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Dec. 15 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! first premiered on December 18, 1966.

It’s December 15 which means it’s time for another retro throwback and I bet you’re surprised to see the green guy here. Since I dubbed Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as the best ever Christmas special not just once, but twice, you may have expected it to appear on this year’s edition in the coveted Christmas position. Well, it already received that honor back in 2015 and, to be honest, the actual Christmas Day post is usually one of the least read because people are quite busy that day. I figured we should leave that spot open for another deserving entry and give the Grinch his due on the road to Christmas 2021!

The now familiar A Cat in the Hat Presentation logo.

Now, in case you’re confused, there is only one Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! that we need to acknowledge. That live-action movie with Jim Carrey? Nah, don’t like it. The CGi Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle from a couple of years ago? Technically, it’s titled The Grinch so I guess people shouldn’t confuse it with today’s topic, but it’s understandable if they do. That film is better than the live-action one, though it’s hardly what I consider truly memorable or even essential Christmas viewing. The 1966 animated special directed and produced by Chuck Jones is the only Christmas special I need in my life featuring the Grinch. I think it even far surpasses the beauty that is the source material, though I do consider that essential Christmas reading at this time of year. The animated version though just brings the character to life in a way that print and still images cannot. The famed Seuss himself did criticize the animated version a bit by pointing out to Jones that he took his character and just made it look like himself, but I don’t care! If he looks like Jones, it’s probably because the famed animator had to look at himself in a mirror to try to get that infamous smile drawn correctly and it turned out so well that I think he’s more than deserving of injecting a little bit of his own likeness into the character.

I take a trip to Who-ville probably a dozen times a year.

The animation for this special is terrific, especially for television. It likely had a bigger budget than what people were used to seeing and definitely a larger one than the latter day Looney Tunes shorts Jones had worked on. There’s a fluidity to Grinch’s movements few rivaled at the time and the little personality quirks and gags are so well designed. Beyond the simple looks of the special is the music. What is the Grinch these days without “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,”? The two are inseparable and the other musical bits are nearly as memorable. To top it off, you have the incomparable Boris Karloff as narrator who adds just a touch of a growl to his voice when performing as the title character. It’s just magic for the eyes and ears and the simple story of a Christmas grump trying to ruin everyone’s holiday makes the Grinch both loathsome and relatable.

We begin with what the Grinch hates most of all: singing!

Obviously, I love this cartoon and could talk about it for hours, but we should probably get on with the viewing before I get on too much of a roll. The special begins with the now familiar Cat in the Hat logo which fades into falling snow. Soft singing comes in as we’re introduced to the song “Welcome Christmas” as sung by the people of Who-ville. Albert Hague wrote the now memorable music featured in this special with lyrics by Dr. Seuss himself (it’s pretty obvious where he contributed). Eugene Poddany oversaw the score which is arguably as good as the actual songs with lyrics. There’s basically no soft spot in the production for this one.

Little Cindy-Lou Who who is no more than two.

We are introduced to the Whos as they chop down a massive tree to bring to their little town square. As it’s erected, the song shifts abruptly from the serene “Welcome Christmas” to the much livelier “Trim Up the Tree.” The massive tree is splashed and decorated with garish objects that have wacky, Seussian, names attached to them. The Whos move on to other parts of town as they hang wreaths outside and decorate the interior of their homes and through the lyrics of the song we learn that Christmas is tomorrow! These Whos are old fashioned in that they trim the tree and put up all of the Christmas décor on Christmas Eve, which is such a waste. It’s also during this song we get our first look at little Cindy-Lou Who who will play a larger role in the story later, but who Chuck Jones wanted to play an even larger role initially. He wanted her to be the granddaughter of the Grinch, but the idea was either cut for time or nixed by Seuss. If you ever thought Cindy-Lou looked an awful lot like the Grinch, well now you know why.

Never mind the size, that thing just doesn’t look healthy. The Grinch may only have a few more Christmases to endure.

As the song fades out the camera shifts to the snowy mountains and begins its climb. Our narrator, Boris Karloff, enters the picture to tell us that the people of Who-ville really like Christmas, if that wasn’t already obvious, but one guy does not: the Grinch! We’re introduced to this grumpy, green, fur-covered being as he leans against the entrance of his cave which he calls a home. His cave is located 10,000 feet above Who-ville in the side of Mt. Crumpet. When we meet Grinch he seems fairly nonchalant as he chews something with a toothpick hanging out of his mouth. As we regard this curious creature, Karloff tries to figure out just why he dislikes Christmas and hypothesizes it could be his shoes, or maybe his head, before settling on the size of his heart. A little X-Ray window is positioned over Grinch’s torso to demonstrate that his heart is two sizes too small.

Staring down from his cave…

The narrator dismisses the exercise as perfunctory for it matters not why Grinch hates Christmas, he just does! Grinch then walks over to the ledge as his dog, Max, comes trotting out and the two look down over Who-ville. It’s clear that Max is the opposite of the Grinch for everything about his disposition is cheerful and happy. Then Grinch speaks for the first time and Karloff uses a slight growl when reciting his lines. The Grinch informs his dog, or maybe himself, that Christmas is coming and he just can’t take it any more.

Yeah! Wham that gardinka!

Grinch then goes into detail about what it is he dislikes most about Christmas and it mostly boils down to noise. Grinch, you big wimp, it’s one day a year! Just deal with the noise! Though to be fair, the Whos definitely make a lot of noise as basically every one of their Christmas toys is some crazy concoction designed to make noise. My favorite as a kid was the gardinka (spelling?), mostly because it had the word “dink” in it. Though it’s hardly the most impressive of the instrument-vehicles. Some electro-who-cardio-thing is quite a spectacle and definitely good at producing loud noises.

The dude in the front should definitely be wearing ear protection.

The Grinch doesn’t just hate the noise though, he’s also annoyed by the feast the Whos have. Why? I don’t know. They have a bunch of desserts and rare, Who, roast, beast which is a feast that the Grinch cannot stand in the least. Again, we don’t know why, maybe he’s a vegetarian?

I think it’s a rather nice Christmas tradition the Whos have. No, I do not want to hold hands and sing with my neighbors.

The feast isn’t what Grinch hates the most though, nor is it the abstract noise from earlier. Oh no, what Grinch hates the most is the singing! And yeah, these Whos definitely seem to enjoy singing. It’s apparently a pretty large part of their Christmas celebration as every man, woman, and child gathers around the town tree to sing, with Christmas bells ringing! And their song of choice is “Welcome Christmas,” and we get another taste of that rather wonderful song. As Grinch recites all of this, the camera dissolves onto Max who seems to really be enjoying the memories of Christmases past.

Oh Max, do you have an idea?!

Grinch is not enjoying these memories and he repeats “Sing! Sing! Sing!” as he shoves his face right into Max’s as if to convince him he’s wrong to reflect fondly on these memories. Grinch has had it though. He’s put up with Christmas for 53 years! Is that how old he is, or just how long he’s lived in this cave? He doesn’t elaborate, but he has decided that he now must stop Christmas from coming. There will not be a 54th! In order to do so though he’ll need a plan, and one doesn’t come to mind immediately. Then he looks at Max…

The good stuff!

The rather meek canine had backed himself into the snow when confronted by the Grinch and found himself covered in snow. Upon popping his head out of the pile, the snow clings to his head like a hat and beard. Yes, he looks like Santa Claus and it’s Max in this state that gives Grinch an idea. Not just any idea though, a wonderful, awful, idea! The animation on the Grinch’s smile is quite possibly the highlight of the entire special, which is full of highlights. I just love how that smile climbs up the sides of the Grinch’s head and then it’s topped off by the tuft of fur on the top of his head unfurling. It’s so good, that I had to include a gif. Still images just won’t work.

Some amusing antics take place during the montage of Grinch and Max crafting the Santa suit. The original story was so short that the special needed the songs and non-speaking scenes to really lengthen the whole thing for TV.

The Grinch, chuckling to himself proudly, grabs his dog by the tail and drags him into the cave. He doesn’t keep any secrets as he informs the dog (and us) that he’s going to make a quick Santy Claus hat and coat. To do so, he starts cutting up some red curtains in his rather sad looking cave. What little we see of the interior seems to contain old, worn out, furniture. It looks rather dank, but also like a fitting place for such a creature to call home. His sewing machine looks nice though!

As the Grinch, and Max, get to work on a Santa outfit, we’re introduced to the baritone of Thurl Ravenscroft. I suppose Thurl is best known for his role of Tony the Tiger for many years, though kids today probably won’t know him from anything except this special. He gets the honor though of singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which is now a Christmas classic. Granted, the song never mentions the holiday, but its association with this special is all the Christmas it needs. Ravencroft’s performance combined with the words of Seuss and the bombastic melody nearly steal the show here. We only get a taste of the song though, the rest will have to wait for later.

The Grinch apparently doesn’t think much of the Whos if he expects them to confuse he and Max for Santa and a reindeer.

When the song drops out, we see the Grinch in his new Santa costume. It’s rather basic as it’s just a hat and coat. Apparently, Grinch is a bit like Donald Duck in that he refuses to wear pants. He also doesn’t see the beard as a necessity, but he does need a reindeer. He has none though, but he does have a dog and a pair of antlers on his wall! He takes some black thread and ties one of the antlers onto Max’s head. It looks rather uncomfortable as all of Max’s fur gets scrunched where the antler meets his skull. Worse though, is that it’s too heavy. When Grinch steps back to admire his handy-work, Max slowly collapses under the weight of the headpiece. Grinch then grabs a saw and removes some of the tines from the antler and Max slowly rocks back onto all fours, a little splash of drums can be heard as his feet return to the ground. I love the sound effects in this one, like the strings when Grinch saws the antlers. It’s all so good.

He’s so cute!

With Grinch in costume and Max turned reindeer, it’s time to stock an old sleigh with some bags. Max, behaving like a typical dog, jumps enthusiastically into the sleigh thinking he’s about to go for a ride. Oh, you’re going for a ride, Max, but it’s not going to be a fun one. The Grinch is not amused by his dog’s antics and grabs him by the fur and hooks him up to the front of the sleigh. The tiny dog looks ridiculous out in front of such a large sleigh, but the Grinch either disagrees or doesn’t care. He is coming up with this plan on the fly, after all. He cracks a whip over Max and orders him to “giddy-up” and the dog is forced to comply.

My second favorite piece of animation after the infamous smile.

The beginning of Grinch and Max’s descent to Who-ville is quite steep, so steep that the sleigh rushes past the dog. In perhaps the special’s cutest moment, Max winds up behind the sleigh and hops onto the back as the Grinch looks under the sleigh for his dog. When he turns and sees Max just sitting on the sleigh, the only thing the dog can do is smile and wave. That won’t do for the Grinch, who is committed to arriving at Who-ville in a style similar to Santa’s so he grabs the rope and yanks Max back out and in front of the sleigh where the little dog rolls before going into a run. The two then head up an embankment that causes the sleigh to flip in the air which results in Max grabbing onto his master for dear life. When the sleigh lands in the snow again, the Grinch is forced to pull Max off of him like one would a really tight-fitting sweater. For some reason the sequence reminds me of one of Jones’ other famous creations, Wile E. Coyote, as this seems like a predicament he’d find himself in. Though it wouldn’t be a dog grabbing onto him, but some weird ACME contraption.

Oh Max, you’re in for a long night, buddy.

With Max back out in front, the sleigh completes its descent and arrives in Who-ville. The Grinch immediately puts Max to work carrying a massive ladder while he grabs a bunch of bags. He leads the dog to the first house informing him this is only stop number one. Now we get to see the Grinch’s plan in motion as he ascends the ladder to arrive at the chimney. Since he’s committed to the Santa role, he can’t just break in through a window or door, no, he must go down the chimney!

This has become a rather iconic image over the years.

Grinch pauses at the top of the chimney to strike a pose before descending. He squishes his back against the side and basically “walks” his way down the chimney. He gets stuck briefly (Karloff claims it’s for a minute or two, but it’s more like a second) before eventually arriving in the living room of the Who house. His eyes shine from the blackness of the fireplace making him look like a rather sinister character, indeed. When he pops out, he uses a magnet to pull the tacks out of the mantle to collect the stockings. Then he slithers just like a snake, I guess to be quiet, and arrives at the tree. Old St. Nick has apparently already come and gone for the tree is covered in presents and goodies. The Grinch takes them all, stuffs them in bags, and then shoves them up the chimney where poor Max is expected to catch them and load them onto the sleigh.

You better believe he’s taking that star!

The song then returns as Thurl Ravenscroft continues to tell us how much the Grinch sucks. While he does so, we get to see the Grinch sneak around the house and take stuff. And he’s going to take it all! Presents, decorations, furniture, food – you name it. It doesn’t have to be anything representing Christmas, he apparently wants the Whos to suffer! The song drops out for him to raid the fridge where he makes sure to take the rare, Who, roast, beast. It returns for him to take everything else, before dropping again when only one item remains to be claimed: the tree!

Uh oh, Grinch, you’ve been found!
I love this shot.

As the Grinch stuffs the tree up the chimney, one, lone, ornament falls off of it and rolls into a bedroom. We had already seen Grinch raid this bedroom earlier and steal the candy canes from the hands of the sleeping children, now one of them has awoken. Cindy-Lou Who (June Foray) picks up the ornament and heads into the den to find the Grinch shoving the tree up the chimney. Now, she’s only 2 so we can forgive her for not noticing all of the other missing items and for confusing Grinch for Santa. Upon seeing the girl though, the Grinch gets really unnerved for a moment, but Karloff assures us he’s thought up a lie and thought it up quick! The Grinch changes his facial expression indicating that this did indeed happen and begins his lie. He tells Cindy-Lou that a light on the tree has malfunctioned and he’s taking it home to his workshop to fix it. A totally plausible explanation. She buys it, and the Grinch gets her a cup of water and puts her back in bed.

You might as well have fun while stealing.

With Cindy-Lou out of the way, Grinch is able to stuff the tree up the chimney without further issue. It’s at this point we’re informed of just how much he took as he left basically just wires on the wall. The narrator then tells us the one speck of food he left was a crumb that was too small for a mouse. As the wee little mouse approaches said crumb, Grinch’s hand comes back into frame to steal that too! He then goes to the other houses in Who-ville as “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” returns for a final time. It plays over the Grinch stealing more stuff, some of the images are recycled from before as we see Max getting buried under bags and Grinch slithering around some more. The last thing the Grinch steals is the giant tree in the town square which he opens like an umbrella and then folds up to carry it away.

I’m starting to think the real Santa should try hiring Max.

When the song ends we learn that it’s quarter to dawn. It’s time for Grinch and Max to get out of there, but how are they going to do that? The sleigh is massive now, and it’s just little Max out in front who needs to pull it 10,000 feet up the side of a mountain! No matter, the little dog is a lot stronger than he looks as he’s forced to run when Grinch cracks his whip. The dog becomes buried in snow with only the antler showing, which is probably a good thing as he’s safe from the whip. The Grinch, being a chubby, green, guy, reclines on the pile of stuff and relaxes as his dog tugs the sleigh all the way up to the top of the mountain where Karloff informs us the Grinch intends to dump the sleigh.

And he put a hand to his ear.

Once the Grinch reaches the top, he cheerfully bounds from the pile of bags. He stops for a second to regard poor Max, who is just dangling in the air from his harness as the sleigh literally balances on the tip of the mountain. The Grinch then makes his way down to a perch where he’s able to assume yet another iconic pose as he places a hand to his ear. He’s hoping to hear the cries and wails of a defeated town, but he’s not prepared for what he hears instead.

Holy shit! The Whos have created a Spirit Bomb to avenge Christmas!

The people of Who-ville all emerge from their homes as the sun rises. They gather in the center of town as if nothing has happened, clasping hands and singing “Welcome Christmas” just as joyously as they would have even with trees and such. The Grinch also failed to steal the Christmas bells which blare as the song is sung and the narrator sounds aghast at what is taking place.

One grumpy Grinch.

We then pivot back to the Grinch, with his ice cold feet in the snow, looking as grumpy as ever. It’s at this point he tugs on Max and shoves his face into the dog’s to question how this could be happening, “It came without ribbon! It came without tags! It came with out packages, boxes, or bags!” He continues to ponder over it, before the background starts to brighten and the Grinch’s eyes turn a brilliant shade of blue. A smile comes across his face as he realizes that, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Time to get bombarded with screenshots because this climax is just too good. First, we have the Grinch starting to realize something about Christmas.
However, this sudden change of heart coincides with the sleigh deciding it’s had enough. And don’t forget about poor Max who will surely die if he falls with the sleigh!
The Grinch’s initial bid to save the sleigh did not go well, but at least Max got free.

Unfortunately, just as the Grinch comes to this realization the sleigh starts to move. As it inches closer to the edge, the Grinch scrambles after it. He grabs onto Max to try to pull it back towards him, but Max slides out of the harness and the two wind up going headfirst into the snow. When they pop up, they both see the sleigh begin to fall and race after it. The Grinch gets to it first and tries to pull it back. Max arrives to grab onto Grinch’s coat with his mouth, but it appears their effort will be for naught. As the sleigh slowly slides down the backside of the mountain where it will soon plunge off the edge, the Grinch and Max slide with it.

If this special had been made in the 2000s it probably would have started right here, with Patton Oswalt the narrator, “Hi, my name is Grinch, and you’re probably wondering how I got into such a predicament.”
Normally, an enlarged heart is a bad thing, but not here!
Now he has so much Christmas spirit inside him it’s shooting out of his face!

Then it happens. The Grinch’s small heart, the thing suspected of being the source of his grumpy attitude towards Christmas, begins to grow. It grows one size, then another, and then another! As it breaks free from the confines of the X-Ray window from earlier, the true meaning of Christmas is able to enter the Grinch’s heart and he finds the strength of 10 Grinches! Plus two!

Christmas is saved!
And now, Max finally gets that ride he wanted.
And he brought everything back.

With such unbelievable strength coursing through his body, the Grinch triumphantly lifts the massive sleigh over his head. The sun bursts behind him as Max clings to the end of a runner. Now, their descent can begin as Grinch and Max ride down the side of Mt. Crumpet. Max gets to ride on the sleigh this time while the Grinch announces their arrival with a blast of a trumpet he must have found amongst the gifts. They pull into the village and the Whos welcome them without an ounce of judgement. He and Max then cheerfully toss items from the sleigh as the narrator informs us that they gave everything back.

Carve that beast, Grinch!
A slice of meat and a pat on the head for the best boy.

The image then dissolves as a little triumphant piece of music comes in. We see the Grinch has been invited to participate in Christmas with the Whos, not just as any old guest, but as the one to carve the roast beast! He hands a slice of beast to Cindy-Lou Who seated at his left who passes it on to the goodest boy of Christmas – Max! She pats his head as he looks at the full plate with eager eyes. The camera then pans back to show the Grinch carving and passing, carving and passing, before the camera moves beyond the wreath-lined window. As Boris Karloff recites some of the lyrics to “Welcome Christmas” the camera pans up the mountain as snow falls and the words “The End” come into focus.

Norman Rockwell, eat your heart out.

And that’s it: the greatest Christmas special ever made! Every time I watch this special I go into it knowing it’s the best, and I leave it secure in my thoughts. There’s nothing about this special I do not like. Even the few animation shortcuts, like the female Who pouring a glass of orange juice that’s not even animated during the feast scene, I find charming at this point. The sounds, the sights, the emotions, it all comes together in a delightful symphony of pure, Christmas, goodness.

A serene, Christmas, image to take us out.

Because this special is so old and such a part of our culture at this point, it’s easy to forget that before it came around the Grinch didn’t even have a color. His old book was mostly black and white, with a dash of red for his eyes and Santa suit. It’s a delightful, visual, story, but adding the voice of Boris Karloff and that green fur just adds so much life to the character. I love reading my kids that book every Christmas, but it’s so odd to not have the music to go along with it. When my son was just a baby, I loved putting on the spoken word version of this special for him while I was working. He probably didn’t care about hearing it, but he did bob his head with the music and both of my kids today love this special. Maybe not as much as their father does, but not a Christmas goes by without it.

Everything about this special is wonderful, but perhaps an undersold element is just how playful Grinch is with the camera. Look at this guy – he’s such a ham!

And thankfully the world loves How the Grinch Stole Christmas! so catching it on television shouldn’t be difficult this Christmas. If you missed the NBC broadcast to start the month, it will return on Christmas Eve so set your DVR if you can’t be in front of the TV to enjoy it. TBS also plays it throughout the month for those with cable, and you can purchase the special through various means if you wish. As for me, my preferred method of watching this one is on my ancient VHS from 1987 of recorded Christmas specials, even though CBS that year chopped out a piece of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” It’s just not the same though without the old commercials and the now washed out colors from years of use. Obviously, you shouldn’t let the season pass without watching this at least once (and I encourage you to watch it more than just once) so get to it! This is the best Christmas special ever!


Dec. 13 – How to Grinch

the grinch teaserChristmas has a number of characters that instantly come to mind at the mere mention of the holiday. The big man, good old S. Claus, is likely number one. Whether you know him as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, or something else, Santa Claus has dominated the holiday for decades now. Other characters commonly associated with the holiday include Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf, Macaulay Culkin, and some guy named Jesus. Another big one has to be the greenest, and I don’t mean Shrek. The Grinch has been a holiday mainstay for over 50 years. He originate in the world of print and came from the mind of one Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss. Nearly a decade after the success of the original 1957 book came the television special in 1966 which was hugely successful. It made the Grinch a household name and a sought after network special each year.

As is often the case, when something finds success in print or on television Hollywood takes notice. We now have two feature films based on the story of a thieving Christmas villain:  the 2000 Jim Carrey vehicle and the 2018 animated film known simply as The Grinch. The character of the Grinch was also popular enough to show up in other books by Seuss and there was even an attempt to make him an icon of Halloween. With all of this Grinch going around it’s hard to know what’s worthwhile and what’s not. And with the holiday season now essentially halfway complete, there’s not a lot of time to get your Grinch fix in 2019.

chuck jones grinch and max


Just hook it to my veins!

A few years ago, I declared How the Grinch Stole Christmas as the best Christmas television special ever. In reviewing that 25 day countdown I see a lot of room for omissions and admissions, but I’ve never wavered on number one. The Grinch is the be all, end all, Christmas special. It looks terrific, features great performances, and also has a memorable song. It’s recommended viewing for this Christmas and every Christmas to come. If you have yet to view it in 2019 then get on that! I watch it multiple times every year and wouldn’t have it any other way.

That television special is the best, but what of the other Grinch media? Should you bother with any of it? The book requires little investment in both time and money, but the films are a different beast all together. With each minute of Christmas time precious, and the films made readily, and tantalizingly, available either on cable or via streaming it can be hard to figure out. Well, I’m here to help set you straight and let you know if these things are worth your time or not. Because I value my own personal time so little, I’ve recently taken in all of these things and am prepared to render a verdict.

Let’s start with that 1957 book. The Grinch was a unique character when he arrived. Dr. Seuss had never made an adult the main character of one of his stories, and certainly had never centered one on a villain. Titled How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, it was written and illustrated by Seuss and while it spans 69 pages (nice) it hardly requires much time to read through as pages often consist of just a few sentences and many just artwork. It’s presented in black, white, and red which is interesting considering how the character of the Grinch is now often associated with the color green. I wish I had encountered the book before the television special just so I could have been shocked to see him surface in green. Would I have assumed he was a different color, and what color would that have been? Those are questions I can’t even ask let alone answer.

wonderful awful idea print


This scene seems dull compared with the animated version.

The story is largely the same as the animated special, just less. There’s obviously no music, and some lines you may recall fondly from the special aren’t present. It’s fun to read though because of the way Seuss rhymes. His books always have a playful rhythm and I rarely tire of reading them to my own children. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is no exception, and if you enjoy the television special then you should own a copy of the book as well, especially if you have kids. In my house, it can be hard to get them to request something other than this book before bed when the Christmas season comes to an end. I don’t really mind, but my wife sure does.

The book is an easy recommend, but the films present a much more difficult challenge. Let’s start with that 2000 film directed by Ron Howard, shall we? It was an interesting time as Dr. Seuss stories had never been adapted for live-action before. That’s because Dr. Seuss had refused all of Hollywood’s temptations. By 1998 though the Dr. himself was long gone, but his widow Audrey was around and willing to listen as long as the price was right. She supposedly handpicked Howard to direct the picture after he delivered a pitch for a film he had no intention of directing and wouldn’t agree to any other director. The studio settled on Carrey for the titular role with some influence of Geisel, while the role of Cindy Lou went to the young Taylor Momsen. The cast also featured a few other names of the era such as Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, and Molly Shannon. Audrey Geisel had a lot of demands of the film, and the acquisition of the film rights lead to a bidding war in which studios basically had to line-up famous individuals to deliver the pitch to Geisel personally. It’s hard not to conjure up images of Geisel seated on a Seuss-ian throne high above network executives feigning disinterest as they frantically try to pitch her on an idea for a movie.

dr. seuss


The man who came up with all of the funny words was not much interested in Hollywood’s overtures.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was tasked with adapting the book and television special authentically, while also stretching it out to a feature length. The TV special was able to adapt the book by filling it with musical bits, but that only filled about 25 minutes. It already felt stretched as far as it could go, so in order for the film to do the same it needed to focus on elements the prior versions ignored. Namely, it needed to explore the main character and why he hates Christmas. Howard also wanted to expand upon the character of Cindy Lou Who and the denizens of Whoville and in order to do so he felt the character needed to be aged-up from 2 to 6. In order to make the Grinch hate Christmas, Howard settled on making him bullied as a child. He looks nothing like the other Whos, so he was an easy target for bullies. He tries to win the affections of a classmate at Christmas time who seems to also have feelings for him, but when he cuts himself trying to shave off his green beard the other kids mock him mercilessly. It corresponds with him wanting to present his crush with a Christmas gift, but when the other kids make fun of him he decides to instead smash the gift and direct his ire at the holiday itself.

Cindy Lou Who learns of this origin story for the Grinch and decides to make things better for him. She nominates him for an ambassador-like position at Christmas. The Grinch does not have any interest, but his old crush and rivals will be present and that’s enough to get him involved. The other Whos are not really keen on the idea. When he shows up for the festival, the mayor mocks him by gifting him an electric shaver and the resulting humiliation is what spurs the Grinch on to carry out his plan to steal Christmas.

audrey geisel


Dr. Seuss may not have been interested in Hollywood, but Audrey wasn’t above taking the money and she was a shrewd negotiator to boot.

When this film premiered, I attended with my family even though I had long since aged-out of the tradition of heading to the movies with my parents. It was probably the last film we saw as a family until one of the Lord of the Rings films when I was home from college. For some reason, my dad was really geared-up to see this one even though I can’t recall him ever displaying any affection towards the television special. He would watch it with us, but I just assumed he was being nice. At any rate, we saw it and I think we kind of liked it? I’m not real sure, but I know it never became an annual holiday tradition in my household in the years that followed. The changes made to the plot are mostly okay. They’re there out of necessity, even if they’re not all that interesting. Does the Grinch need sympathy? Howard seemed to think so and it’s certainly an easier path to take, but part of the original story was we didn’t know why he hated Christmas and it didn’t matter. “Whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes…” goes the famous line, and it’s not even confirmed his heart was the issue as it’s basically just how the account from Whoville has carried on through the years.

carrey grinch and cindy


The live-action film hinges on the relationship between Grinch and Cindy Lou Who. I mentioned that I thought the Grinch looked fine, but he definitely has a Robbie from Dinosaurs thing going on with his hair here.

At any rate, Jim Carrey approaches the character like he did all of his screwball characters from the 90s. He’s loud, obnoxious, and speaks with a goofy voice. The move to live-action is actually not terrible. Yeah, he has these weird, hairy, Grinch-boobs, but he largely looks the part. He’s way less horrifying than Mike Myers’ Cat in the Hat, anyway. Whoville though looks terrible. It’s like a scene from a mall Santa experience. It’s fake, and lacks the Seuss charm. The Whos look like a race of people descended from the transformed kid in Jumanji with these weird, anime, noses. By the time the film gets to the stealing part I’ve grown tired of Carrey’s Grinch. It’s just too much, and it doesn’t help that the soundtrack sucks. By the time the film concludes with Grinch’s redemption (he even gets the girl!) I am way past checked-out and just happy to see the credits role, even if they’re accompanied by an awful Faith Hill song.

ugly whos


The adult Whos are just plain weird looking. It’s like an entire town of people decided Michael Jackson’s 2000 look was something to emulate.

If you can’t tell, I’m not digging on the Carrey Grinch. That’s a film worth passing on. The more intriguing one is the more recently released The Grinch. It was originally slated for 2017, but delays pushed it to November 2018. Christmas movies being what they are, any small delay in production results in basically a year long delay in the release cycle so it’s hard to say just how much re-tooling the film needed without being a part of the production staff. Even knowing that, it’s always alarming when a film gets bumped so severely and rarely does it seem the end result pays off. Recently, X-Men:  Dark Phoenix saw a delay and the end-result was pretty lackluster. Given the quality of the previous film, Apocalypse, I’m not sure if that one really had a chance. One of the latest examples, and still an open item, is Sonic the Hedgehog which got bumped out of a 2019 release and into 2020 when the Internet collectively sneered at Sonic’s appearance in the initial trailer.

The Grinch is an Illumination’s production following 2012’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Animation feels like the proper vehicle for Seuss adaptations, and this being 2018, CG is going to be the medium. Benedict Cumberbatch stars this time around with support from Keenan Thompson, Rashida Jones, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, and Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who, once again a kid instead of a toddler. Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney co-directed this one and they were tasked with once again bringing a pretty brief story to a feature length. Like the 2000 film, this one provides a backstory for why the Grinch hates Christmas and also seeks to make Cindy Lou Who a bigger part of the film. This time around she just wants to make sure her mom, who is a single mother raising three kids, gets what she deserves for Christmas and to do that she enlists the help of the neighborhood kids to capture Santa on Christmas Eve. This naturally sets up a confrontation with a thieving Grinch who grew to hate Christmas because, as an orphan, he grew to resent the holiday when kids with families had a good time but he did not.

grinch spaghetti


Grinch in the midst of some delicious stress eating in bed.

Cumberbatch uses an American accent when voicing the Grinch and his version of the character is in-line with the Boris Karloff and Jim Carrey versions in that they speak in almost a thin growl. There’s also a nasally quality to the performance, and if I didn’t read the credits I would have sworn that Grinch was being voiced by Bill Hader. This Grinch is not nearly as pompous as Carrey’s, and he’s just a curmudgeon who feels worn down by Christmas. Quite possibly the film’s funniest moment is when Grinch discovers that he’s out of food and a little montage plays showing him stress-eating due to the oncoming holiday. The Grinch does a better job of providing a real personality for the main character without shoe-horning in too much melodrama. I certainly like this character more than I do his other iterations since the film gives me a reason to. Max is along for the ride as well and appropriately adorable.

Whoville is much more enjoyable to look at as well. It’s basically one giant hill that seems to be perpetually covered in snow. Everyone gets around via sled and it looks like a fun place to visit, though totally impractical to reside in. Cindy Lou Who is likeable enough as well, though I found her plight too conventional for a Christmas story to the point that it’s boring. When Grinch isn’t on the screen the picture really struggles to hold my attention.

santa grinch


As a kid, it bothered me that the Grinch didn’t include a beard with his costume, but now that he has one I hate it.

Which wouldn’t be a huge problem if Grinch could carry his own film. He’s close, and I mentioned he’s likable, but I’m not sure he’s funny. To pad the film we’re shown his plans for stealing Christmas which occur over a few days and include the enlisting of a rather large reindeer named Fred. Fred provides some comedic relief alongside Max especially as he tries to work the gadgets in Grinch’s supervillain-like lair, but he’s not around for very long since Max is destined to pull the Grinch’s sleigh so when he leaves it almost feels like the film just wasted our time.

There’s also the Illumination feel projected onto this story. I don’t detest Illumination or anything, but their films all seem to possess things I do not like. There seems to be a drive by either the production company or parent company to make these films feel modern by using licensed music. This often leads to parody as well which I rarely find funny and only serves to date the films down the road. It’s also how you end up with a hip-hop rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” that just doesn’t work. Grinch’s home also feels too similar to that of Gru from Despicable Me as it’s filled with gadgets and gizmos befitting a mad scientist, though Grinch doesn’t display much aptitude for invention. On the plus side, Danny Elfman handled the film’s score and his style actually works well with a non-creepy Christmas movie. I almost didn’t know it was him until one point in the movie that is unmistakably Elfman.

jerk grinch


In addition to that stress eating gag, the early parts of the film featuring the Grinch just being a jerk to everyone in town is pretty great.

When it comes to The Grinch, I’m a bit conflicted. It looks fine, and the story is okay, but it didn’t leave me feeling much of anything. I didn’t yearn for the film to end like I did the 2000 film, nor was I hoping it would go on. I also can’t say I have much of a desire to revisit it making me doubt I’ll be adding this to my Christmas rotation. Not that it’s my decision, as my kids seems to enjoy it so I may be stuck with it as long as it’s on Netflix. As long as they don’t refuse to watch the ’67 special, I suppose I can live with it.

Which basically leads us back to where we were for so many years. Growing up, I was content to have my Grinch in book form and cartoon form and I think I’m fine with leaving the character there. I think both films made an honest effort to adapt the venerable story for movie theaters and the steps both took to lengthen the story were logical, just not always entertaining. And now that we have both a live-action film and an animated one, I don’t foresee anyone else attempting to bring the Grinch to the big screen anytime soon. The Grinch ended up making half a billion dollars at the box office so maybe we’re not done with the character and they’ll bring him back in another story, but probably not in a conventional sequel. For now, if you’re looking to welcome the Grinch into your home this holiday season, just stick with the book and Chuck Jones special.


Halloween is Grinch Night

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

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.

The Grinch once again is accompanied (reluctantly) by his dog Max.

The Grinch once again is accompanied (reluctantly) by his dog Max.

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.

There seems to always be a lot present in the background of each image with little shading to create depth. It looks much more congested when animated.

There seems to always be a lot present in the background of each image with little shading to create depth. It looks much more congested when animated.

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.


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