Saturday, December 8, 2018

Stubs - How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) Starring the voice of Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft. Directed by Chuck Jones. Screenplay by Dr. Seuss. Based on the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957) by Dr. Seuss. Produced by Chuck Jones and Ted Geisel. Runtime 26 minutes. USA Color Animated. Christmas. Children. Comedy

The 1960s were a time for animated TV Christmas Specials, many of which have gone on to be perennials. There was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), The Little Drummer Boy (1968) and Frosty the Snowman (1969). Of these five, only one has been made twice into feature films, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, based on the book by the same name from Dr. Seuss, the storyteller behind The Cat in the Hat and the Lorax, both of which have also been made into films.

The original TV special was under the direction of Chuck Jones, an animator best known for his work on Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. If you’ve seen an original short starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, PepĂ© Le Pew, and/or Porky Pig then you’ve probably seen his work. After leaving Warner Bros. in 1962, he started his own company, Sib Tower 12 Productions, and worked with MGM to make Tom and Jerry shorts as well as this TV Special.

Boris Karloff in publicity still for How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Boris Karloff is an English actor that needs no introduction, having been the original Frankenstein’s Monster in such films as Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939) as well as Imhotep in The Mummy (1932). A diverse actor, he had also appeared in such films as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), the comedy starring Danny Kaye. He not only voices the Grinch, but narrates the story as well.

The Grinch (Boris Karloff) and Max, his dog, look down at Whoville.

The story stays pretty close to the book. The Grinch (Boris Karloff) is an “evil” guy who lives in a cave atop Mt. Crumpit which is situated above Whoville, the same town from Horton Hears a Who!, published in 1954. In that instance, the town was located on a speck of dust. Not sure if it’s the same setting here, but it is the same town, at least in name. In this case, this is not a microscopic place but rather a remote village. In the town, Christmas is not only a family day but a community one as well. It’s the decorations, the feasting and the singing that has upset the Grinch, whom we’re told has a heart that is two sizes too small. After 53 years of hating Christmas, the Grinch decides to finally do something about it and keep Christmas from coming to Whoville.

The Grinch is very pleased with the plan he hatches to ruin Christmas.

With the aid of his dog Max, who inadvertently gives him the idea, the Grinch decides that the best way to steal Christmas is to dress as Santa Claus and enter the town on Christmas Eve. Rather than leave presents as the jolly fat man does, the Grinch will instead take them, as well as anything else he can get his hands on.

Max has to pull the sleigh down to Whoville.

Making a crude costume out of red curtains and pillow stuffing, he uses a sawed down antler strapped to Max’s head to disguise him as a reindeer. With Max supposedly pulling the sleigh but instead outrunning it, the two enter Whoville in the dead of night.

The Grinch steals everything, even if it is nailed down.

Right away the Grinch starts in. Entering through the chimney, the way Santa does, he enters a house and starts to collect not only the presents but the stockings, the decorations, the tree, and the food. A wayward decoration awakens young Cindy Lou Who (June Foray). When she asks him why he’s taking their tree, he tells her that one of the bulbs isn’t lighting correctly and he’s taking it back to his workshop to repair. Satisfied and given a glass of water, Cindy Lou goes back to bed, leaving the Grinch to begin anew his rampage.

Cindy Lou Who (June Foray) interrupts the Grinch.

After repeating the process throughout Whoville, the Grinch and Max are ready to dump the sleigh off the mountain when he is surprised that the Whos in Whoville are not depressed or saddened, but instead gather together to sing about the glorious day, proving that it isn’t the material things that make the day special.

The Grinch listens, not expecting to hear singing coming from Whoville.

The Grinch’s spirits are lifted by this revelation and his heart grows three sizes larger. With the strength of a dozen Grinches, or as the special counts it “ten Grinches, plus two!”, he rescues the sleigh before it goes completely over the edge and drives it down to Whoville.

With the strength of “ten Grinches, plus two!” the Grinch saves the sleigh before it is lost.

Not only does he return everything he’s taken but he is given the honor of carving the roast beast at the town feast. Even Max gets a piece for all he’s been put through.

After bringing Christmas back, the Grinch is given the honor of carving the roasted beast at the feast.

The animation is fairly simple, the sort of fare that you saw on early cartoon shorts and certainly on TV at the time. Nothing wrong with it, but if you’re looking for Pixar-style CGI animation, then maybe the latest film will be more to your liking. The animation isn’t primary to telling the story, which this does. As can be witnessed in the disappointing Ron Howard-directed, Jim Carrey-starring live-action feature, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), animation is the way to go with a Dr. Seuss story.

Casting Boris Karloff was a good choice for The Grinch. He has a voice that definitely requires attention and he seems to be a near perfect choice for the lead and the narrator. While he, for the most part, carries the story, he is not the only one who speaks. There are a few lines spoken by one of the great voice actresses who ever lived, June Foray. The part of Cindy Lou Who doesn’t come close to using her talents fully, but her voice is recognizable nonetheless even though she doesn’t get credit.

June Foray voices Cindy Lou Who.

Also, playing an important part is the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. While Ravenscroft may not be as well known as June Foray, his bass voice should be recognizable to many as Tony The Tiger’s in Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes commercials.

When it first aired on CBS on December 18, 1966, the reception was a little lukewarm from critics. Rick Du Brow, a critic writing for UPI, is quoted in many articles as saying the animated special was “probably as good as most of the other holiday cartoons.” However, what is left out is the next sentence in his review, “I can’t see why anybody would dislike it – unless perhaps some purist fans of Dr. Seuss might find flaws.” Since the good doctor was involved in the production as screenwriter and producer, I would imagine it met his vision for the story.

The short has since gone on to be a beloved holiday classic and continues to be popular on television when it’s shown. While it ran on CBS annually until 1988, it has since run on TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, ABC, ABC Family and on NBC, which started a three-year run in 2015.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a simple story told very well. There are shortcomings that an HD world exposes. This is a bit of a relic and it has aged in the over fifty years since it first aired, however, it’s hard to see how you could have a Merry Christmas without the Grinch. If you have to choose one to see, and you do have choices, I would recommend this one.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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