how the grinch stole christmas still 5

Saving Christmas from the Grinch

Sorry, Opie, but this is appalling.

The other night, a back-to-back broadcast of the original 20-minute Grinch cartoon was paired with the bloated monstrosity of the 2000 film starring Jim Carrey brought back waves of revulsion and anger to the surface, after almost 15 years of suppression.  As I’ve written here before, I don’t like hating on movies.  Life’s too short to let it get cluttered with unhappiness—it’s healthier to find that spark of something, no matter how flimsy, that you can enjoy about something and hang onto that.  If something really doesn’t work for you, stop watching/listening/reading/whatever and move on.

But even I have my limits.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas courtesy Cartoon Network

The original cartoon from almost 50 years ago was a collaboration between two visionary artists who understood and appreciated what each brought to the party, and who did their best to support and enhance each other’s contribution.  The result was, unsurprisingly, greater than the sum of its parts, and has endured for generations.

So why remake it?  Mere greed?

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Setting aside, for argument’s sake, those qualities unique to the original that could not be replicated today (Chuck Jones’ animation, Boris Karloff’s sonorous narration)… hey, let’s be generous and set aside what makes Dr. Seuss such a beloved author (the extraordinary language with which he tells his tales) and assume we are dealing with filmmakers so tone-deaf as to be uninterested and ignorant of how a story is told, and just focus on the specific narrative facts of the story itself.

So… what then is the core of the Grinch story?  What is there worth remaking once you’ve discarded Seuss’ language, Karloff’s performance, and Jones’ artwork?

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The story itself is a common one for family-oriented holiday shows: a parable by which to show that a holiday is first and foremost about love and family, not materialistic stuff like presents.  In this particular genre, you will find a character who “ruins” everything, only to be reassured by others that they haven’t ruined a thing.

Charlie Brown makes a Thanksgiving meal of popcorn and pretzels; Bart Simpson burns down the tree and presents; Linus makes his friends wait pointlessly in a pumpkin patch; Homer Simpson blows all the Christmas bonus money at the race track, etc etc.  As my son Max has blogged here before, the Hallmark channel spends two whole months every year running films that adhere faithfully to this formula.

The Grinch differs only slightly, in that (like A Christmas Carol) it is told from the point of view of the baddie, actively and malevolently trying to ruin Christmas, instead of ruining it by accident.  Secondly, the key moment when his cruelty comes to naught, when the Whos don’t wail and nash over the stolen presents but go on caroling as if nothing has changed,is crucially seen from the Grinch’s point of view.  This is his revelation, remember.

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So when he stands there on the mountaintop waiting for a reaction, and hears the Whos’ song instead, it has the rhythm of a joke.  The punchline is that he’s done his worst but can’t hurt them.  That realization, that Christmas means something more than gifts, is what causes his heart to grow seven sizes.

By adding 80 extra minutes to the story, Ron Howard and his team of know-nothings may not ruin Christmas but they sure ruin the Grinch.  They spend enough time with the Whos and on the Grinch’s childhood backstory to destroy the POV of the narrative—but worst of all, they cynically show the Whos initially upset by the Grinch’s malice, and only turned around by Cindy Loo-who’s innocence.

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In this ugly, noisy version, it is not aberrant to think of Christmas in material terms—only the rare few, like Cindy, see anything grander or more spiritual.

Logically, this Grinch cannot be persuaded by the realization that his cynical outlook is so far out of the mainstream as to be unrecognizable by the community.

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I’m not sure what upsets me more—the thought that the makers of the Grinch cared so little for the point of the story as to get this wrong unthinkingly, or that they thought it through carefully and deliberately changed it to keep in tune with our selfish cynical modern times.

Either way I’ll live happier if I never see this awful monstrosity again.

Of course, there’s a new remake in the works for next year—3D and everything.  I’m sorry.

14 Responses Saving Christmas from the Grinch
Posted By Murphy’s Law : December 27, 2014 4:54 am

I’ve never made it far enough into the movie to criticize it on philosophical grounds because it is, in your words, ugly and noisy. The reason people love Seuss, the reason I read “Hop on Pop” to my kids until I had it memorized, is Seuss is FUN. His language is fun, his rhythms are fun. This movie has none of that fun and they try to cover it up by turning the volume up to 11 and turning Carey loose to mug over all the bare spots in the script.

Posted By Jeffrey E. Ford : December 27, 2014 5:37 am

A home run Mr. Kalat, and I couldn’t agree more. Long live Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff! As for the other one… No comment.

Posted By Raven : December 27, 2014 5:55 am

The worst of it is, today’s youth will watch this, and forget the original, eventually, lost. Much like I felt about Charlie n The Chocolate Factory. There are too many to name when discussing remakes in film.

Posted By James Maysonett : December 27, 2014 11:58 am

Terrible, and Hollywood has also given us Mike Myers as “The Cat in the Hat” and the Lorax shilling SUVs. But still, you gotta give it to the make-up people–that Grinch make-up is pretty terrific.

Posted By Doug : December 27, 2014 1:30 pm

Haven’t seen the remake; won’t.
But since Carrey and Christmas are part of the equation, and I saw him recently Scrooging things up in “A Christmas Carol”…I have a similar rant to direct towards Bob Zemeckis:
“Dear Bob, please stop trying to make Mocap happen. It’s not going to happen.
Animate cartoons, but just FILM actors! Makeup is cheap.”
Signed, Doug who sat on a lobby bench imported because the theater was packed to the rafters by those of us watching “Back To The Future” in 1985. (Hint-real actors!)

Posted By Dan Oliver : December 27, 2014 2:13 pm

Back in 2000 I went to see this against my better judgment because my kids wanted to. We all hated it. When it was over, they said, “That was terrible — let’s go home and watch the real Grinch.”

Posted By Lamar : December 27, 2014 3:23 pm

Another remake in the works? That’s horrifying. I thought the Seuss estate made statements that no more movies were going to be allowed after that Cat in the Hat movie. When Dr. Seuss was alive he was very careful with his properties-a deal with Sears in the late 60s is about the only one I’m aware of. I’m aware because my father redid our bedroom then-Grinch Green walls with accents of Overly Orange, Blooper Blue and Mellow Yellow, with matching striped towels that had the Cat and other characters along the bottom. Eye popping to say the least. I worked in bookstores back in the day and when the Dr. came in to sign books we all got a bunch signed and after he left we learned he picked up the tab for all of them. What a guy!

Posted By george : December 28, 2014 1:25 am

Trivia contest: Which is worse — the live action GRINCH or the live action CAT IN THE HAT?

Having avoided both like the plague, I wouldn’t know. The trailers were painful enough (painful as in migraine-inducing).

Posted By swac44 : December 29, 2014 1:22 pm

That Cat in the Hat movie looked like it could possibly trump the live-action Grinch in the turkey department, but who in their right mind would want to find out? I’m guessing a new Grinch movie would be computer animated, like the more recent version of The Lorax, but really there’s no reason why it should be any longer than its original 26 minutes.

(I wonder what was shaved out of it over the years as commercial time allowances grew two sizes too large to 8 minutes per half-hour. The Charlie Brown Christmas Special famously lost footage over the years, and in order to show it in its entirety they had to expand it to an hour with an extra “making of” segment.)

Posted By swac44 : December 29, 2014 1:24 pm

Here’s what the IMDb says:

The version shown on CBS from, possibly, the 70′s up to 1985 makes four changes:

The trip from the Grinch’s cave to Whoville was cut, going from the Grinch saying “giddyap” to the shot of the sleigh arriving in Whoville.

The “You’re a Rotter” verse of “You’re a mean one, Mr Grinch” was cut.

The shot of the Grinch grinning at the foot of the Who children’s bed was also cut.

Beginning in 1986, the full version was shown though it was time compressed.

Posted By george : December 29, 2014 9:13 pm

“That Cat in the Hat movie looked like it could possibly trump the live-action Grinch in the turkey department, but who in their right mind would want to find out?”

I pity the parents of a decade ago, who likely had to endure their kids’ multiple viewings of both movies.

Posted By swac44 : December 30, 2014 2:44 pm

“But still, you gotta give it to the make-up people–that Grinch make-up is pretty terrific.”

Or for some Seuss fans, horrific. Some things should be left in two dimensions.

Posted By patrick : January 2, 2015 2:53 am

Though I only some what agree with your strong negative feelings toward the live action Grinch. I very much agree with the rest of your post. I feel that people to use your words “hate on” movies, books, etc. I love movies & books I think storytelling in whatever Medium is a corner stone of what it means to be human. I know not all movies are going to be works of art as some of them truly are! But, instead of hating on them for falling short of our ideal of what cinema should be I think people should take a step back, stop taking everything so seriously and just be entertained just escape into what ever the story is being told to you. If you try or maybe stop trying, you can find something however small to endear a movie to you. Like if you think Jim Carey’s brand of humor is unappealing try to enjoy the Grinch’s make-up effects ( it’s all done without. Computers that’s kinda cool)

Posted By robbushblog : January 2, 2015 7:33 am

I totally disagree with Patrick and his Pollyanna attitude towards movies. I mean no disrespect to him, but some movies just get so much wrong. The live action Grinch has infuriated me for years for the very reasons stated in the post. Sure, it may look neat and stylized, but they totally destroyed the story by completely missing the point, and what’s more important? How it looks or what it says? I have gone off on this particular movie so many times in the past 15 years that I have lost count. It is a despicable disgrace for a film and to the memory of Dr. Seuss.

The same can be said for the movie version of THE CAT IN THE HAT, or as I like to call it, “The Shat in the Hat”. Please forgive my vulgarity, but that movie was loaded with lowest common denominator, base humor. Dr. Seuss didn’t need to include farts, pee and poop jokes in order to entertain generations of children, so there was no need for the movie to either. No more Seuss movies! Please!

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