Which Grinch is best?

(Courtesy of decider.com)

(Courtesy of decider.com)

JD Jones, Arts & Entertainment

The festive mood of Christmas is incredibly joyful, and many love when it comes time to watch classic Christmas in the month in December. One of these classics is “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”. Based on the iconic book by Dr. Seuss, the story centers around a creature called the Grinch, who seeks to steal Christmas and happiness from the Whos in Whoville, who celebrate Christmas extravagantly. Through the process he realizes he was in the wrong, and realizes the true meaning of Christmas. It was a well-received children’s book, with particular praise for the morals displayed in the story. Being as popular and renowned as it is, the story has been adapted three times into different movie versions, all of which have their own huge fan base. The question remains, which version is the most essential for you to watch? Let’s take a look at each in order of chronological release to find out!


“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (1966)


The first adaptation of Seuss’s book was in 1966. Directed by “Looney Tunes” animator Chuck Jones and his associate Ben Washam, the TV special is about a half hour long, and stars horror actor Boris Karloff as both the narrator as well as the Grinch. It follows the story quite closely, and is also famous for the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, which, like the special, has become a significant part of pop culture. The special continues to air each year, and for many continues to be a yuletide tradition. For my money as well, this is the best adaptation, and just one of my favorite holiday specials in general! Boris Karloff is the perfect Grinch, as he nails the initial disgust and anger towards the Whos, but also does a good job of making us sympathize with him at the end. He also does a fantastic job narrating the story, and the iconic soundtrack works in perfect synchronization. 

As far as the animation goes, it’s really good for the 1960’s. Seuss’s books have always kind of lent themselves to animated adaptations, and Jones has some serious talent in his field. His designs of Whoville and each character are really nice and interesting, and he nails the slapstick comedy moments you’d expect from such a cartoon. However, more importantly, this special also perfectly translates the message of the book. Christmas isn’t about the gifts or the decorations, but about coming together and being thankful for one another. In just about 30 minutes, the cast and crew of this special really made that message special through good, simple storytelling. I seriously can’t recommend this version enough!


“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000)


In 2000, a new version of the Grinch story was brought to life by director Ron Howard, and famous comedic actor, Jim Carrey. The film was released in November of that year to mixed reviews, and it grossed enough money to be the 6th highest-grossing film of 2000. Furthermore, it received an Academy Award for its make-up effects. Nowadays, the film is still a mixed bag to many, though there are a vocal few who support the film, partly due to nostalgia. Personally, I had never seen this before, and from the clips I had seen on the Internet, I thought this was going to be a trainwreck. After viewing it, it certainly was better than I thought, but it’s by far the least successful adaptation in my opinion. Jim Carrey’s performance is really bizarre, delivering some over the top gags that work sometimes, but never all the time. It’s a bit too loud and ridiculous for me. Furthermore, I didn’t like the makeup on the Whos. The Grinch’s makeup works because he is supposed to be unsettling, but the Whos look appalling. That’s a sign to me that Dr Seuss adaptations should remain in animation. 

Furthermore, the film is way too long for this story, taking almost an hour to get to the main story (Grinch’s backstory and too many of the scenes in Whoville add almost nothing to the story), so it just feels bloated as a result, and the camera work and angles are a bit too fluid and busy, much like Jim Carrey’s performance. On the bright side, though, actor Anthony Hopkins is a nice narrator, the young Taylor Momsen (Cindy Lou Who) is quite bearable considering certain child actors aren’t, and composer James Horner creates some solid music that helps invoke the Christmas spirit, especially near the ending. Otherwise though, I don’t think I’ll revisit this version of the Grinch that often.


“The Grinch” (2018)


2018 brought the latest version of the story, which was now tackled by the Illumination film company. This time, actor Benedict Cumberbatch plays our titular character, and the plot is of course very similar to the story we’ve heard over and over. So, what does this new version offer that we haven’t had before? Well, this time around, the Grinch is slightly more integrated into society than previously seen, a new soundtrack was released by artist Tyler the Creator, and we also get some insight into the Grinch’s background, as well as Cindy Lou Who’s family and friends. The film was a box-office success when it was released, but received mixed reviews from critics and audiences. As for me, I think this version is just okay. I went into it wanting to hate it and wanting to be cynical, but what I got was a slightly-better-than-average family movie. Benedict Cumberbatch is a solid Grinch, and while Karloff is still my favorite version of the character, I think Cumberbatch does what needs to be done in this movie to make it work. He’s funny, but has a nice cynical edge to him. In the supporting cast, Cameron Seely is good as Cindy Lou Who, and SNL cast member Kenan Thompson plays a neighbor to the Grinch who is quite the character! 

Humor-wise, “The Grinch” does contain a few good laughs, which was more than I expected, and I also liked the animation. Illumination may not make the best overall movies, but their animation is solid, and “The Grinch” offers a nice, modern update of Seuss’s world. 

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of subpar elements in the film, the first being Pharell Williams. He narrates the movie, and he just doesn’t bring a whole lot of energy. I don’t get why he was chosen. 

Secondly, Tyler the Creator’s updated title song feels just as bland and uninspired as Pharell’s narration. It’s not the worst song I’ve listened to, but in my opinion, you can’t beat the classic song. 

Finally, while this film is not as long as the live-action version, it’s still far too long at 90 minutes. Personally, I don’t need to know Grinch’s origin, and the subplot about Cindy Lou Who trying to capture Santa is just fluff to build a feature-length runtime. Because it’s filled with these pointless plot points, the film kind of loses the moral and purpose of the original story, just like the 2000 version. To conclude, “The Grinch” is pretty fun as Christmas-y family fun, but as a redo of an incredibly famous story, it, too, falls short.


Which One Should You See?


In my personal opinion, I still think the 1966 TV special with Boris Karloff is the clear Grinch adaptation to watch this Christmas season. It’s just a simple, timeless classic that never wears out its welcome and perfectly captures the Christmas spirit. The 2018 version is probably next best, and as for the Jim Carrey version, it’s entirely skippable. Each version has its strengths, but for me, the 1966 version is still the classic, and just perfectly captures the Christmas spirit and world of Dr. Seuss. The other versions just try too hard by adding stuff in that they think will justify its existence, but they end up ruining what the whole point of the story is. However, if any one of these versions connects to you in some special way, I hope it entertains you this holiday season!