How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of three films that I consider a must-watch every December. The other two are A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Muppet Christmas Carol. I guess my favorite Christmas stories are about curmudgeons who come to love the holiday spirit and their fellow man sometime around Christmas morning.
This year, as with the past few, I read the Dr. Seuss book turning on the special. The book is, of course, a masterpiece of children’s literature, and its narrative is faithfully followed by Chuck Jones and his team. We have a reverse-Santa story which does such a good job crafting a misanthropic anti-hero that his redemption feels profoundly moving. It is the spirit of hope, rebirth, and goodwill towards man encapsulated in a silly rhyming story about Who Hash.
But reading the book and watching the story in such rapid succession, it’s truly remarkable how much Jones and co brought to enhance the material while still keeping making it feel like a proper adaptation. First and foremost, he made it colorful. Without looking it up, what color is the Grinch in Seuss’s book? The answer is: white. The book has a minimal, four-color palette of red, black, green, and white. Seuss uses the limited colors with tremendous skill, making it frosty and sharp but still distinctly a Christmas piece. But Jones has no use for this: his adaptation is overflowing huge, bright, solid splashes of color.
The team of writers — lead by Seuss himself — and Jones also make the story much funnier. The bass mudslinging of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Thurl Ravenscroft is a layer entirely missing from the book, and it adds so much to the story by amping up the playful nastiness and sense of mischief. There’s also the tremendous slapstick and use of visual gags, from the Grinch’s snake-like slinking as he robs homes to the sled overtaking Max in a pseudo chase-scene. Jones manages to blend the physical comedy seamlessly with the whimsical wordplay and story.
It’s also hard to imagine a better narrator of a story about a holiday grump than Boris Karloff’s silky baritone.
And then there’s the faces. The Grinch has about twelve of the greatest facial expressions in the history of American animation in these 25 minutes, including the one face — I assume you know the one — that makes me weep with joy when I see it every year. Here it is:
But Grinch’s expressions are always the best part of every frame, full of personality and expressiveness and comedy. A few other favorites:
They are one of many reasons that Chuck Jones is a super genius.
(Not from Grinch, but always relevant.)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas ultimately holds all of its many pieces together to lovely effect: The whimsical Seussian verse touched with earnestness; the terrific Jones animation with colors and shapes so bold it borders on the abstract; and all that holiday flavor. It’s damn near a masterpiece and essential holiday viewing.