it difficult to understand his impetus to take Christmas away from the Whos. He dislikes their singing and seems mildly annoyed by their presents, but this holiday is not a gremlin on his back. In fact, he seems perfectly content to spend time with his dog Max, whom he’s kind towards, and avoid going into town for the month of December. But that wouldn’t make for much of a film, so stealing Christmas it is.
We get a little bit more character development about what makes Grinch so grumpy, but these are quick flashes into his past. Instead, the story is fleshed out to its full length with Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) and her quest to meet Santa. She decides early on that she needs to ask Santa for one very specific wish this Christmas, and the best way to do that is to catch him on his rounds Christmas night. Cindy Lou is a smart kid, which is a welcome reprieve to her hard-working single mom (Rashida Jones). She’s also kind and has her heart in the right place.
Fans of Seussian whimsy (such as myself) will find The Grinch unfulfilling. The film’s 3D animation is perfunctory, and Christmas-y, but it’s not the kind of world imagined by Dr. Seuss. The trees, houses, and even the Whos themselves look generic to any kids’ movie. Where are the curlicues? Where are the antennae? And where are the made up, Seussian words? None of the fantastic, bip-banging flugelhorns and roast beasts are anywhere to be heard. Aside from the well-known plot and the green guy himself, there’s very little Seuss here.
The one welcome change to the world of The Grinch is the animals. In the original book, Max was the lone living animal represented. But here, Whoville and the surrounding wilderness are lush with wildlife. There are screaming goats, flocks of birds, and even some portly reindeer. Clearly the filmmakers noticed that audiences of any age love animals on screen, and they added a menagerie.
Without a truly grumpy Grinch, and without the Seussical aesthetic, The Grinch is just a standard and serviceable Christmas movie.