Dr. SeussBoris KarloffChuck JonesHow the Grinch Stole Christmas
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Medium: film
Year: 1966
Director: Chuck Jones, Ben Washam
Writer: Dr. Seuss, Irv Spector, Bob Ogle
Keywords: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, animation, fantasy, musical, Christmas
Country: USA
Actor: Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft
Format: 25 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060345/
Website category: Fantasy
Review date: 17 December 2010
It's the 1966 Chuck Jones adaptation of the 1957 Dr Seuss book. What's more, it's famous. It's still shown on American network TV every year as the lead-off classic special every Christmas season. Personally I preferred the 2000 live-action version, which is a full-length movie with Jim Carrey in it. This one's more lightweight. However it's still interesting, if only from a purist point of view.
The most important thing about it is of course its Grinch. Good news: he's great. What's more it didn't even occur to me to compare him with his live-action equivalent, because they're too different. Carrey's Grinch is childish. He loves being nasty and mean-spirited, but he's capable of having relationships with people and you feel there's a real person underneath all the misbehaviour. He has a pet dog! However with Chuck Jones's Grinch, you can forget all that. This one's flat-out evil. He does bad things because he's bad. We have here a goal-motivated Grinch, driven by hatred and about as subtle as a king cobra. When he's dressed up as Santa Claus and burgling Whoville, his scene with Cindy Lou Who isn't a touching moment of humanity but instead another opportunity to be a bastard.
In other words, he's a villain. Carrey's Grinch was merely an anti-hero. That's a big difference.
Both Grinches though are a lot of fun. This one made me laugh by smiling at a "wonderful, awful idea", while you've got to love the way he slithers around people's living rooms like a snake.
Visually it's obviously a better fit to Dr Seuss's illustrations. The Whos and Whoville look right. I particularly liked the Russian doll waiters. It's also closer to the original text, since the soundtrack is basically Boris Karloff reading it aloud word for word. It's deceptively tricky text to get right, actually. Karloff's putting in more personality than Anthony Hopkins did in 2000, but he doesn't know what to do with repeated words like "noise noise noise noise". However I love the warmth he finds at the end, plus of course he's cool just because he's Karloff.
There are things that Chuck Jones can do simply because it's animation. Max becomes a character, for instance. In live-action he's merely a dog, but here he's the Grinch's co-star. I also think the film's stronger when Jones is having fun in his chosen medium (e.g. the sleigh sequence) than when he's merely acting as the illustrator for Karloff's reading of nonsense words. The singing also adds a lot. "You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch" has probably become just as famous in its own right as this animated film, which originated it. Overall, a very nice piece of work. The plot is strong and memorable and this is a confident, much-loved telling of it. The ending works particularly well, I thought. It finds the emotion of the story. Admittedly it's not as rich and ambitious as the live-action version, but it's far more coherent. It's simple, which is a virtue.