Benedict Cumberbatch does the voice-over for The Grinch in the 3D computer-animated Christmas comedy film. Picture: Supplied

Benedict Cumberbatch lends his supple voice to this warmly rendered animated take on the holiday classic.

Much closer in spirit to the beloved book and the evergreen 1966 TV special than the soulless lump of coal that was the 2000 Ron Howard-Jim Carrey collaboration, Dr Seuss’s The Grinch is a vibrant, amusing animated feature that gives the big mean, green guy a kinder, gentler makeover.

While the film’s message of spreading love and kindness is unmistakably keyed to our politically turbulent era, the root cause of the Grinch’s unpleasantness, originally thought to have been related to his having a heart two sizes too small, has now received a complete psychological work-up revealing an emotionally scarred childhood.

The resulting infusion of empathy makes for a Grinch that’s less of a mean one than a miserable one, but what the production may have lost in a “nasty-wasty skunk” of an antagonist, it gains in an inspired voice cast (led by Benedict Cumberbatch) and a dazzlingly merry and bright visual palette.

Marking the third Seuss adaptation by Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment after 2008’s Horton Hears a Who! and 2012’s The Lorax, the Universal release should generate plenty of family-friendly, pre-holiday cheer when it opens in South Africa this weekend.

The production’s biggest upgrade is Whoville itself, which has been transformed into a luminous, twinkling spectacle of a mini-metropolis, complete with its own Who Foods Market and a meticulous attention to detail that extends to the tiniest of Christmas tree decorations and most innocuous of snowflakes.

If that, along with Danny Elfman’s fanciful score and Tyler the Creator’s spin on You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch fails to do the trick in these spiritually trying times, then maybe the green dude’s not the one whose heart is full of unwashed socks.