Time for Some Christmas Specials: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Growing up, there were two things my brothers and I always did every Christmas. First, we’d always listen to my dad read The Night Before Christmas and changing the words each time, much to our consternation. Second, we made it a point to catch How the Grinch Stole Christmas! on television. Since Sarah is getting me into a Christmasy mood, we cuddled up and watched that Christmas special last night.
To make things perfectly clear, I’m talking about the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ classic book. It’s among the best half-hours of television you’ll ever be able to find.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is as close to perfect as I can ever imagine a Christmas special being. Not only does it have great source material to build from, but it’s got some amazing talent behind the scenes. The narration is read by Boris Karloff, aka the horror movie master who played the Frankenstein monster in the first few Universal films. Karloff also does the voice of the Grinch, and he does remarkably well at switching from a guy you can imagine as a kindly old grandfather when he’s the narrator and a guy who can actually steal Christmas when he’s the Grinch. The animation is directed by Chuck Jones, who gave the Looney Tunes shorts their best years. And the theme (“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” not “Welcome Christmas”) is so great that it’s considered a classic Christmas song even though it’s all about how awful a person the Grinch is. The theme song, by the way, was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, the guy with one of the coolest names ever and whose singing career was unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that he played Tony the Tiger for years.
There’s a lot of filler in the special, since the book is fairly short, but it’s never dull thanks to the work of Chuck Jones and the rest of the storyboard people. We get a lot of slapstick humor with the Grinch’s dog Max and a very detailed look at how exactly the Grinch goes about stealing Christmas. All the filler is a good reminder of Chuck Jones’ skills. He brings Dr. Seuss’ wild ideas to life, to the point where you can look at the wacky gadgets of the Whos and figure out how they’re supposed to work. The animation also catches how much glee the Grinch takes in ruining Christmas. It’s not enough to just steal a toy train set – he has to set up the tracks and have the train ride into one of his sacks, all with an delightfully evil smile on his face.
I usually give Christmas specials a pass when they get a bit sappy, since there’s a certain amount of cliché that comes with the holiday. But even the Grinch learning the true meaning of Christmas doesn’t come off as sappy, due in large part to the music and the animation. Dr. Seuss’ story doesn’t hit readers over the head with the idea, and neither does the special. Maybe Christmas can’t be bought in the store, maybe it means a little bit more. The moral is just there, not hammered on repeatedly. Basically, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the best Christmas-related thing there is. Even when I’m not feeling like getting into the holiday, I love watching the special.
The special is such a classic that it’s been parodied and paid homage to many, many times over the years. There is even a full-length movie of it. I haven’t sat through the movie version for three reasons. First, it can’t possibly be better than the special, so why should I waste my time watching that film when I could watch the original instead? Second, I just can’t watch Jim Carrey on film too long. Him being on the screen makes me want to do violent things to people near me. Since the only time I’ve had the chance to see the whole movie was when my niece, nephew, and wife were around, the choice was to either leave the room or get rightfully tossed in jail for domestic abuse. I don’t know what exactly it is about him, but the very image of Jim Carrey doing anything makes me want to hurt somebody. Third, from what I have seen of the movie version, they miss a lot of the simple magic of the original. In filling their hour and a half, they explain too much. We get some backstory about the Grinch. We get an explanation of the Whos and Whoville, and why Christmas is so important to them. The explanation gets in the way of the fun, in my opinion. I don’t need to know anything about the Whos besides the fact that they love Christmas. I don’t need to have someone say that the Grinch used to be like a Who and went through some Smeagol-like transformation into a monster. That’s all a waste of time. Moreover, it’s restrictive to the imagination. In fiction, you want to get your point across using as few words as possible. If something isn’t really necessary to the story, it needs to get cut. Especially in a kids’ movie, it’s much more enjoyable to let the audience draw their own conclusions on the extraneous details if they are that interested.
As far as truly good homages of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the best one out there isn’t even in a Christmas special. It’s from an episode of The Simpsons called “Last Exit to Springfield,” better known for the running gag of, “Lisa needs braces…DENTAL PLAN! Lisa needs braces…DENTAL PLAN!” I was going to post the clip of Mr. Burns as he riffs on the Grinch, but I can’t find them because the assholes at Fox won’t allow a 10-second clip of their show that might actually help promote it on YouTube.
So…now freaking Fox has ruined my day, so I’m off to punch one of their executives. That’s the only way to get me back in the Christmas spirit. Damn assholes.