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It’s a little hard to believe, even in this era of reboots and remakes, that any studio would bite at a new animated version of the classic Christmas cartoon, The Grinch (rated PG for brief rude humor). 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 drop the mediocre, Jim Carrey Grinch from your Christmas viewing repertoire and replace it with Illumination’s somewhat-less mediocre one starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
The biggest failing both the 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 creates a tedious backstory that robs the Grinch of the delicious rottenness that made him a favorite of kids in the first place. Thankfully, this version adds cute dog Max, a hilarious obese reindeer, a screaming goat, and a pluckier Cindy-Lou Who. And on the very big plus side, this is the first one to feature traditional Christmas songs that honor Christ.
That might have been enough to tip this into the winner category if not for the film’s distracting narration. Maybe it’s not fair to compare Pharrell Williams to the great Boris Karloff, but the singer’s voice work is so bland and pleasant in comparison, you start to wonder if he thought he signed 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.