“The Grinch” is the fourth major release of Dr. Seuss’ classic story, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
The first — and best — is the 30-minute TV version from 1966. Remove the commercials and whittle it down, and you have about a 20-minute video. Boris Karloff narrated, and Warner Brothers cartoon titans Chuck Jones and Ben Washam animated Theodore Geisel’s story word for word.
By the way, in case you didn’t know, Seuss is Geisel’s middle name. That has absolutely zero to do with this film, but it is something I didn’t know until now.
You all know the story. The Grinch lives in a cave atop Mt. Crumpet. From there he can look down on the Whos of Whoville. He’s not a big fan of Whos and doesn’t want to have much to do with them. So with the help of his loyal and loving dog, Max, the Grinch steals all the decorations outside homes and inside, all presents and everything about Christmas.
Geisel — I suspect — loved Christmas.
The concern of his 1957 book is how we miss the reason for the holiday. This — and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — are not just my two favorite Christmas stories, they are my all-time favorite stories.
Both are very deep but with simple philosophical statements. And when done correctly, they’re amazing.
When not so well done — like the Jim Carrey-Ron Howard collaboration “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” from 2000 — the profound message of the stories gets muddied. The Carrey star vehicle is overdone and awful. It adds a complex backstory on how the Grinch became the Grinch.
The other is a 1992 half-hour TV special narrated by Walter Matthau. As much as I love the story of the Grinch, I haven’t seen that one.
As for the current version of “The Grinch,” some will insist this is a “holiday” movie.
“The Grinch” is a Christmas movie. There is — in the eyes of some — a difference. In this case, and in the case of the Seuss book, the Grinch doesn’t hate the “holidays,” he hates Christmas and everything about it.
Another piece of evidence for my Christmas claim is the music the directors — Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier — pack into the early part of their film. It’s as Christmassy as Christmas gets, and even includes songs about the reason for the season.
The humor comes from the Grinch’s impossible-not-to-love Max, an overweight reindeer, all of the goods and gadgets in the Grinch’s cave, and from the Grinch himself.
Is it good?
Well, there are spots in the film that had me laughing out loud. That’s not easy.
There are negatives.
It’s written by Michael LeSieur (“Keeping Up with the Joneses”) and Timmy Swerdlow (“Snow Dogs”). They also add a backstory for the Grinch’s hatred of Christmas, and they add to his plan hatching. Their script is a good one, but Yarrow (co-director of “The Secret Life of Pets”) and producer-turned-director Mosier (“Clerks,” “Clerks II,” “Dogma”) stretch the story out to give it the length needed to make this a major motion picture release.
Next is the narration of rapper Pharrell Williams. Missing from his delivery is the much-needed tongue-in-cheek humor of the book, and that Karloff used in the 1966 original. Williams isn’t awful, but his reading is a bit flat.
Benedict Cumberbatch (“Dr. Strange”) gives voice to the Grinch. Like Williams, he is competent, but his delivery is also a bit flat. Cumberbatch does benefit, however, from the aforementioned pretty good script. It has some clever moments and — of course — the Grinch’s big heart-growing-two-sizes payoff.
It’s that payoff and some decent animation that makes “The Grinch” a perfect holi — er, I mean — Christmas movie.
▪ Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Kennewick 12s, the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
▪ Rating: 4 out of 5