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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



The Grinch, Review: You can’t steal Christmas

The Grinch, Review: You can’t steal Christmas

An entire film built around Christmas cannot but be happy and heart-tugging, which is what Grinch is. And since it is animated, anything and everything outrageous and impossible can be incorporated, with technical finesse. Obviously, the film will have special appeal to those who believe in Saint Nicholas, aka as Santa Claus. But others too will be won over by the charm and innocence, seasoned with guile and villainy.

The Grinch, who lives a solitary life inside a cave on Mt. Crumpet, with only his loyal dog (who is a slave, nothing less), Max, for company. With a cave rigged with inventions and contraptions for his day-to-day needs, the Grinch only sees his neighbours in Whoville when he runs out of food. Each year, at Christmas, they disrupt his tranquil solitude with their increasingly bigger, brighter, and louder celebrations.

When the Whos declare they are going to make Christmas three times bigger this year, the Grinch, a cynical grump (why didn’t they name him just that?) goes on a mission to steal Christmas gifts, decor and trees of all the inhabitants of Whoville, with the help of Max, because, as a child who grew up in an orphanage, he never had the good fortune of experiencing Christmas with family, friends and neighbours.  But it only takes a young girl, Cindy Lou's generous holiday spirit to change his heart.

Funny, heartwarming, and visually stunning, a universal story about the spirit of Christmas and the indomitable power of optimism the makers call the film, and for once, they are not exaggerating. Based on the 1957 book by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel, died 1991), the film has screenplay by Michael Le Sieur (You, Me and Dupree, The Maiden Heist, Keeping Up with the Joneses) and Tommy Swerdlow (Bushwhacked, Snow Dogs and a Thousand Junkies).

Its earlier seven outings have been from 12 to 104 minutes. This one is a decent 90. The writers have kept it simple enough for the yet to intellectually mature kids and interesting enough for those you love a feast of colours, blending into gizmos and gadgets that make James Bond’s Q treasury look like an apprentice’s dust-bin, chases and cliff-hangers. An added attraction is the generous sprinkling of snow, making it an ideal, white Christmas. A dog and an oversize reindeer, Fred, are given starring roles, and the idea gels.

Director Yarrow Cheney is an animator who co-directed the secret life of pets. Here, his co-director is Scott Mosier, who has produced over 35 titles but takes the directorial plunge only now. In their world, the characters and the happenings appear totally credible. But of course, the emotions are human, whether it is a dog or a reindeer, or, for that matter, the Grinch, who is not human, at least not conventionally human.

Coming a full 18 years after the one fronted by Jim Carrey, The Grinch 2018 is from the stable that gave us Despicable Me and has none other than Benedict Cumberbatch voicing for the central character. Both he and Cameron Seely (Cindy Lou) have given a very good account of themselves. Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones, is the angelic Mama, Donna Lou. Angela Lansbury sounds too old for the screen persona. Two black voices are distinguishable: Kenan Thompson as Bricklebaum ad Pharrell Williams as the narrator. Another black voice actor Ramone Hamilton plays the child, Axl. Ozzy and Izzy are two other kids, voiced by Sam Lavagnino and Scarlett Estevez.

Judiciously divided, the first half establishes the characters and what Christmas means to Whovilleans and The Grinch, while the second half is about the elaborate plans laid out by The Grinch and Cindy Lou. The Grinch wants to steal Christmas while Cindy Lou wants to trap Santa Claus with the noblest of intentions. And when the plot has had its run, there is a quick good-bye. Yes, you may enjoy the end credits which give you some more of the adept and painstaking animation.

The Grinch is blues-chasing holiday fare, and though it’s being released in India during the Diwali vacation, X’Mas holidays being a month-and-a-half away, it is holiday fare nevertheless.

There is the obvious religious overtone running right through the narrative, but you have to rise above that to enjoy the proceedings. The message? You can steal the trappings and the decoration, but a feast is a matter of hearts and souls! This one has its soul in the right place.

Rating: *** ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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