in partnership
(Image: Universal)

Review: 'The Grinch' remake was doomed from the start

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is often considered holiday royalty, having delighted generations since it first aired in 1966. Universal studios found box office success – though not much love from critics – with the 2000 live-action remake, carried mainly on the shoulders of Jim Carrey’s charisma and facial elasticity. So why in the name of all that is Who-ly, over 50 years after the release of the widely beloved classic, is “The Grinch” back in theaters?

I wish I could answer that question for you. I’ve got nothing.

“The Grinch” tells the story of the green-furred curmudgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) who lives at the top of Mount Crumpet overlooking the idyllic town of Whoville, home to the happy-go-lucky Whos. Christmas is a particularly sensitive time of year for the Grinch, and he avoids the town if he can, preferring to scowl down at them from his perch with choice words and furrowed brow, plugging his ears to block out their merriment.

When the Whos decree Christmas will be three times bigger this year, the spiteful Grinch along with his loyal canine sidekick Max plot to overthrow their tidings of good cheer by stealing Christmas. The rest, as you probably know, is a lesson in how a little kindness can go a long way as well as a saccharin reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

It may be hard to believe, but I really have nothing against remakes. Like most things in life, there are good remakes and bad remakes, but the particularly frustrating breed of remakes are those we forget immediately upon leaving the theater, extracting neither love nor disdain, just a shrug followed by an argument about whether or not to get ramen for dinner.

“The Grinch”, sadly, is one such remake. Modernized to include the disenchanting use of cell phones and a hip-hop version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, this adaptation is about as charming as a seasick crocodile. Or a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot poll. Or ok, so I’m stalling. Because reciting the seminal song is arguably more interesting than detailing the film’s many errs.

To give credit where it’s due, the film is beautiful and elaborate. The benefit of modern technology is that animators have more opportunities to wow us in the details. If they’d had these tools in 1966, this is surely how they would have wanted them to be used. We see every green-leafed wreath on front doors and each decadent dessert lining the Christmas table. The Grinch’s lair is particularly innovative and brings us deeper into his world.

That being said, the film offers nothing new to the children’s classic. Cindy Lou Who is certainly way more annoying than the demure toddler in the original. Characters were created for no real reason except to eat up runtime, and though Kenan Thompson was one of the funnier parts of the 86 minutes, I can’t say I understood the motivation for creating his character at all except as a means of committing the many hammy gags that snowballed us to the end.

In fact, when it boils down to it, the film was doomed from the start. When you are working with source material as tight as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” – a lean, mean 26 minutes, after all – anything added is pure fat.

I won’t beleaguer the point in an excessively long review after bemoaning the fact that the film is too long for it’s own good. If you are an enormous fan of “Despicable Me”, then I doubt there is anything I can say that will keep you from storming the theater to catch Illumination’s newest monstrosity. If you have a soft spot in your heart for the original and love an excuse to get in the Christmas spirit then rewatch the original and use that extra hour to do something – anything – else.