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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 26 Minutes
• Horton Hears a Who!
• "Dr. Seuss and the Grinch – From Who-ville to Hollywood"
• "Who’s Who in Who-ville"
• "Grinch Pencil Test"
• "TNT’s "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" Special Edition"
• "Songs in the Key of Grinch"
What if Scrooge wasn’t passive-aggressive?
Boris Karloff (Frankenstein), Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger), June Foray (Mulan)
Your wish is my command sweet Lucifer.
Surely there aren’t many today still unfamiliar with this tale, but for those few it is about a lonely, bitter green creature known as the Grinch who has a strong aversion to loud noises and holiday merriment in general. As such he sets out to put a stop to Christmas in the neighboring town of Who-ville by stealing every last gift and decoration from the gentle Whos while they sleep. However the Grinch finds the results of his master plan to be quite unexpected, and strangely unsatisfying.
"Hey, all I want for Christmas is the NFL Network."
I love Christmas, every square inch of it: the tunes, the gifts, the trees, the stockings, the spiked eggnog under the mistletoe, etc. Oh, and of course all that holiday spirit jazz. I don’t mind garish lawn reindeer, pungent mall Santas, or even hearing Wham’s "Last Christmas" 387 times too many.
So growing up I was always a little puzzled by stories that decried the runaway commercialization of Christmas. What did shiny pink Christmas trees ever do to Charlie Brown anyway? Perhaps the red of his baseball cap started to rub off on his brain.
Every man has his limits though, and lately the onslaught of Christmas advertising as early as October has got me seeing green. Maybe Dr. Seuss’s wrinkly old sourpuss was on to something. I certainly never had much trouble believing in the Grinch. If Santa was really out there scouring the globe to bring me the coolest toys imaginable, then surely it must have been the Grinch who insidiously replaced them with sweaters and encyclopedias.
Veteran Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones pulled no punches in making the Grinch’s deliciously sinister expressions the stuff of children’s nightmares. Much like his trusty dog Max, as a little kid I was often tempted to slink behind the couch when I knew one of his demonic glares was imminent. Even today some of his most malevolent gazes are mildly unnerving. The other pansy Christmas specials have nothing of the kind. Oh wait, there’s that homicidal abominable snowman in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There must have been a lot of work for disturbed individuals in family television in the 60s.
Gee, thanks for making me feel inadequate for my family’s shabby Christmases.
At any rate Jones infuses the delightful special with a healthy dose of classic Looney Tunes humor. The Grinch’s exhilarating descent from his mountain hermitage to Who-ville is a prime example. Reluctantly employed as an ersatz reindeer, Max keeps popping up just about everywhere except in front of the sleigh, much to his driver’s disgust.
Karloff’s creepy yet urbane Grinch is highly engaging, but it’s Ravenscroft’s menacing performance of the ever amusing "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" that really steals the show. It’s quite possibly the best pop Christmas tune ever, and certainly the most lyrically inventive. The Whos’ heartwarming hymnal "Welcome Christmas" is more conventional but equally catchy.
Though the Grinch is at his best when he’s doing his worst, only the hardest of hearts will fail to grow three sizes when he has his epiphany about the true meaning of Christmas. "Christmas Day will always be, just so long as we have we" goes the song. It’s a simple sentiment, but one often in short supply during the "more is more" holidays. Just ask good ol’ Charlie, and his four Christmas specials.
The attractive glitter coated cover art presents a slightly more accurate Grinch than the original DVD release. A touch more evil wouldn’t hurt though.
"Come out and play Macaulay."
The Grinch also looks much improved inside, as the special’s slick animation has been beautifully remastered for this edition. The colors are so vivid it almost looks brand new.
New for this edition is "Dr. Seuss and the Grinch – From Who-ville to Hollywood," which relates interesting background information on Seuss and his creations, albeit occasionally interrupted by an embarrassing hip hop serenade. To my surprise Seuss and Jones had long been friends since working together on the Private Snafu series of WWII propaganda shorts.
Chief among the repeat features is another half hour Seuss special, Horton Hears a Who! Though seemingly a great bonus, this program is decidedly inferior to the Grinch in every respect, including forgettable songs, uninspired visuals, and a palpable lack of likable characters. You may recall Horton the doggedly faithful elephant from the much more compelling Horton Hatches an Egg, in which he endures great hardships as a surrogate parent. Here he plays a similar role, valiantly protecting the Who inhabitants of the tiny fish egg-sized planet he discovers clinging to a flower. His intolerant and vindictive jungle neighbors seek to put an end to his "crazy" claims of hearing voices by destroying the flower. To this end they dispatch an army of Nazi-like monkey shock troops.
The story’s calls for open-mindedness and tolerance are certainly valuable messages for youths, but I fear they will be far too distracted by the grimly menacing primates. At least the Grinch had a partially legitimate complaint and a sort of sleazy charm; these humorless brutes are simply out for blood. In one scene a group of them pursues Horton with a length of rope and a murderous gleam in their eyes, looking every bit like an eager lynch mob searching for a likely tree. The mind boggles at what Dr. Seuss might have gotten up to with an R rating.
"Uh-oh, they’ve stacked the box. Better audible."
"Who’s Who in Who-ville" offers some brief text background on the key crew and cast members, and "Grinch Pencil Test" contains a handful of neat storyboard sketches. I would love to see more.
"TNT’s "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" Special Edition" is a 1994 TV special smarmily hosted by Phil Hartman that takes a thorough behind the scenes look at the production of the Grinch, with comments from many key players and some very cool pencil tests. It’s good to see the late, great Hartman in action, even if it’s to deliver sub-Oscar presenter material.
"I did it Max, I did it! The last parking space!"
Finally "Songs in the Key of Grinch" has composer Albert Hague and Ravenscroft talk about how they became involved with creating the show’s music. If you think Hague looks familiar, it’s probably because of his role in the movie/TV series Fame. Though he’s very candid on his relationship with Seuss, he keeps mum on whatever happened to Irene Cara’s career.