Dr. Seuss’ evergreen opus about an evergreen grouch was not a story that cried out to be remade. The 60s Christmas cartoon, directed by Chuck Jones and guided by Boris Karloff’s grinning baritone, has long since qualified as timeless. Ron Howard and Jim Carrey went live-action, a move that only underlined how well-enough should be left alone. This new version isn’t so much a reinvention as it is a shiny, digital reconstruction of the original, both cautiously faithful and diligently respectful. The script occasionally tiptoes away from its source long enough to inject some contemporary references and knowing asides for parents, deviations that make The Grinch a decent diversion: It’s unnecessary, but still pretty entertaining.
If you don’t know the story of the Grinch, well, I’m not sure what to tell you. Somebody somewhere denied you the childhood you deserved, and you need to curl up with some Theodor Guisel–stat. This one centers on Seuss’ own coal-hearted Scrooge–a green-felt beast bent on Hoovering up all the holiday joy from the picaresque village of Whoville. The Grinch paints his grumpy attitude and hatred of Christmas with a dripping coat of sarcasm and a menacing Cheshire grin. Cracks in his surly bravado are evident early on, though, as he demonstrates a soft spot for his precocious dog Max and a plump reindeer named Fred. Still, the Grinch harbors plenty of pent-up contempt for Whoville, and resolves to ruin Christmas for everyone. His arch-nemesis turns out to be Cindy Lou Who, a guileless little girl with pigtails and…well, you can probably take it from here.
Benedict Cumberbatch, normally a commanding British presence, puts just the right amount of nasally, American snark into the main role. His Grinch is evil but not charmless, and the story rightfully pegs him as a Boo Radley-type–a wilted flower in need of a little water. Rashida Jones does a fine job as Cindy Lou’s cheerful-yet-flummoxed single mom, a character who gives a little modern tweak to this version that new audiences may appreciate. Pharrell Williams’ narration lacks Boris Karloff’s commanding theatricality, but it actually provides this wacky, frenetic story with a welcome, soothing vibe.
This Grinch is beautifully built: Whoville, where the Christmas spirit cranks into maximum overdrive, is a technicolor supernova of lights and decorations. Danny Elfman’s score puts just a dash of Tim Burton into an otherwise relentlessly amiable film. Everything has been hung with great care, making this a rendition good enough for children and adults alike. We didn’t really need another Grinch, but this version does a lot of the stuff it’s supposed to really well. And, if it introduces a new generation to the magic of Dr. Suess, well, then all the better.
(The Grinch is rated G, and suitable for all ages.)