Film review: The Grinch

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, November 16th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham’s review of the new film, The Grinch.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: Even in this era of reboots and remakes, it’s hard to believe a studio would risk a new animated version of the classic Christmas cartoon, The Grinch. After all, is there a single Who from 9 to 92 who hasn’t seen the original at least a dozen times? Not to mention the 2000 live-action version.

Let’s get the headline out of the way—you can now drop the mediocre, Jim Carrey Grinch from your Christmas viewing repertoire and replace it with a considerably less mediocre Benedict Cumberbatch Grinch.

AUDIO: Have you seen my letter? And that, right there, Max, is the true nature of the Who child. Just write to ‘Me, me me! My letter! Me, me, me.’ No, you don’t understand! This isn’t just a letter, this is the letter. Let me guess, small child, December 20th, rapidly searching for a really important lost letter? Might it be your list of demands to Santa?

Despite this film’s PG rating for brief rude humor, the biggest failing both remakes share is that neither allows the Grinch to be fully Grinch-y. The 1966 made-for-TV movie and the Dr. Seuss story it was based on never felt the need to explain away the main character’s badness. He was a mean one because, well, just because he was. Call it his fallen Grinch nature.

Like the Carrey remake, Illumination Studio creates a melodramatic backstory that doesn’t contribute much in the way of emotion. But it does drain some of the story’s energy.

It also robs the Grinch of the delicious greasy-black-peelness that made him such a favorite of kids in the first place. Here, he’s a nice enough guy, if a little crotchety about Christmas. Thus, when his heart grows three sizes, it doesn’t feel like that much of a Christmas miracle.

AUDIO: The present. This is our enemy. You will want to unwrap it and play with it. But you must not. If you can get past the present, the only obstacle left is the cookie.

Thankfully, along with cute dog Max, this new version adds a hilarious obese reindeer, and a screaming goat. These make this Grinch the second-most entertaining—if still nowhere near as good as the first.

AUDIO: You know what, if you want to apologize for something, apologize for that! My eyes are burning. Don’t blame me! Haven’t you heard? The mayor wants Christmas to be three times bigger this year. That means three times the lights. Three times the eggnog. Three times the — Information needed. Ha ha! That’s a good one. Oh, I get it. this is one of your kidding things.

Cumberbatch is leagues more enjoyable to spend time with than Carrey. And the more detailed plot that takes the story from a half-hour TV special to an 90-minute movie honors the value of the traditional family. Both the Grinch and little Cindy-Lou Who suffer as two of the rare citizens of Whoville who don’t have one.

Also on the very big plus side, this is the only Grinch movie to feature traditional carols like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Silent Night. They actually honor Christ rather than just songs with Seussian-style nonsense words. The mild redemption arc of the big, bad green one plays nicely into the songs and gives parents a chance to discuss with younger children why forgiveness and reconciliation are the real gifts of Christmas.

All that might have been enough to tip The Grinch into the unmitigated winner category if not for the film’s distracting narration.

AUDIO: All this excess and nonsense, it was all about greed. About meaningless stuff that they didn’t even need.

Maybe it’s not fair to compare Pharrell Williams to the great Boris Karloff. (Surely a dripping baritone like that only comes around once in several generations).

But the singer’s voice work is so bland and incongruously pleasant in comparison, you start to wonder if he thought he was signing on to play someone more like Herbie the Dentist Elf.

If you want songs about being happy, Pharrell is your guy. If you want to tell a story about a fellow as cuddly as a cactus and as charming as an eel, you need a little less sunshine and a lot more stink, stank, stunk.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Universal Pictures via AP) This image released by Universal Pictures shows the character Grinch, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, in a scene from “The Grinch.” 

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