Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Comedy Movie Review of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ (1966)

Movie Review of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ (1966)

The name Theodor Geisel may not mean much to you, but the name “Dr. Seuss” certainly should. Born Theodor Seuss Geisel, the acclaimed author and illustrator was responsible for more than 60 best-selling books which introduced his young readers to new worlds and creatures. Seuss’ books were always quirky, and his rhyming narratives always managed to teach an important lesson while remaining eminently enjoyable and amusing. Posthumously, Seuss continues to sell millions of books worldwide. Among the author’s most beloved works is How the Grinch Stole Christmas!; a not-so-subtle evisceration of the consumerism of Christmas. In 1966, the story was granted immortality when the legendary Chuck Jones helmed this animated television adaptation which captured hearts and imaginations across the globe. 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is not just a charming yuletide classic and a perennial Christmas staple, but also a smartly-written and sharply-narrated masterpiece.

The residents of Whoville – a small town brimming with cheer, goodwill and laughter – adore the Christmas season and everything it represents. However, the Grinch detests Christmas. A grouchy hermit living in a mountaintop cave overlooking the town, the Grinch hates the noise, the presents, the celebrations, the rituals and everything associated with Christmas. Nobody knows why, though – “it could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” In a fit of maniacal glee, the Grinch decides to don a homemade Santa Claus outfit and head into Whoville on the night of Christmas Eve to steal every stocking, present, tree and anything else relating to the holiday. Yet, it did not occur to the Grinch that the town’s joy is about the season rather than their various rituals. As the Grinch undergoes an epiphany, the film becomes an unexpectedly pointed tour de force that’s as meaningful today as it was back in 1966.

Adapting a book is a tricky undertaking. Too often, the story of a book is gutted when translated to the screen; losing the traits that made it a classic in the first place. Fortunately, this television special had animator Chuck Jones at the helm. For those unaware, Jones was the creative force behind many classic Looney Tunes cartoons. Jones’ claim to fame has always been humour and characterisation, both of which he brought to How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in spades. Also, this television special remains a model of economy. Within the movie’s sleek 25-minute runtime, Jones and co-director Ben Washam managed to generate humour and develop a deep moral of the meaning of Christmas that in no way feels underdone. The book version could be read in about 15 minutes, but the makers of this movie felt that by extending the middle section, they would be able to play on the comedic qualities of these scenes. The pace does slow momentarily, but the positive traits compensate for this.

It’s another bonus that the animation is superb. The moving parts are eye-catching and lively, and the imagery is marvellous. The animation was hand-drawn, too. For each second of film, 12 pieces of artwork needed to be devised, meaning that a whopping 17,000 hand-drawn animation cells were created for How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. Not only does the movie boast rich animation, but it also benefits from Seuss’ terrific writing. The story touches on the dangers of consumerism, and explores the nature of human compassion and goodwill. It also helps that the film is so genuinely entertaining and charming – Jones and co-director Washam used everything at their disposal to reproduce the heart and soul of Seuss’ tale. Additionally, Boris Karloff nailed his performance here as both the narrator and the Grinch. Karloff really understood Seuss’ style, and he was able to make the oddball words and rhymes sound perfectly natural. To back up Karloff, there’s Thurl Ravenscroft (voice of Tony the Tiger) who sung the “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” song, and veteran voice actress June Foray (The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle) who voiced Cindy Lou Who.

Will contemporary viewers appreciate everything that How the Grinch Stole Christmas!has to offer? In this reviewer’s opinion, they certainly should. In terms of animation, the film shows its age (especially compared to computer animation). However, in terms of story, pacing, comedy, message and emotional undercurrent, the movie is still as powerful today as it was in 1966. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is an exceedingly rare example of a movie aimed at kids that’s equally satisfying for adults. It’s also one of several pictures which reinforce the tired cliché of “they just don’t make ’em like this anymore”. Instead, they just remake ’em with Jim Carrey and a consumerist mindset.


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