The Grinch mischievously plucks the Christmas star from the tree. Image courtesy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).
By Sarah Hughes
Ah, the holidays. While this time frame was once characterized by overcooked chicken and extensive means of avoiding your relatives, times are a little different this year. In this season of stress, isolation, and the bowl of masks and pine tree-scented hand sanitizer by your front door, there is one holiday tradition that can proceed undeterred by the pandemic. It’s not drinking, it’s Christmas movies!
Maybe it is because the genre as a whole showcases the beauty of togetherness and the power of the human spirit, or maybe because it is the only thing standing in between you and cutting your own curtain bangs. I personally love Christmas movies, and I have decided to take this time to share with you all a comprehensive review of the most ridiculous, hilarious, and heartwarming Christmas movies of all time: the three versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
You may be thinking that the Grinch is a chubby, mean jerk who in every aspect seems to be the worst protagonist of a lighthearted family movie. I am here to prove you wrong. (Disclaimer: this piece was written before NBC decided to produce a live-action musical version of the Grinch starring Matthew Morrison. Out of respect for myself and my audience, I will not sully this piece of writing by providing a platform for this stain on the name of the Grinch).
Since its 1966 debut, the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas has slithered and slunked its way into the hearts of Americans across decades. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, this remains a fantastic piece of cinema through the years. Boris Karloff’s rich baritone narration feels to one’s ears like sipping a glass of sweet aged bourbon; and the colorful animation is akin to a half-hour of wandering around in the board game of Candyland. The eye-catching animation also allowed for gravity-defying, Rube Goldberg-esque mechanics that brings out imaginative curiosity in even the oldest of kids.
We also cannot forget to mention the Thurl Ravenscroft version of the classic song “You’re a Mean one, Mr. Grinch”. The bass of Ravenscroft’s voice was not only pleasing to listen to, but a relic of simpler times, when children across America would tuck their chins in and attempt to mimic the deep, rich notes of the classic tune. Finally, the 26-minute length of the film is the perfect amount of time to tell the story without resorting to cheap theatrics to fill the time in between.
From a story standpoint, there is a bit more to critique. First of all, there was little to no explanation of why the Grinch was such a grumpy jerk in the first place. From a psychological point of view, there must be some traumatic event in his life that has led to his paranoid, manic, and unhygienic ways, and the lack of explanation other than “his heart was two sizes too small” is hard to believe. Additionally, I was disappointed by the lack of diversity in the fictional animated characters of Who-ville. They could have been any color under the animated rainbow, and they chose white. Typical. Overall, the plot of the story perfectly ties into the ending, wherein both the Grinch and the Whos realize that Christmas is not about consumerism, but the spirit of togetherness. The ending gives me goosebumps every time, and makes me want to buy a little Christmas tree and place a single red ornament on it; a la get in the true Christmas spirit. This short, simple classic has served as the catalyst for two full-length, star-studded films, which both extrapolate the message into two very different pieces of cinema.
While the 2000 version, better known as Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a main contributor to why so many in my generation have to take Lexapro every day, it is still an interesting and entertaining watch. The set, costumes, lighting, and, music of this adaptation truly prove that one could literally get away with anything in the early 2000s. It combines steampunk and bubblegum-pink aesthetics with anthropomorphic Who makeup to make this fictional town a place of nightmares. What’s more, the adaptation of You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch would make Thurl Ravenscroft roll over in his grave. The wild, imaginative town of Whoville can only be given justice in animation, and this adaptation proves it.
While the set and design of this version is truly unsettling, what makes this version watcheable is the content of the storytelling. The Grinch may be a gross, rude, angry man with termites crawling in his teeth, but the script makes him relatable, which makes audiences root for him and empathize with him. He is only a hardened jerk who hates Christmas because of unresolved trauma in his youth that happened at Christmastime. An entire town bullied him solely because he was different, and they forced him out of the only home he knew. If that were me, I would absolutely act like the Grinch.
Jim Carrey takes on in stride the elements of humanity that nobody wants to talk about: loneliness, self doubt, coping mechanisms, and stress around the holiday season. Even better, when the movie is resolved in the end, the Grinch does not magically turn good; he exhibits the signs of a slow, healthy change into being able to trust others. This Grinch is real, raw, and honest. While this was probably my least favorite version when taking into account all factors of the movies, it was the most truthful in its storytelling, and for that I have a unique amount of respect for it.
Finally, the feature film Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, made its way into homes and hearts in 2018. In my professional opinion as a person with a computer, I would have given it the highest honors and praises allotted had it been released on its own and not as a retelling. A person is bound to hate this version out of love for the original. People fear change, and until I watched this version, so did I.
While this is the most controversial opinion I will present, the animation or “set and costume design” in this was by far the best out of all the movies. The town of Whoville was beautiful, dynamic, and idiosyncratic all at once, and all of the characters looked clean and bright, making this a Whoville I wanted to live in. The Grinch’s lair was clean and mechanically fascinating, proving the Grinch himself was a clean, normal guy who just wanted to appear dirty.
The supporting characters in this movie (see: adorable hockey-playing badass Cindy-Lou Who) had intricate stories that wove in perfectly with that of the Grinch’s. That being said, there was a level of flash in the movie that came from side stories and ostentatious design in some parts to add “pizzazz,” not realizing the beauty of the film came from the simple, beautiful retelling of the story.
My harshest criticism of this version goes to Tyler, the Creator, who recorded his version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. It encapsulates everything wrong with the movie itself: it was flashy, it did not remain true enough to the story, it just wanted to be overly entertaining, and overall just flopped. This version of the movie would have been perfect if it had just toned down the cheap theatrics and played into the heart of the movie: the plot of the Grinch.
I must admit, the story aspect of this movie was enough to bring a tear to my eye at the end. I have previously gone on the record to say that the Grinch cannot have the same level of story development if he is not truly an asshole, but this version has made me change my ways. 2018 Grinch is not a jerk, but an orphaned scamp who has never felt love before, so he shields himself from the loving town of Whoville solely because of his fear of rejection. In the end, he is coaxed out of his shell by Cindy Lou and her family, who give him the love and affection he was so desperately in need of, and he instantly shed all of his resentment for the Holiday season and life itself. That transformation was touching and beautiful to watch, and is what makes this version worthy of a watch.
If you were looking for a guide on which movie to watch, you came to the wrong place. All three are perfect for their own reasons, and to choose one as the winner would be trivial, and because of that, I recommend watching all three. The first, to see the beauty of Christmas; the second, to see the beauty of self-improvement; and the third, to see the beauty of extending a loving hand and a seat at the table. So this holiday season, I hope you take my advice, curb your quarantine boredom, and get lost in the world of this sweet chubby little green monster man. Maybe you will see a little bit of yourself in him.