Warner Bros. // 1966 // 53 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kevin Lee (Retired) // December 18th, 2001
All the Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot,
but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not.
The Grinch hated Christmas -- the whole Christmas season.
Oh, please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
Or maybe his head wasn't screwed on just right.
But I think that the best reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.
There's probably nobody in the civilized world today who hasn't ever been brought into contact with the works of Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. At least for me, my formative childhood years were spent with the works of Dr. Seuss, and these ranged everywhere from a pre-school "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" all the way up to the poignant "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" His books were always quirky and his rhyming narratives always managed to teach an important lesson while remaining entertaining. In 1966, Chuck Jones, one of the brilliant minds behind the Warner Brothers animation studios, and Ted Geisel teamed up to create a Christmas special based on the best-selling Dr. Seuss book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
The Grinch is a yellowish green (or maybe a greenish yellow) hermit who lives on the top of Mount Crumpet with his erstwhile companion Max, a dog whose loyalty knows no bounds. The Grinch is content to spend his days alone in his cave except when Christmas approaches. You see, Mount Crumpet overlooks Whoville, and the Grinch can't stand the noise generated by the Who's Christmas celebrations, so he decides to do what any normal person would: ruin the Who's holiday celebration. It's a fiendish plan, really. The Grinch fashions a Santa Claus costume and makes his way into Whoville under cover of darkness to steal every Christmas gift and decoration in sight. As the song in the show says: "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch."
What exactly goes in to making a Christmas classic? First, you should have a timeless story. This is one of the many beauties of Dr. Seuss' works; they are timeless. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is as poignant and meaningful today as it was back in 1966.
But bringing a short story to life isn't easy, is it? No, it isn't unless you're Chuck Jones. Jones is perhaps the single greatest contributor to the Warner Brothers animation library, bringing to life a plethora of characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Yosemite Sam, among many others. Jones' simplistic yet expressive animation style is evident throughout "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and I'm not sure anyone else could have done as commendable a job as Jones. Within half an hour Jones takes a tale and develops comedy and a deep moral of the meaning of Christmas to contribute to this classic. One of the greatest moments in the entire story is the evil Grinch smile that crosses the Grinch's face from ear to ear. This is on par with the "Charlie Brown Tree" moments in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Animation, no matter how nicely done, needs to be accompanied by impeccable vocal work. Jones had worked with Mel Blanc for most of his career, but in the case of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" he opted to enlist the talents of screen legend Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) to serve as the narrator and the voice of the Grinch. With certainly no offense to Anthony Hopkins, who served as the narrator for the feature length version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Karloff was perfect. He delivers a raspy vocal performance filled with an unparalleled menacing glee. It doesn't get any better than this. Vocal performances were rounded out with June Foray, who was better known as the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, and Thurl Ravenscroft (better known as the voice of Tony the Tiger) was tapped to provide vocals for the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
Of course, a DVD release wouldn't be complete without any Special Features, and Warner Brothers has ponied up handsomely. We begin with a commentary track by animator Phil Roman and voice talent June Foray, who sounds much more like Rocky the Flying Squirrel than Cindy Lou Who. The commentary is decent and thankfully short since it's more of a nostalgia piece than anything really informative.
A small featurette called "Songs in the Key of Grinch" contains interviews with composer Albert Hague and vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft. This is a fun feature that delves deep into the songs of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and Ravenscroft is always fun to listen to. (Yes, he does offer up a "Theyyyy're great!")
The gem of the special features might be TNT's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" special, which was hosted by the late, great Phil Hartman. Hartman brings a tremendous amount of enthusiasm to the documentary, which includes initial pencil tests, interviews with Chuck Jones, Foray, Hague, and Ravenscroft, and also includes file footage of Boris Karloff. It's a magical piece that deserved to be on this DVD that shows how a Christmas classic came together for TV audiences.
Additional features include various pencil tests and menu trivia, though they're barely worth mentioning except that the pencil tests also include work done on "Horton Hears a Who," another animated Dr. Seuss cartoon included on this DVD. "Horton Hears a Who" might have even more charm for adults than "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and demonstrates Geisel's cleverness. The show chronicles the adventures of an elephant named Horton who one day, with his massive ears, hears a Who scientist. Apparently the Who's are about the size of a speck and their entire existence is found on the head of a dandelion. Nobody in Whoville believes the scientist and none of Horton's friends believe him. The ensuing adventures involve lessons in free speech, ostracizing someone for their beliefs and the ability to overcome the differences in other people. It's pretty weighty material contained in a small package, but it's pulled off marvelously thanks to Jones' ability as an animator.
I wish I could say that the video quality was acceptable, but it's simply not. I realize the source material is over thirty years old and was made for television, but there are moments where color shades change and bleed. There is also a great deal of graininess and artifacting, and it's rather unfortunate. Does this take away from the overall enjoyment? Maybe a bit and this is something I'm willing to overlook (though if you're really concerned about this see below). The audio is also fairly uneven, with sound levels varying greatly, especially during the transitions that Karloff makes from narrator to the voice of the Grinch.
With the exception of the lack of quality in the video presentation there is little to complain about here. I should, in fairness, point out that Warner Brothers has since reissued a new print of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" that has been "Digitally Enhanced." I'm hoping that means they cleaned up the master print though I unfortunately can not comment on it at this time.
You'd have to be a Grinch not to love "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The big question, though, is "Is this DVD worth it?" Absolutely! It should rid your Christmas of all the humbugs in your house. (If you're having serious problems with humbugs you might try some Raid.)
My heart has grown three sizes this day;
All are let go with no fines to pay!
Review content copyright © 2001 Kevin Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 53 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Songs in the Key of Grinch"
* Commentary by Animator Phil Roman and June Foray (the voice of Cindy Lou Who)
* TNT's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" Special Starring Phil Hartman
* "Horton Hears a Who"
* Pencil Tests
* Dr. Seuss's Seussville!
* The Center For Seussian Studies