Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) – Adapted from the book by Theodor Geisel; Directed by Chuck Jones – Starring Boris Karloff, Dal McKennon, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft.
One of the reasons I love the animated HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS is that it combines the talents of three supremely gifted and legendary individuals: Theodor Geisel, Chuck Jones, and Boris Karloff. Even if it didn’t work, it’d be worth a watch just to see how the talents of these individuals blend together, but as I’m guessing you know – it does work.
Each of the three men puts their stamp on the cartoon. Geisel’s impact is the most obvious, of course, since it’s his characters and story. There’s the patented Seussian rhyming schemes, complete with plenty of made up words and fantastical ideas. What I like most about Seuss’ poetry is the way he blends dialogue and narration together, sometimes rhyming dialogue with narration and not solely dialogue with dialogue or narration with narration. It helps to keep the forced nature of some rhymes less obvious and more palatable because the dialogue can stay more self-contained and feel more natural when the speaker doesn’t have to not only relate his point but do so in rhyme.
Boris Karloff’s narration finds the perfect balance between the darker and lighter parts of the story and dialogue. He can convey the Grinch’s despair, but he’s also great at expressing the optimism of Whoville and the awakening of the Grinch’s Christmas spirit.
One thing I didn’t know was that Karloff doesn’t sing the song; Thurl Ravenscroft does but isn’t credited in the special. BTW, Thurl Ravenscroft doesn’t even sound like a real name, does it? It’s more like the name of a spooky dwarf magician in a D&D novel, but it’s really his name. From birth and everything.
Through it all, though, this is still a Chuck Jones cartoon – facial expressions abound, bodies stretch and contract in physically impossible ways, and all of it is done to heighten the characters’ emotional state for the audience. I love the style of Jones’ backgrounds here; while simply rendered they manage to be both stylish, colorful, and functional. Jones frequently uses perspective to heighten emotional impact, especially in scenes involving the Grinch’s sled, which heighten everything from Max’s joy to the Grinch’s panic to Max’s fear.
The real star of the special is Max, the Grinch’s loyal, hopeful dog, who in Jones’ hands feels like he could’ve stepped right out of a Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner short.
Emotionally Max makes plain right from the start what the Grinch eventually comes to want. Both want to be loved and accepted and part of the happiness, and Max keeps that want right on the surface while the Grinch is slowly figuring it out. The dog wants to please and he wants to have fun, while the Grinch can’t get past how annoying the Whos are with all their noise.
The Grinch is all cranky because Christmas is coming, but he doesn’t necessarily hate Christmas. He hates noise, which the Whos down in Whoville will be creating quite a bit of over the holidays. Granted, the Grinch is a hermit who lives in a cave with a dog, so it’d be a heck of a lot easier for him to move than the whole town, but the Whos really are annoyingly happy people, aren’t they? Seriously, they are the neighbors from Hell with all that racket they continually kick up.
All they do, it seems, is sing and play with toys and instruments and inventions – all of which are either designed to make noise, or make a whole lotta noise as a happy side-effect. I can see why the Grinch hates them. I mean, what do they expect, the dude’s a hermit, ain’t he? Living in a cave? Without clothes? With a dog? On a snowy mountain? Avalanche, anyone? Would you want to wake up to find you’ve been snowed in?
And they’re all singing and making weird instruments and being joyously happy all the time. Did they ever go ask the crazy mountain hermit if he wanted to come down and hang? Who down in Whoville went up onto Crumpit to ask the Grinch if he wanted to come down to watch the Super Bowl?
Probably no one.
I’m not saying what the Grinch did by stealing all of their Christmas objects was right, but if you live next to a crazy mountain cave dwelling hermit, well, you’ve got to expect a bit of trouble now and then, don’t you?
In the end, for all that the GRINCH is delivering an anti-commercialization message, reminding people what’s important about Christmas isn’t the objects but the people you spend that time with, it’s also about opening yourself up to the possibilities of happiness and accepting a place in a larger community.
On all fronts, GRINCH is a powerful piece of art.
Be sure to check out the Holiday Review Index for all the Holiday-themed reviews to be found at Atomic Anxiety.