Tag Archives: the grinch

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Dec. 2 – Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special

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First broadcast December 16, 2012.

This is going to be a bit of an experiment. These recaps the last few years have basically focused on cartoons or live-action shows in which a story is told over some duration. I have so far avoided sketch shows, not purposely, but it’s definitely been in the back of my mind that doing a write-up in this style is a bit more challenging with a sketch show. It’s like reviewing or recapping several micro episodes of a TV show.

And when it comes to micro-sized entertainment, Robot Chicken should be the first show that comes to mind. Each episode is about 11 minutes long and contains an irregular number of sketches within that 11 minutes, some of which are literally just a few seconds long. Most of these are animated using stop-motion techniques with action figures in place of true puppets. Often these action figures require modification to animate in a more desirable fashion and when that is needed clay appears to be the medium of choice.

img_4139Robot Chicken is the brain child of Seth Green and Matthew Senreich. Green, as the most visible star associated with the brand, often handles a lot of the voicing duties and appears to get a lot of help from his Family Guy co-stars as well. Senreich, along with writers Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root, are veterans of ToyFare magazine which would often contain a comic in its pages called Twisted ToyFare Theater that is basically Robot Chicken in print form. Those sequences were popular, so it’s not that surprising to see the concept was taken to television where Robot Chicken has had a presence on Adult Swim since 2005.

Robot Chicken has been an ally to Christmas from almost day one. There have been several holiday editions of the show and some themes have sprung up. Santa Claus is a reoccurring character in these shorts and he is, I believe, always voiced by Seth MacFarlane. The show will often poke fun at classic holiday specials or just do something nerdy and goofy like pit Goku from Dragon Ball against a Christmas villain. There’s elements of shock humor to go along with the mostly nerd humor and shorts often get pretty violent for comedic purposes. It’s not a show for everyone, but it’s certainly aided by its brief runtime so when an episode misses the mark it’s usually not around long enough to truly stink up the place.

In 2012 Robot Chicken debuted its ATM Christmas Special, which I assume stands for Ass to Mouth because that’s the sort of humor the show goes for. Even though the show is on Adult Swim, it may have been difficult to actually get that phrase into the episode title and it’s a bit cheeky to make it an acronym anyway.

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Santa is pissed he nearly slept through Christmas.

The special opens in festive fashion with a parody of the old CBS Special logo that leads into a story about Santa (MacFarlane). It seems Santa forgot to schedule a wake-up call as he wakes up late for Christmas. It’s a scramble to the work shop where a ranting Santa takes his anger out on the poor elves. Santa is done as a doll, while most of the elves look like claymation and doll parts or something. The scramble continues to the sleigh and the reindeer are all messed up prompting Santa to fire the elf attendant, who cries, as Santa leaves.

 

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Someone got fired for that one.

From the skies Santa and his assistant chuck presents rather than do the usual infiltration thing. They’re depicted more like bombs as they cause all kinds of destruction, including claiming the life of a poor homeless man. A satellite image from space shows Earth with little tiny explosions dotting the surface. Santa makes it back to the North Pole relieved he pulled it off until he finds a lone present he missed. He vows to make the delivery and races to the home where it apparently belongs. I guess because time’s a factor, he opts to use the front door rather than the chimney, but it’s locked. As Santa pulls and wrestles with the door knob, the scene changed to reveal this is all a nightmare and Santa is at home in bed choking his wife. Some elves race in and use a cattle prod on him to subdue him, causing Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Banks) to declare she hates Christmas.

 

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And whoa this thing got dark pretty quick!

We then smash cut to the real opening credits, which largely depict the short we just watched, but everything is in red. There’s also some clips of shorts still to come as we head into our next skit.

 

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This guy is angry at Jewish people for making him work on Christmas. That’s the joke.

A Chinese man is shown on the phone at a restaurant. He’s talking to his wife, but we only hear his side of the conversation. He’s bemoaning that he can’t come home and celebrate Christmas because a Jewish family is there and is just hanging out after their meal. We can see them at a table in the background. The man then declares he hates Jews, which is apparently the punchline of the skit.

 

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Well isn’t this a nice holiday setting!

We then jump to a living room setting on Christmas. A delighted Christmas tree (Henry Winkler) is busy declaring how lucky it is to have been adopted by this family. It’s a happy, warm, Christmas setting that ends with a little girl hugging the tree. Then we cut to a woman dragging the browning tree out the front door. It is completely unaware of what is about to happen and the woman tells the tree they’re going on vacation. It’s pretty excited and remains so as she leaves it on the curb for the garbage man to collect. As the tree is tossed into the truck, it insists it’s not garbage, but then it sees the father and daughter watching from a window as they close the curtains.

 

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On Robot Chicken, there are no happy endings.

The tree is taken to a toilet paper factory, and several weeks later we see what became of it. It’s toilet paper and sitting on a shelf in a grocery store. The image of the tree on the packaging is capable of talking and narrating the thoughts of the still sentient plant as it openly hopes it mostly gets used for boogers or urine. Then it recognizes something offscreen, and it’s the mom and daughter of the family who threw it away. It’s actually happy to see them, until the mother declares they’re having Indian food for dinner.

 

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Check it out! He had a big foot! Laugh!

We then get a brief skit of some kids looking at the stockings over the fireplace. One is huge, and they declare “No fair,” as the camera pans to reveal it belongs to Big Foot Danny, a kid with a really big foot.

 

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Well, at least he’s not choking her this time.

Back to Santa, who is seated in a lounge chair with an apparent broken leg. Mrs. Claus comes in to give him his Christmas present:  a candy cane (get it?). Santa is excited and he stands up to test it out and, finding it’s an actual oversized candy cane, collapses to the ground as the cane snaps apart. He then scolds the woman for making a cane out of candy and expecting it to work. The skit ends with Santa wondering if he broke his tibia while I worry for the well-being of Mrs. Claus.

 

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I guess Justin Bieber jokes were still funny in 2012. I guess.

In a warmly lit den by the fire decorated for Christmas, Justine Bieber (Lucas Grabeel) prepares to play us a song. He’s joined by Santa on guitar and a snowman on drums. He then rips into the song, which is probably titled “Fuck Christmas” because that’s what he mostly says. It’s an aggressive, angry, tune that gets its point across. The scene ends with two executives watching this unfold. One remarks they should have just stuck with David Cassidy, while the other enthusiastically declares that Bieber is a true artist.

 

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It’s Santa vs Jason Bourne! The fight you never wanted!

We’re then taken to a more desolate location. It’s Jason Bourne, a convincing looking doll, and he turns his head dramatically to spot someone closing in from behind. It’s Santa Claus, and there are no words spoken as Santa pulls a sharpened candy cane from his coat. The two fight, and the choreography is actually pretty intense. Bourne gets the better of the Kringle though, ending the fight by stabbing Santa with his own candy cane.

 

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How did you expect it to end? The guy is beyond elderly!

Santa is then shown laying on the ground coughing up blood. He remarks that Jason is a hard man to find and pulls out a Christmas present. Okay. Bourne takes it as Santa bleeds out and dies and seems to react enthusiastically to receiving a copy of the board game Parcheesi.

 

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Hey kid, I know how you feel as I had the same reaction to this joke.

A quick skit of a Lego family at Christmas runs. The kid seems unhappy to have received another block for Christmas and reacts with mock enthusiasm. That’s it.

 

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What are you supposed to get a ninja for Christmas? Robot Chicken seeks to answer that very question.

At G.I. Joe headquarters, some of the Joes are sitting around trying to figure out what to get Snake Eyes for Christmas. These appear to be actual toys from the toy line. They don’t know what to get him because he never tells them what he wants (he’s mute, in case you were unaware) and we see a cut-away to last Christmas when they just gave him a coffee mug that says “I Heart Ninjas.”

 

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Storm Shadow has never looked better.

Scarlett (Banks) declares she knows what Snake Eyes really wants, and we cut to the Joes surrounding a building in a snowy environment. They enter and it’s revealed to be the home of Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes’ rival. He’s in his usual white ninja suit, but also is sporting a pink bath robe. The Joes attack, but they get their asses handed to them.

 

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The question remains unanswered.

On Christmas morning, Duke (Skeet Ulrich) approaches a seated Snake Eyes and tosses his present at him. It’s another mug. Meanwhile, we can see the rest of the Joes have all been beaten up pretty bad and look rather miserable. Snake Eyes, even though he’s wearing a mask, seems perplexed by the hostile treatment.

 

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Nothing says “Christmas” quite like Kano.

We’re whisked away to a store where a woman is in the embarrassing position of having her credit card declined. The clerk can’t do anything about it as she bemoans how tough life has been for her and her two boys since their father passed away. The man behind her overhears the clerk say her name, Mrs. Cage, and it causes him to remember. The man is Kano, of Mortal Kombat fame, and a thought bubble appears over his head showing him rip the heart out of Johnny Cage post match.

 

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I knew he was an asshole the moment I first laid eyes on him!

Feeling guilty, Kano helps the woman to her car and accepts an offer to join them for Christmas dinner. At the Cage residence, he uses his somersault maneuver to hang Christmas lights, and when saying “Grace,” he puts on a yamaka as a joke and everyone has a good laugh. As he helps Mrs. Cage put the kids to bed, he confesses he can’t hide from her anymore. He apologizes for what happened to Johnny and gives the widow a gift. She opens the box and is confused. Kano claims it’s Johnny’s heart, but Mrs. Cage informs him it’s not a heart. We then smash cut to Johnny Cage on a beach in a tropical environment relaying how Kano ripped out his appendix by mistake to a group of bikini-clad women. He then grabs one and the skit ends before the orgy can commence.

 

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Possibly Robot Chicken’s most popular character is The Nerd.

In our next sketch it’s Christmas morning at The Nerd’s (Green) home. He awakens excitedly in a festive red onesie and races downstairs only to find that Christmas has been stolen. His parents give him the bad news, but he takes it fairly well. That is until his mom reveals during “Pretend Christmas” what the thief made off with:  a 1985 AFA Graded Snake Eyes action figure.

 

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I like where this is going…

Despondent, The Nerd takes to the streets to find the whole neighborhood has been victimized. He finds a group of people forming a circle and one man explains it’s a vengeance circle as they’re asking The Spirit of Vengeance to violently punish the asshole who stole their stuff. He’s then told by another that he’s mistaken and this is the wrong circle, the vengeance one is nearby. This forces things to click inside The Nerd’s brain. What Christmas story involves a burglary followed by the victims holding hands and singing? He then turns around to gaze at a nearby mountain where the thief is still in the process of getting away!

 

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When you’re down and out and in need of encouragement, look to Larry Hama.

The Nerd heads off after him, and as he climbs the mountain he bemoans his choice in clothing. As he ponders giving up, he looks to Snake Eyes for help. Since Snake Eyes is mute, he doesn’t offer anything encouraging when he appears in a cloud above The Nerd’s head. Larry Hama appears though in a similar vision to encourage him to continue. The line he feeds The Nerd is corny and unoriginal and The Nerd calls him out on it. In a bit of self-deprecation, Hama remarks how he spent his career writing comics that were essentially toy commercials and is able to spur The Nerd along by threatening to read him an excerpt from his unfinished novel.

 

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He really is a stupid looking Grinch.

The Nerd makes it to the summit where he confronts the thief – The Grinch! He moans when he sees it’s not even the good Grinch from the cartoon, but the Jim Carrey Grinch. Grinch (Green) tells him it doesn’t matter, but then The Nerd uses his anger over the film ruining the “greatest cartoon ever” to motivate him to kill this Grinch. Declaring he doesn’t care about his presents, he simply kicks the sleigh (with Grinch in it) off the mountain. He then turns around to see Max whom he refers to him as the little Stockholm Syndrome dog. Max has something for The Nerd, his precious Snake Eyes toy! Only now it has teeth marks which are sure to affect the grading.

 

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And now he’s dead and likely about to get raped.

Back at street level, one of the neighborhood men drags the Grinch’s corpse over and happily displays it. The same man from earlier rejoices that The Spirit of Vengeance answered their prayers. Another man then questions if The Spirit of Vengeance would like them to rape the corpse. The first man declares why not? – it’s Christmas! And that’s how our special ends; with a rape joke.

 

Robot Chicken’s ATM Christmas Special is certainly a sight to behold. The animation is pretty great, even when the source “puppets” are old G.I. Joe toys. I like the little through-lines with reappearing Santa throughout and the G.I. Joe sketch being sort of referenced further in the finale. The big Grinch parody was saved for last and it feels like the right spot for it. I like the self-realization of The Nerd becoming aware that he’s in a Christmas special, and even though internet nerd anger is pretty stupid, I did take some joy in this character hating on the Jim Carrey/Ron Howard Grinch while praising the superior Chuck Jones cartoon.

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There’s a tendency of the show to rely on shock humor, like a homeless guy getting decapitated by a Christmas present, but when that’s your thing it’s hard to remain shocking.

Some of the other stuff hasn’t aged super well. The “I Hate Jews” sketch, in particular, doesn’t play so well. It’s brushed off because a lot of the folks involved with this show are Jewish, and I suppose someone in a similar situation could empathize to a point, but it still felt like poor taste and just shock humor. And rape jokes are just kind of “meh” at this point. It’s another line that’s supposed to create a laugh out of shock, but the show is often so crass that it loses the ability to be shocking. I expected those people to want to desecrate the corpse of The Grinch thus negating the punch of the remark.

 

This special is loaded with guest stars who all do a pretty nice job. MacFarlane is involved with the show so often that it hardly feels right to even consider him a guest star at this point. Elizabeth Banks plays a few characters, and I was surprised to hear the voice of Henry Winkler. Larry Hama’s part isn’t acted all that well, and it was clearly shot on the cheap (maybe even wth a cell phone or something), but his willingness to basically poke fun at his own career helped to sell the moment.

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Henry Winkler’s Christmas tree is the type of character the show’s dark blend of humor works best with. Although the sketch still ended with a poop joke.

The stuff with Santa was mostly enjoyable, though the Bourne sketch wasn’t particularly funny (even though it looked great). I’m not much of a fan of G.I. Joe so that sketch fell a little flat for me. I did find the Mortal Kombat one pretty amusing, if a tad predictable, and the Christmas Tree was tragically funny as well. Overall, there were some laughs found in this tidy little Christmas special and they mostly outweigh the duds. It doesn’t stick around long enough to suck, and by positioning the best short at the end it actually does leave you wanting more. Had it ended on G.I. Joe or the stupid Bieber song I probably would feel different.

If you want to catch this special this year just keep an eye out on Adult Swim. They’re practically guaranteed to air this and the many other Robot Chicken Christmas episodes at some point this month, often even reserving some for Christmas Eve.

 


#1 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

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Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Most people that know me personally are not surprised by my choice for number 1 on my list of the best Christmas specials of all time. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a holiday classic of the finest order. Few films and television shows are able to delight all of the applicable senses like this one does. Allow me to list the ways.

First of all, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was animated and produced by Chuck Jones, one of the greatest masters of the animated short. Jones is known primarily for his work with Bugs Bunny, and when he was tasked with bringing the Grinch to television he brought his A game. The Grinch exudes personality. He’s angry, grumpy, and is delighted with himself while acting out his schemes. He’s his own biggest fan. And that smile! Probably the most memorable part of the special is that moment when the Grinch gets his wonderful, awful idea. There’s a bit of a cat-like quality to his face (Seuss himself remarked it looked too much like Chuck Jones) but also this sort of odd, plant quality as well. He’s much more interesting to look at here than he was in the original book. In addition to the titular character, the setting of Who-Ville looks great and very Seuss-like. Little was lost in translation, and the whole world really pops when it needs to. Voiceless characters like Max are animated beautifully as well. Even though Max never speaks, we always know what he’s thinking and feeling. He’s also the most empathetic character in the film.

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The money shot.

In addition to the wonderful style and supreme animation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! also features some excellent voice acting and an iconic score. All of the songs are originals which is quite the rarity for a Christmas special. The flagship song is undoubtedly “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” song by Thurl Ravenscroft in an uncredited role. The song is stretched to cover the meat of the special and it’s up to the task. The lyrics are suitable and the song is incredibly quotable decades later. The uptempo instrumental when the Grinch and Max are racing down the side of Mt. Crumpet is compelling, and the other songs are catchy in their own right. This is a soundtrack I have no problems listening to around the holidays. Rounding things out, Boris Karloff narrates the tale and provides a voice for the Grinch. His depiction is spot-on for the character as he adds a slight growl to his voice when he reads the Grinch’s line. No voice of the Grinch since has come close to matching Karloff’s delivery. June Foray even pops up once again as Cindy Lou Who. Her presence is a small one, but as usual for her, she’s perfect for the role.

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It’s pretty impressive how many creative sequences can be found in this one short.

The special is flat-out entertaining, but it also has the required good Christmas message needed to be a timeless Christmas classic. And here it’s kept to a simple one, which is that Christmas isn’t about the material things but the time spent with family. The Grinch has no family at the start so he can only see the material aspect of Christmas, which he comes to loathe and attempts to steal. Of course, Christmas can’t be stolen and the Grinch realizes that in the end. It’s an easy concept to grasp and it’s told well.

The animated version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the best way to experience this classic story. The original book is wonderful in its own right, but is less thrilling than its television counterpart and obviously lacks the musical numbers. The feature film is a piece of garbage in which the Grinch character is reduced to a generic Jim Carrey screw-ball. The unfortunate thing is its title is identical to the short’s so it’s easy to get the two confused when looking at a television listing. Since How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is such a classic, it’s featured prominently on television on both network TV and cable. It’s also readily available on DVD and Blu Ray. Next year will mark the special’s 50th anniversary and hopefully it will be properly celebrated on TV just like Rudolph and Charlie Brown have been recently (and maybe it will receive its own line of stamps from the USPS too). Since it’s now Christmas Day, the Grinch has probably already received his last showing on television for the 2015 season so hopefully you didn’t miss it, and if you did, you have a copy to watch today. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the greatest Christmas special ever made. I doubt it will ever be topped.

Thus concludes this top 25 countdown. I hope you enjoyed it and that my rankings didn’t infuriate you too much. I also hope you had a great holiday season and a very merry Christmas. See you in 2016!


The 25 Greatest Christmas Specials

christmas-tvNo holiday spawns more television specials than Christmas. Really, no holiday spawns more of anything than Christmas (Halloween probably creates the most cavities in children). Christmas is a pervasive presence in our society. It’s everywhere, which makes the imaginary “War on Christmas” all the more ludicrous. Christmas is so inescapable this time of year that it’s hard to not feel cynical over the whole thing. Somehow I’ve managed to retain a fondness for the holiday despite having no religious givings in my bones. I enjoy the splendor, for the most part (Christmas songs are mostly terrible and annoying), and the warm fuzzies the holiday stirs inside me. Mostly though, I just like how I’m able to recall how excited I was as a child knowing Christmas was coming. It’s my ability to tap into that part of me that likely keeps the fire alive.

Each year since I started this blog I’ve taken the time to make Christmas-centered posts every December. This year I’m taking it one step forward and posting what I consider to be the 25 best Christmas specials created for television advent calendar style. What do I mean by that? Well I plan to post a short blog entry on each special on each day of December leading up to the holiday. You may be thinking this sounds like a rip-off of Chris Antista’s A Cartoon Christmas blog and you would be right. In defense of my own ranking I’ll say I’m not limiting myself to just cartoons (though expect the list to be dominated by them) and A Cartoon Christmas never attempted to rank the specials in such a fashion. Also, that site hasn’t been updated since 2013 and the last time the advent calendar format was utilized was 2012 so I think enough time has passed that someone else can do something similar.

My only criteria for selecting the best Christmas specials is that the special must have been featured on television at some point. This excludes Christmas movies, because they’re just a different animal, but not cartoon shorts that originally debuted on the big screen but have since become television staples around the holidays. This also means I’ll be doubling up on some specials that I’ve written about in the past. Many I covered in the first year of this blog as part of my Essential Christmas Viewing posts, but there they were covered in brief. A few have had full write-ups, and where that has occurred I’ll link to the original post but also offer up some fresh takes.

Now, my typical blog posts tend to stretch on for thousands of words, which is why I only end up making 2 or 3 a month. As a result, expect these blog entries to be much shorter than my typical ones. Hopefully by doing so I’ll be able to keep myself from falling behind. Obviously I’ll be writing and working on this list in advance of any being posted so expect this feature to pretty much dominate The Nostalgia Spot for the remainder of 2015, though I may find time to slip in a post or two on other subjects.

#25. Moral Orel – The Best Christmas Ever

#24. Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too

#23 . Robot Chicken’s Half-Assed Christmas Special

#22. Invader Zim:  Most Horrible X-Mas Ever

#21. Married…With Children – You Better Watch Out

#20. The Snowman

#19. It’s a SpongeBob Christmas

#18. Beavis and Butt-Head Do Christmas

#17. A Muppet Family Christmas

#16. Yes, Virginia

#15. Frosty the Snowman

#14. A Very Special Family Guy Freakin’ Christmas

#13. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

#12. Futurama – Xmas Story

#11. Prep & Landing

#10. A Garfield Christmas

#9. A Flintstone Christmas

#8. Mr. Hanky, The Christmas Poo

#7. Toy Tinkers

#6. Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire

#5. Pluto’s Christmas Tree

#4. A Charlie Brown Christmas

#3. A Chipmunk Christmas

#2. Mickey’s Christmas Carol

#1. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!


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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