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Second Screenings

By Patricia McIvor

First published in 1956, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas follows in the footsteps of A Christmas Carol by exploring the meaning of Christmas through the eyes of a holiday curmudgeon. Much like his Dickensian counterpart Ebenezer Scrooge, the Grinch abhors the holiday season; however, unlike Scrooge, who merely refuses to partake of any holiday cheer, the Grinch takes action and tries to stop Christmas altogether by stealing every present, treat, and decoration from the cheerfully innocent Whos. Everything ends well, of course, as the Grinch learns the true meaning of Christmas and joins the Whos in celebrating the holiday.

As the patron saint of the holiday beleaguered, the Grinch is as much a part of the Christmas season as Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. There have been two screen adaptations of the story so far: the 1966 animated television special; and the 2000 live-action film.

The animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Directed by animation legend Chuck Jones, the original Grinch adaptation continues in the great tradition of yuletide television specials (see also: the Rankin-Bass versions of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Jack Frost) by providing an imaginative and humorous rendition of a holiday favorite. This special follows Seuss’s story very closely, and almost every line comes directly from the book. Horror icon Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) voices the Grinch and provides the narration, which gives the story the feel of a gothic fairy tale. Jones’s animation style is a mixture of sinister and sweet, which also fits the story’s tone. The fluid animation enhances and enlivens Seuss’s original illustrations, to the point that some bits of animation, such as the Grinch’s increasingly devilish grin, have become iconic in their own right. The special also punches up the story with a few songs, including the delightfully descriptive “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

The live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Directed by Ron Howard, this version expands the original story by rounding out its two key characters: the Grinch (Jim Carrey) and Cindy-Lou Who (Taylor Momsen). The Grinch, in the mode of many modern movie villains, gets a tragic backstory to explain his aversion to all things yuletide, which isn’t nearly as interesting as Cindy-Lou’s search for the real meaning of Christmas. Overwhelmed by the borderline insane trappings of the season, Cindy-Lou struggles to reconcile her holiday ideals with the commercialism, conformity, and competition she observes in the Christmas-crazed Whos. In this version, Cindy-Lou kicks off the story by inviting the Grinch to join the Whoville holiday celebration, which the Whos unfortunately use as an excuse to humiliate the green outsider. This, in part, prompts the Grinch’s plot to steal Christmas; when Cindy-Lou asks the Grinch what Christmas is really about, he theatrically responds: “Vengeance!”

With his elastic face and over-the-top mannerisms, Jim Carrey really is the perfect choice to bring the grimacing, green-furred Grinch to life. When the story is (inevitably) rebooted in 2018, Benedict Cumberbatch will have very big shoes to fill as the latest incarnation of the Grinch.

Patricia McIvor announced that this is her last column as she finishes work on a master’s degree and takes on additional duties in her full time job. Patricia’s column has informed readers of the former Your Smithfield Magazine and its successor The Smithfield Times for many years. We wish Patricia the best in her future pursuits and we thank her for her long running column.