New animated feature The Grinch is a perfect Christmas movie – so why it is being released in early November is a little mysterious. “It is never too early to be annoyed by Christmas,” is how the slogan on the poster justifies its early arrival. This is a faithful adaptation of the Dr Seuss story, but pepped up with much of the zaniness you’d expect from Illumination Entertainment, the team behind The Minions, The Secret Life Of Pets, Sing et al.
The new film is delightful in parts although curmudgeonly viewers may feel as negatively about its unbridled sentimentality as its own main character does about yuletide celebrations in general.
The Grinch (voiced with tremendous vim by Benedict Cumberbatch) simply can’t stand Christmas. He’s a furry green gargoyle-like creature who sprays “Mold Spice” under his armpits and eats far too much junk food. He lives high up on a mountain with his faithful dog Max as companion and looks down at the Christmas festivities in Whoville with loathing. His heart is “two sizes too small” for him to be able to take any pleasure in the seasonal celebrations.
Having binged on all his spare food, the Grinch is forced to head down the slopes to Whoville to stock up on fresh provisions. His trip is one of the comic highlights of the film. He and Max go to extreme lengths to avoid the townsfolk, who are busy putting up decorations. His most bile is reserved for Bricklebaum (voiced by Kenan Thompson), a relentlessly cheerful figure who tries to hug everybody in sight and is taking very seriously the mayor’s edict that Christmas should be “three times as big”.
On his trip to town, the Grinch spreads misery wherever he can and takes a malicious pleasure in sabotaging other shoppers’ attempts to buy their Christmas food. Cumberbatch plays him with a whining American drawl. He is the Scrooge of the story. Pitted against him, a wonderful comic creation in her own right, is is Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), a chubby cheeked, angelic little girl devoted to her overworked mum, Donna Lou (Rashida Jones). Cindy Lou is desperate to track down Santa Claus to ask him to help her mother.
Although we see the Grinch banging away at the keyboard of an organ with huge, jagged pipes, Phantom of the Opera-style, and scowling maliciously from his perch high up on the mountain, he never seems as odious as all that. His dog Max and the slobbering reindeer, Fred, wouldn’t stick around if he was the fount of all evil. He is more a Victor Meldrew-like grumbler than he is a Satanic bully. When he decides to “steal Christmas”, he inadvertently reminds the townsfolk that there is more to the festivities than getting presents.
The Grinch is narrated by the ever cheery Pharrell Williams (behind the Oscar-nominated song “Happy” which was used in Despicable Me 2). It has the venerable Angela Lansbury doing the voice work for the Mayor of Whoville. An added treat is that the film comes with a new Minions short, in which two of the rubbery, gurgling little yellow creatures serve time on a chain gang. There is nothing here not to like – apart from the fact that the film has arrived in cinemas at least a month too soon.