Well here we go again into the wondrous wonderful world of wonder that we know as the Christmas holiday movie! Frankly, after knocking it out of the park with my first holiday film choice and then being forced to retreat into more conventional holiday fare with my second, I don’t know which way to turn. Sure, I could give the people what they want, but that would mean shutting this blog down entirely, forcing me to explore instead the only other venue for my writing talents: composing the list of ingredients on the side of cereal boxes. As proven by the historical audience voting for American Idol, the people really and truly know nothing so I shall endeavor to press on, forging my own path in mediocrity!
This next one that I’m going to look at is undeniably a bit of a cheat with my original premise, which admittedly was shaky right from the start. For instance, this selection was never shown in theaters, but was only broadcast across television screens. However, in the more than 50 years since it first aired, it has proven itself to be a holiday classic. Even my cynical and jaded brood has embraced this Christmas special! So without further meandering introduction, I shall jump into the world of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Over the years, Grinch has become an animated classic, often jammed together with the rather odd Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the warmhearted A Charlie Brown Christmas to form a triumvirate of stalwart televised Christmas specials. The Rankin/Bass Rudolph I always found to be rather weird and more of a curiosity than anything else. Perhaps making a special revolving around a song is not the greatest idea in the world. (Yes, I’m looking right at you too, Frosty the Snowman…) The stop motion animation is crude but charming. There’s also a message in Rudolph somewhere, but it seems kind of hastily thrown in at the last minute. And while Burl Ives can sing every Christmas song ever written as far as I’m concerned, on the whole, Rudolph just leaves me empty.
A Charlie Brown Christmas on the other hand, always leaves me always warm and filled with hope. Granted, that hope is almost immediately dashed once I decide to leave the confines of my home to reluctantly interact with the mass of zombie shoppers looking for new ways to cut me off in traffic while giving me the finger as I stop to allow an elderly couple to cross the icy streets in front of me, but at least that hope flickered for one brief shining moment.
The Peanuts specials, at least through the mid-1970s, always managed to do this well. This special, along with the Halloween one, manage to hit the point right on the head without becoming overbearing. This is a tough tightrope to balance on without becoming maudlin, but A Charlie Brown Christmas walks it very well indeed.
Now where does the Grinch fall into all of this? (Remember the Grinch? Ostensibly that was the special was I going to talk about in the first place and then I got sidetracked with all this superfluous twaddle with two other unrelated Christmas shows?) Given the feelings that I have outlined in commenting on the previous two specials, my stance is this: I think that Grinch falls right smack dab in-between the two other specials.
As I mentioned before, due to my children, I have now watched and/or listened to the Grinch about 437 times between Christmas 2012 and whatever year this holiday season takes place in, so I’m pretty well wired into the special. My wife has been forced to observe it at least twice as many times. While she would be far better qualified to write about this, she needs to stop weeping and saying “No…more…Misterrrr…Grrrrinch!” through clenched teeth long enough to put words down. Therefore, I have gallantly stepped in, gotten my wife a lovely adult beverage to nurse, and will now throw my musings around on the subject instead.
Chuck Jones could have animated anything by 1966 and I would have been on board. That he didn’t do a ton of further follow-ups in the Dr. Seuss oeuvre, to compete with the Peanuts machine every year was in retrospect a gross oversight indeed. His comic timing was evident from all those wonderful years with the Looney Tunes. His style was a thing of distinct beauty. Like with Bob Clampett and Tex Avery before him, a viewer knows when they are watching a Chuck Jones directed cartoon. With Grinch, Jones not only managed to capture the style of Dr. Seuss but also retained his own artistic look at the same time. A difficult path to be sure, but Jones trod on that path confidently and pulled it off completely.
Another plus that the Grinch had going for it was the music. The score is so integral, it should be considered a character. The songs are also memorable and don’t overstay their welcome. In fact, one wants to listen to “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” repeatedly to catch all the foul details that are used to describe him. The fact that this was sung by the voice of Frosted Flakes’ own Tony the Tiger, Thurl Ravenscroft, makes it all the better. (By the by, is there an awesomer name for someone than Thurl Ravenscroft? Seriously. Why hasn’t Thurl been escalated to standard first name status yet? It’s not just good, it’s grrrrrreat!)
Speaking of wonderful voices, I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention the narrator of this fine tale and the voice of the Grinch himself, Mr. William Henry Pratt. Okay fine, for all you non-film nerds, the legendary Boris Karloff. When you think of Christmas, you probably don’t automatically have Boris Karloff at the top of your list to narrate anything holiday related. (Obviously, Peter Lorre or Bela Lugosi would probably be more likely festive holiday choices.) Despite this, Karloff fits so incredibly well. His distinct voice wraps around the true sinister nature of the Grinch and adds a certain wonderful dimension to the words of Dr. Seuss overall.
Given all of these wonderful pros, what cons would result in Grinch being in-between A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in my completely arbitrary rankings? Again, it comes down to personal preference, but while Grinch can match the other specials when it comes to music and can probably claim to be the best animation of the three, storywise it just doesn’t have a lot of meat on the bones. The overall message in Grinch is that there is more to Christmas than just material things, as evidenced by the reactions of Whoville to the Grinch’s nighttime rounds of pilfering every house of everything. But we are left with so many questions.
First and foremost is what exactly is more important than the gar-dinkers and playing zoo-zinger-car-zay at Christmas? We are only informed that Christmas perhaps, means a little bit more. But why? Where should we focus, 1960s animated Christmas special? If we’re not to focus on physical, then it must be the spiritual, as evidenced by the Whos getting together in the town center to hold hands and sing. Yet again, we aren’t told why; we’re just told that Christmas means more. Now here’s a song and go shut your face with roast beast slices.
And that also leads to the fact that the story itself isn’t very deep. After watching it for several thousand times already this year, I think I’ve got the basic story framework set. The Grinch hates Christmas because it is apparently noisy to him. Then the Grinch takes everything away from the Christmas celebrations in Whoville, has a change of heart when he hears them sing, and then he is an honored guest after bringing everything back to Whoville on a sled. Annnnd that’s it. I guess we’re done. Well, at least the music was catchy.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the story as it stands begs for 45 more pages of script. But if there were a focus on something that fits the universe of the story beyond the vague “Christmas is Special!” chewy center, I’d be a touch happier with Grinch. On the other hand, be sure to remember that if you over-explain this story, you’d end up with the overlong remake versions. Yeah, remember that live-action version from 2000 that no one considers to be worth a tinker’s cuss? Well, don’t remember it. And the wholly unnecessary 2018 full length animated version? I like Benedict Cumberbatch, but he isn’t Boris Karloff. (Although Karloff would have made for an excellent Smaug…)
At the end of the day, Grinch has a lot going for it. It appears to be timeless as subsequent generations have loved it as well. (Remember, it certainly has been in heavy rotation with all three of my children, much to my wife’s chagrin.) Also, remember that this special has been a constant for over 50 years now, which lends a nice air of respectability to the proceedings. I mean you’re in rarified company if you debuted the same year on TV as Batman, Mission: Impossible, The Monkees, and Star Trek. (Not to mention Hollywood Squares came out this year too! And no, Bruce Vilanch wasn’t on the original version. Please don’t try to hide your disappointment at that fact.)
Overall, despite some slight flaws that are borderline to even mention in the first place, the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas has earned its place in the holiday pantheon. Now if you will excuse me, I must go and get my wife from being forced by the children to watch Grinch yet again. The trauma might have finally taken its toll on her. So, I guess I’ll have to take control of the children’s viewing fare. Perhaps put on something not only heartwarming but also seasonally appropriate. But what? Hmmmm…
Aha! Of course! Looks like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians it is!