In 1966, a Chuck Jones produced TV special by name of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas arrived. Ever since it’s been a staple of the Christmas television schedule each year and with it nearing its 50th anniversary expect it to only become even more celebrated in the near future. What’s not as celebrated is the spiritual sequel produced eleven years later, Halloween is Grinch Night, despite the fact that it won an Emmy. Like its predecessor, it too was produced by a legend of the animated short: Friz Freleng. It’s become so obscure that most people have never even heard of it. It has yet to receive its own stand-alone DVD or Blu Ray release and finding it on television at Halloween time is often an exercise in futility.
Halloween is Grinch Night is sometimes cited as being a prequel to the more popular How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If it is, it creates a plot hole or two, but how it relates to the prior special is of little importance. The character of the Grinch seems like a natural fit for Halloween. He’s mean looking and kind of scary and would most likely enjoy a holiday such as Halloween over one like Christmas. Because the first special was so successful, it’s not surprising that the Halloween special would try to use a similar format. There’s a narrator present, Hans Conried, who also happens to voice the titular character just as Boris Karloff did before him. There’s music and the people of Whoville, as well as the Grinch’s dog Max, are here to play foil. Thurl Ravenscroft even shows up again in a singing role.
What isn’t the same is the animation and general look of the special. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a very clean production. It’s brightly colored with simple backdrops and is quite stylized looking. It’s a perfect mash-up of Chuck Jones’ work and that of Dr. Seuss. Halloween is Grinch Night is less sophisticated to behold. The Seuss designs almost seem downplayed to a point and the Grinch himself has a more cat-like appearance. The backgrounds are exceedingly busy and the characters sometimes appear lost on the screen. When the story takes the visuals to a more surreal place, this style starts to prove its worth, if only for a brief moment. I do appreciate how most of the colors utilized are shades of brown, red, and orange which does enhance the feeling of autumn. This basically looks like a late 70s production, an era when animation was less celebrated, which is partly why it looks the way that it does.
The story of the picture involves the people of Whoville noticing a sour-sweet wind blowing, a harbinger for the Grinch that sends most scurrying into their homes. A young Who by the name of Euchariah steps out to hit the outhouse (referred to as a euphemism by the story) and gets caught up by the breeze and eventually encounters the Grinch. Once encountered, the Grinch makes it a point to try and scare Euchariah, who is either brave or simply feels emboldened when faced with the Grinch’s ghostly apparitions because his poor eyesight renders them less scary. His confrontation with the Grinch is the meat of the story and his ability to face him is what ultimately brings about the story’s resolution.
The plot is certainly less straight-forward than the Christmas special. It’s also less satisfying. The story spends too much time away from the only interesting characters in the special; the Grinch and his abused little dog Max. It would seem the approach this time was to build the Grinch up as a character to be feared, not understood, and to do that a little mystery needed to be created by having much of the story follow Euchariah. If that is indeed what Freleng and Seuss were going for then they should have committed to it fully and further reduced the Grinch’s screen time. At no point does the viewer truly feel like the Grinch is someone to be feared because there’s just nothing very fearsome about him. If anything, we’re just trained to not like him because he’s a terrible dog owner. Perhaps had this story originated in the pages of a Dr. Seuss book it would have come out better and with a tighter narrative.
The cast for the picture and the production in general is also less than impressive. Conried does all right as the Grinch, once you get over the fact that he and Captain Hook (from the Disney version of Peter Pan) have the same voice. His singing is probably something I could have done without, and the songs in general just aren’t very memorable. The only time they really caught my ear was when one included an inner monologue from Max. This felt cheap to me as the beauty of the Max character from How the Grinch Stole Christmas was the way in which we were able to understand him without the need to personify him.
Halloween is Grinch Night can be found on a few compilation DVDs as well as some old VHS tapes. It’s included in at least one version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and also on the Dr. Seuss: On the Loose compilation. I found a copy of the latter for fifty cents, so it’s a pretty easy special to acquire for the curious. It’s never received a proper release though because it’s just not that good. It’s visually inferior to its more popular cousin and the plot, while promising in concept, is poorly executed and utterly forgettable. There’s room for the Grinch at Halloween time, but just not like this.