If you hadn't noticed, the 'Most Wonderful Time of the Year' is barrelling towards us all. And with this juggernaut comes... festive films! This year audiences are treated to the third major adaptation of Dr. Seuss' most-famed work How The Grinch Stole Christmas. This version has Benedict Cumberbatch lending his vocals for the titular green meanie, with the entire project marshalled by the animation powerhouse, Illumination (responsible for the Despicable Me franchise, as well as the immensely popular Sing and The Secret Life of Pets, all firm staples of my toddler's movie diet).
The story of The Grinch boils down to a festive heist movie, with the Grinch, filled with hate towards Christmas, setting out to steal it from the
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a story oft repeated, essentially an American version of The Christmas Carol. Each film version seems to reflect something of the era it is a part of. The 60s short film from Chuck Jones and Ben Washam is perhaps the most iconic, never outstaying its welcome, gorgeously animated and gaining much from the casting of Boris Karloff. The live-action version, from the early 00s, is a garish endeavour, with a delicious mean streak to it and a lead performance that, for good and bad, is all encompassing. And this version is a charmingly animated, all bright colours and uniform design. It is one that has had much of its rough edge hewn from it, a central character who is less mean and villainous and more grumpy. There is not a mean word uttered nor a stray inappropriate moment and it makes it a fine, fun, if remarkably tame film.
Where this version of The Grinch is refreshing is that it is not here co-opted into a vehicle for its lead star. Cumberbatch is a game performer but the film rarely feels like it is being powered by his presence (as the Carrey-starring version certainly does). Instead the film ekes out its laughs from an abundance of adorable animal sidekicks. Max, the Grinch's loyal canine assistant, threatens to steal the show, while chuckles are gained from a hefty reindeer and a shrieking goat. Whenever the film begins to flag the creators fling out another amusing piece of slapstick and everything chugs along nicely. Right up until the planning and execution of the heist - which is when the films hits its stride. This segment of the film is a witty, inventive and, most importantly, funny portion that is also rather thrilling.
And it has to be said that it feels like there is something more here. For while it may be overstretched, it does feel like The Grinch is focusing more on why people might feel alone at this time of year. It tugs at your heartstrings and is fairly successful in remoulding the Grinch into a lonely figure, ostracised by himself, as opposed to the people around him.
The Grinch emerges to mark the coming of the festive period. And while it is soaked through with Christmas cheer, it resists the urge to bludgeon the audience with this. Certainly overstretched, it does have moments of hilarity and a message that can't help but tug on your heartstrings.