“THE GRINCH” EARLY HOLIDAY FARE; “THE NEIGHBORHOOD” ON TV
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
(Rated PG) Maybe my memory is faltering, but it really seems that family-oriented cinematic entertainment has been in very short supply lately. That sad state is now rectified by the latest adaptation of a Dr. Seuss holiday favorite. “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” may not break any significant new ground as the basic story from the original Dr. Seuss book, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!,” is so well-known that there are few adults, at least, who would not be familiar with its holiday-inspired premise.
The animated “The Grinch” allows for more flexible creativity to illustrate some variations. And yet the Grinch, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, remains the familiar grumpy curmudgeon whose only friend is his lovable dog Max. The little girl, Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely), is now older than a mere toddler, and her infectious spirit of Christmas joy is to think not of presents for herself but a wish to meet Santa Claus for the purpose of seeking help to relieve her mother from the burden of being overworked.
Of course, the Grinch is repulsed by the Christmas cheer that is so infectious for the townsfolk of the vibrant community of Whoville where holiday decorations overwhelm every corner of the city. Living a solitary existence inside a cave on Mount Crumpet where the access to the front door is littered with signs to discourage visitors, the Grinch frets about his unwillingness to go into town during the holidays even for needed food supplies. The problem for the Grinch is that he’s extremely aggravated by the joyous holiday cheer of the Whoville inhabitants who have, to his mind, the annoying habit of singing Christmas carols while also gathering for the lighting of the biggest tree ever decorated.
The Grinch’s lonely daily routine is amusingly realized with Max’s uncanny ability to brew his master’s morning cup of coffee and deliver breakfast on a bedside tray by means of a dumb waiter.While playing organ music like a villain ensconced in his secret lair, the Grinch concocts a scheme where he could gain peace and quiet during the Christmas season, thereby hatching his familiar plan to impersonate Santa Claus. But first to fulfill the fake Santa ploy, he has to steal a sleigh perched on the roof of Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), who’s not only Grinch’s nearest neighbor but the town’s most enthusiastic and irrepressible celebrant of the Christmas holiday.
Looking to corral some reindeer to pull the sleigh, the Grinch can only come up with the grossly overweight Fred, a pliable participant who gamely joins the effort until he’s ultimately distracted by a family reunion. In any case, as expected, the Grinch’s stone-cold heart is eventually turned on Christmas Eve, when in the middle of stealing every household’s gifts and decorations, he falters in the face of Cindy-Lou’s faith in the true meaning of Christmas. “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” shamelessly tugs on heartfelt sentiment for its appeal. Christmas is still many weeks away and so it will be interesting to see if the cordial seasonal mood kicks in early for moviegoers.
“THE NEIGHBORHOOD” ON CBS
In the past, the CBS network has encountered criticism for its lack of diversity in programming. Interestingly, the concept of “All in the Family,” which ran on the network in the Seventies, has now been flipped on the racial side. Cedric the Entertainer, starring in “The Neighborhood,” is now the black version of an Archie Bunker who becomes rattled when his African-American neighborhood in Pasadena suddenly finds the arrival of a Midwestern white family moving into the house next to his.
Showing his cultural bias, Cedric’s Calvin Butler, upon hearing his new neighbors are the Johnsons, defaults to the position that the surname suggests that a “successful black family moving into that nice house” next door. To his surprise and dismay, Calvin discovers that the Johnsons are Dave (Max Greenfield), his wife Gemma (Beth Behrs) and their young son, a white family from Michigan that seem to have no concern whatsoever that their new home is in an area unlike where they came from.
Calvin falls into his reverse Archie Bunker-mode, claiming the “there goes the neighborhood” mantra which a few episodes later is turned into a lament of how the immediate area was once the scene of white flight. The specter of a gentrification now lingers in his mind. Restraining, if possible, Calvin’s worst impulses becomes the task of his wife Tina (Tichina Arnold), more sensible and welcoming, while older son Malcolm (Sheaun McKinney) also proves hospitable and friendly. The often tense dynamic between Dave and Cedric is often expressed by the former’s trying a little too hard to fit in with his new neighbors while the latter clings, for the most part, to his disgruntled feelings. “The Neighborhood” touches on potentially sensitive racial subjects, but any seriousness dissipates with the omnipresent sounds of canned laughter. Cedric the Entertainer may have to step up his game on the comedic front.