The Grinch

"Stop looking at my organ!"

“The Grinch,” an 85-minute animated retelling of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” — which was already adapted perfectly in 1966 as a 26-minute Chuck Jones cartoon — is fitfully amusing, harmless, and negligible. It neither detracts from Dr. Seuss’ legacy (remember “The Cat in the Hat”?) nor enhances it, being instead a serviceable expansion of a simple, redemptive story that didn’t need to be expanded but isn’t necessarily damaged by it. Yes, we’re given some backstory on why the Grinch hates Christmas, but only a little, and it’s not overplayed.

What Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow’s screenplay mostly does is connect the dots in the sparse, 1,350-word original text. Of course all that the hermit-like Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch doing a “Dr. House” American accent) ever really needed was to feel included. Logically, young Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) doesn’t just happen to get up for a drink of water and find Grinch-as-Santa in her house; she had an elaborate plan to stay up and catch St. Nick in the act so she could ask him in person for what she wants for Christmas — which is for her harried unmarried mother (Rashida Jones) to be happy. Directors Yarrow Cheney (“The Secret Life of Pets”) and Scott Mosier (a Kevin Smith producer co-directing for the first time) have fun with the parallel stories of the Grinch preparing to imitate Santa and steal the Whos’ presents while Cindy-Lou and her friends prepare for their own Christmas Eve mission, and Kenan Thompson brings ho-ho-hos as Whoville’s most enthusiastic Christmas decorator.

While the Christmas-loving village of Whoville and its residents look familiar, a few details have been modernized, like the aforementioned existence of non-nuclear families. Whoville has a female mayor (Angela Lansbury!), though the character is irrelevant. The Grinch’s cave is a sleek lair tricked out with imaginative gadgets and convoluted devices for making breakfast, and he spends his idle hours playing the pipe organ. The songs from the 1966 cartoon are present, albeit in modified form. A lot of the original narration is preserved (read by Pharrell Williams), and you can tell which parts are new because they aren’t as strictly rhymed and metered as Dr. Seuss’ verse always was.

In short: It’s fine. Unnecessary but cheerful, pointless but uncynical, its heart is the right size.

NOTE: We learn here that the Grinch hasn’t been walking around nude since 1957. He’s actually wearing furry green trousers that are indistinguishable from his furry green legs, which we see when he arises in the morning and puts his fur-pants on over his tighty-whities. The fact that he wears underwear indicates he has genitals that need to be hidden or protected, which means the Grinch reproduces sexually (or would if given the chance). Are Grinches the same species as Whos? Is “Grinch” even a species? The Grinch calls himself “Grinch” as if it’s his name, not his race. At any rate, questions of how/when/whether the Grinch gets it on and with whom remain unanswered.

B- (1 hr., 25 min.; PG, graphic grumpiness.)