Review: Harmless 'Grinch' plays it safe

Competent retelling of Dr. Seuss classic doesn't reinvent the story, though it does soften some of its edges

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Benedict Cumberbatch voices "The Grinch."

Cheer up: "The Grinch" is a respectable, if safe, retelling of Dr. Seuss' holiday classic. 

This computer animated fable — which follows the televised 1966 cartoon special and 2000's Jim Carrey-starring live action version — honors the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" and preserves Seuss' wonky visual style. 

If this Grinch is considerably cuddlier than the green monster you remember — his edges are rounded rather than sharp, his eyes soft rather than twisted and menacing — that's just the reality of today's marketplace. Can you imagine the uproar if the Grinch was an actual, you know, Grinch? 

Benedict Cumberbatch ditches his accent to voice the Christmas-hating heel, who lives in a cave by himself high above Whoville. Cumberbatch's reading is rather sanitized; if directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier didn't want a British Grinch, Cumberbatch was a curious choice.

The holiday season is fast approaching, and ol' Grinchy is forced to go into Whoville and interact with its cheery inhabitants, who are preparing for a Christmas celebration that promises to be three times larger than the average holiday blowout. The Grinch — aided by his trusty dog Max — devises a scheme to rob the residents of Whoville of all their Christmas bounty while dressed as Santa Claus, until his plan is foiled by young Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely), who puts a little love back in the Grinch's rotten, decrepit heart. 

You know the story, and "The Grinch" wisely sticks to the basics without modernizing the details (the Grinch doesn't suddenly have an Instagram account) or greatly altering the structure. The 2000 version spent a good deal of time diving into the Grinch's backstory, making him a victim of childhood bullying; that's gone here. And since the original book runs just 69 pages, "The Grinch" doesn't stretch for material, and wraps in a concise 86 minutes. 

Pharrell Williams narrates the story, but doesn't have much flavor in his phrasing; somewhere, there's a voice actor cursing the day celebrities took over the voiceover field. 

Illumination Entertainment, responsible for the "Despicable Me" movies and "The Secret Life of Pets," is in charge here, and gives the film a brightly lit, visually appealing aesthetic. 

"The Grinch" doesn't reinvent the story of the Grinch, nor does it top the crudely drawn charms of the original TV version. (It's tough to beat Boris Karloff's Grinch, and Cumberbatch doesn't put up much of a fight.) But by the end it opens it arms and spreads a fair amount of holiday cheer, which is obvious to even those whose hearts are two sizes too small.


'The Grinch'


Rated PG for brief rude humor

Running time: 86 minutes