Illumination’s The Grinch feels like a movie we’ve seen before. Not in the kind of movie it is or how it goes about its business, it just feels like we got this movie years ago already. How has it not happened until now? Maybe the feeling comes from the whole thing being instantly forgettable. The Grinch isn’t nearly as terrible as it should be, but it also doesn’t give audiences a single interesting thing to take away from it.
Bringing life to the green outcast of Whoville this time around is Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s Grinch sounds oddly like a Paul Giamatti impression. It’s almost an even more bizarre choice than Jim Carrey’s strange Sean Connery voice from the 2000 film. Almost. Cumberbatch is fine, but that’s all he is. He’s just not every interesting; he doesn’t have the scheming grouchiness of Boris Karloff or the hyperactive mania of Carrey. He’s simply there, generic sympathetic backstory and all (the Grinch doesn’t like Christmas because he’s always alone during the holiday).
This is the main problem with The Grinch – it’s very plain. It spins its wheels and doesn’t offer anything new or interesting in this retelling of the classic Dr. Seuss story. It’s an enormous missed opportunity. Everyone knows the tale and how it goes, if you’re not going to attempt to have a fresh take on it, why go through the effort of retelling it at all? Maybe the filmmakers were wary towards the idea of doing something different due to the critical bashing Ron Howard’s 2000 adaptation received (however, I’d easily call it a Christmas staple now). The film seems to want to stay as inoffensive as possible, which does keep it safe from harsher criticism but also hobbles it from being able to stand out as anything really worthwhile.
Illumination, the studio behind Despicable Me, Minions and The Secret Life of Pets, have an incredibly frustrating reputation of making unremarkable films that make a whole lot of money. When the first Despiable Me came out, it seemed like a new animation studio had arrived with fresh and entertaining ideas. That feels like a lifetime ago, and I know that I’m not the only one who’s all Minion-ed out by this point. Illumination films aren’t so much awful as they are obnoxious and stale. They’re formulaic, and the formula isn’t very enticing to begin with. It’s never been more apparent than in The Grinch, which goes by as predictably and as blandly as possible.
There’s just not enough here. It has a few solid jokes (but not enough) and the animation is polished and colorful if not familiar, but it’s lack of new ideas or interesting executions of old ones turn it into a remarkably generic experience. It doesn’t have the wild zaniness of the Jim Carrey version or the simplicity and heart of the original 1966 special, it just rolls by and is forgotten within the hour. Children will still have a good time, it’s not something that’ll rot their brain or anything, and it’s always nice to introduce the classic story to new generations, but older movie-goers will mostly just be bored.
3 / 5 Stars
The Grinch is now playing in theaters everywhere.