How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Dir: Chuck Jones & Ben Washam, 1966. Starring: Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft. Children's.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Based on a book by Dr. Seuss (Theodore "Ted"’ Geisel), this little 26-minute television special has been a holiday tradition since it first aired in 1966. But it’s more than just a Christmas cartoon. Besides being a moving story about the power of love, it may be the greatest animated (long) short ever made. It really is a tribute to three unique talents coming together: the prose of author Dr. Seuss, the voice of actor Boris Karloff, and the vision of the legendary animation director Chuck Jones (co-director Ben Washam was also a very respected animator and a long time collaborator with Jones).

The Grinch is a grumpy, old, green, Scroogey creature with a heart "two sizes too small" who lives with his sweet little mutt, Max, atop a mountain overlooking Whoville (though his actual color varies on different DVD versions). In a spat of bitterness listening to the Whos prepare for their Christmas festivities, he decides to ruin their Christmas. Disguised as Santa he descends on Whoville in a sled, with poor Max dressed as a reindeer and forced to pull the sled down the steep, snowy ledge. Then he slithers around the homes of the Whos and steals everything Christmas related, including trees, candy, gifts, and even burning fire logs.

In a great scene little Cindy Lou Who (June Foray, also the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel of Rocky & Bullwinkle) wakes up and asks The Grinch, thinking he’s Santa, why he’s taking the Christmas tree. The Grinch tells her one of the bulbs has burnt out and tucks her back into bed. Later, back in his lair with all the Whos' loot stuffed onto his sled, he waits for his malice to take effect. But to his shock, without all the Christmas stuff, Christmas still comes, the Whos celebrate and sing, not even noticing what is missing from their homes, and he realizes that Christmas isn’t the merchandising but a spirit. Suddenly he grows a heart and races down to return their things. Instead of kicking his ass, the Whos invite him to have dinner with them and even let him sit at the head of the table and carve the meat.

Though actor Boris Karloff spent most of his film career playing monsters and creeps, most notably the original Frankenstein’s monster, it can be overlooked what an elegant vocal manner he has (even with his famous lisp), and as the narrator and The Grinch his voice is a thing of beauty. The cartoon is also added by some wonderful songs including the amazingly Seussian tune "You’re a Mean One Mister Grinch." It’s sung by Thurl Ravenscroft (also famous for voicing Tony The Tiger in the Frosted Flakes commercials and for singing the "No Dogs Allowed" song in Snoopy Come Home). Strangely, he is not actually listed in the credits for The Grinch.

It’s been said that the Grinch resembles director Chuck Jones. It can be argued, but Chuck Jones is one of the most important talents in animation history (certainly up there with Walt Disney, Tex Avery, etc.), directing many of the best Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoons including What’s Opera, Doc? and the Daffy Duck vehicle Duck Amuck. Jones was able to take the almost scary Dr. Suess book which was drawn in creepy black and white and give it a lot of overblown color and a more playful tone. However since it was a low budget TV special it’s not as theatrical as many of Jones’ Looney Tunes films.

Better than even the classics Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas, which have moments of deadwood boredom, The Grinch is so compact and fast-paced that when it ends I always wish it were longer. And ignore the unwatchable live-action Jim Carrey version (perhaps Jack Nicholson or Walter Matthau would have been more interesting in the role, not needing the layers of make-up). Most importantly How The Grinch Stole Christmas is enjoyable year round. It doesn’t have to be the holiday season to watch it and it’s just as entertaining for the kids as it is for adults.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Sep 10, 2010 11:48am
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