How the Grinch Stole Christmas
directed by Chuck Jones
(MGM, 1966; TNT,
1994; Warner, 2006)

Ebenezer Scrooge may be the archetypal figure of Christmas meanness, but Dr. Seuss (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) did Charles Dickens one better when he created the ultimate character symbolizing downright Christmas malice -- the Grinch.

Who doesn't know the story about the nasty-wasty Grinch who lives in a cave overlooking Who-ville and who despises the jolly air of Christmas, which annually disrupts his grumpy existence? Who doesn't know how he cunningly disguised himself as Santa Claus so he could unmake the Whos' Christmas by stealing away all their presents, their decorations and their holiday feast fixings? Who isn't captivated by the antics of that cuddly reindog Max??

OK, I'm not so sure I believed as a kid that Whos without presents would still join hands and sing so gaily ... but heck, I'll believe anything if it gives me those nifty Grinch superpowers at the end!

The story, recited in Seuss's own brand of jabberwock poetry, is narrated by none other than Frankenstein himself, Boris Karloff. Thurl Ravenscroft, famous as the voice of Tony "They're Great!" the Tiger, sings the trademark song, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." And June Forray, best known as the voice of Bulwinkle's sidekick, Rocky the Squirrel, makes an uncredited appearance as the voice of the adorable Cindy Lou Who, the tiniest Who in Who-ville.

Seuss also recruited a top-notch creative team to help bring his book to the television screen. Director and animator Chuck Jones, of Bugs Bunny renown, joined forces with composer Albert Hague (who later played the music professor in the movie and TV series Fame).

Everyone combined put together a Christmas special which is dear to the heart of pretty much everyone who loves Christmas. It's colorful and lively and extremely memorable -- and it has just enough gruffness to dispel the sugary residue left behind by so many other holiday shows.

The 30-minute animated story, based on an early book by the late Dr. Seuss, has remained one of the most popular Christmas classics for more than 30 years. Originally released in 1966, it gained new life in 1994 when TNT added an extra 30 minutes to the video. That bonus, hosted by the late comedian Phil Hartman, takes viewers behind the scenes to meet some of the major players who helped create the cartoon and demonstrates the process which transforms script to finished product.

Hartman, an accomplished impressionist, recites some of the Grinch's famous lines in the voices of John Wayne, Jack Nicholson and Frank Sinatra -- just to prove how perfect a choice Karloff was for the part. He shows how it takes 12 separate pieces of artwork to fill just one second of film; in total, Grinch required about 17,000 individual hand-drawn and painted cels to create that seamless animation.

There are interviews with Jones, the whimsical Ravenscroft and Hague, who penned not only the well-known "Grinch" song but also the Christmas polka "Trim Up the Tree" and the Who hymnal "Welcome Christmas." Dr. Seuss's widow, Audrey Geisel, gives her view on the work, and Danny Elfman and Tim Burton, the creative minds behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, explain how Seuss's work influenced them.

It's a fun and informative half-hour special which serves as a nice epilogue to the main attraction. But nothing could detract from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which is a classic that deserves at least one viewing every December for the rest of your lives.

"Welcome Christmas, while we stand, / Heart to heart and hand in hand."

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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