WHO EVEN asked for another ‘Grinch’ adaptation?
That commercial question seems to be moot, especially when looking at just two sets of stats:
First, can you name the biggest U.S. movie in 2000, in a time before Disney owned Star Wars and superhero juggernauts? Yes, it was Ron Howard’s critically reviled “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which grossed $260 million domestically (and $345 million worldwide) on a $123 million budget.
And second, Universal and Illumination hit the box office jackpot with its Seuss film, 2012’s “The Lorax,” which grossed $214 million domestically and $349 million worldwide.
So it was inevitable that we’d get a “Grinch” from the House of Minions, especially since Illumination, running counter to so much animated Disney fare, likes to put its sympathetic villains and antiheroes front and center.
So the next crucial question becomes: Can Illumination do for the Grinch what it does for Gru — make a coldhearted schemer compelling as he is transformed by the loving hearts of children? All while stretching the classic 1957 book — a mere 69 illustrated pages — across the canvas of a 90-minute movie? (And that’s even while reportedly dropping some of Seuss’s poetry.)
The first wave of reviews has landed, and the verdict is mixed at best. “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch,” opening Friday, has an average score of just 51 on Metacritic and a 63 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The San Francisco Chronicle leads the snarkery, writing that “The Grinch” is “for moviegoers who liked ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ but walked away from the classic 1966 TV special thinking, ‘That could have used some hip-hop music and a more sympathetic Grinch.' "
“And more characters,” the Chronicle continues. “The computer-animated update pads the narrative with several new people and animal creations that are superfluous to the story. ‘The Grinch’ is built to fill up the toy shelves, even as it insists on continuing the original message that Christmas lives in your heart.”
Similarly, the New York Times writes that “The Grinch,” like “the unfortunate 2000 live-action film starring Jim Carrey, pads out the parable with slapstick business and character enlargement.”
And the New Orleans Times-Picayune points out that Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier’s CGI adaptation “makes the unforgivable decision to tinker with Seuss’ original text — cutting some rhymes short for no apparent reason and adding a few poorly penned verses to support its story.”
The Times-Picayune also says that some vocal performances pale in comparison to the Chuck Jones TV classic, writing: “At the risk of invoking the rage of the Cumberbatch Army — Benedict Cumberbatch’s reedy vocal performance as the Grinch simply doesn’t hold a candle to the sonorous elegance of Boris Karloff’s performance in the 1966 adaptation. There. I said it.”
Although Illumination might see diminishing creative returns on its Seuss adaptations, the studio still brings saturated visual richness and some core emotional beats to the enterprise.
“The production’s biggest upgrade is Whoville itself,” writes the Hollywood Reporter, “which has been transformed into a luminous, twinkling spectacle of a mini-metropolis, complete with its own Who Foods Market and a meticulous attention to detail that extends to the tiniest of Christmas tree decorations and most innocuous of snowflakes.”
The Chronicle acknowledges that the film finds “a consistent offbeat humor” and that “effort and creative energy are visible from beginning to end.”
The Wrap writes that “this new animated feature is bright, both in its color palette and in the wit and liveliness of the storytelling.”
And Variety doesn’t deny the new movie’s reason for being, writing: “Does it add anything (apart from length)? Maybe not. As the special proved . . . perfection is perfection. Yet taken on its own terms (i.e., pretend that you’ve never encountered this story before, as countless children who see this movie won’t have), ‘The Grinch’ is a buoyant and agreeable entertainment.”
So while attempts to revisit Seuss on-screen might grow as thin as leftover roast beast, this “Grinch” still should suit some tastes.
An earlier version of this post said "Horton Hears a Who!" was a film from the Universal and Illumination production companies. It was from Fox. The story has been updated.