Published On: Fri, Nov 9th, 2018

A misunderstood Grinch who’s green with envy

The Grinch

The Grinch – Official Trailer

Featuring the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury, Rashida Jones and Pharrell Williams. Directed by Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier. Opens Friday at theatres everywhere. 90 minutes. G

The three words that best describe The Grinch are as follows, and I quote: Who woulda thunk?

Who woulda thunk that Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier, the latest filmmakers to big-screen Dr. Seuss’s Yuletide classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, would find equal if unspoken inspiration from another holiday perennial, A Charlie Brown Christmas?

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This curious incarnation of the Grinch, enthusiastically voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, reveals the seasonal meanie to be more Charlie Brown lonely boy than Christmas-hating misanthrope. He’s green with envy, yearning for Christmas fellowship he never really knew and struggling to understand the joy of others. Sound like a certain round-headed kid you know?

Other Peanuts comparisons can be made: Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), who is a lot more than two, comes across as Peppermint Patty, the can-do kid, while her pal Groopert (Tristan O’Hare) is just a thumb and blanket shy of being deep-thinker Linus.

In this telling of the Seussian saga, the Grinch was orphaned and exiled from Whoville to desolate nearby Mount Crumpit, with only his dog Max for company. He stares down in despair and fury at the colourful Who cottages perilously stacked down the mountain.

The merrymaking Whos are happily more diverse than before: Kenan Thompson voices a jolly character named Bricklebaum and Pharrell Williams narrates. And they have plenty of cash to party: the female mayor of Whoville (Angela Lansbury) has declared that Christmas this year will be three times as merry, very, with a skyscraper-sized tree!

But the Whos aren’t saints. They’re as negligent about offering assistance to guys like the Grinch as they are with obeying construction safety codes and noise bylaws. Pooh-pooh to the Whos!

Benedict Cumberbatch enthusiastically voices the latest iteration of The Grinch.
Benedict Cumberbatch enthusiastically voices the latest iteration of The Grinch.  (Illumination/Universal Pictures)

No wonder the Grinch is so bugged by Christmas — and hey, who hasn’t wanted to throw a brick at a radio playing “Feliz Navidad” for the millionth time?

The Grinch sticks to Seuss more closely than did the live-action Jim Carrey version from 2000. Newcomers to the tale will enjoy it, at least as much as they have other offerings from Illumination Entertainment, the cheer factory behind Despicable Me, Minions and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.

But fans of the book and the half-hour animated TV special from 1966 might find the liberties taken to stretch the story to feature movie length a little much. A languid rap by Tyler the Creator is no substitute for Thurl Ravenscroft’s thundering “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

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The Grinch is still planning to steal Christmas as before, but now he’s doing a practise run using a drone camera. The Grinch also goes hunting for a reindeer to help carry all the presents he’s planning to snatch on Christmas Eve. He settles for a corpulent and sleepy beast named Fred.

The best bits are at the start, where we learn more about the Grinch’s lonely daily routine. Who knew he wears tighty whities in bed, shops for Who Hash at the Who Foods store and serenades himself by playing Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” on a giant baroque organ?

He’s actually a pretty interesting guy, if admittedly a little too gruff and Grinchy. What are the chances the Whos will stop partying long enough to get to know him?

Peter Howell is the Star’s movie critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @peterhowellfilm

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A misunderstood Grinch who’s green with envy