Dr Seuss’ beloved Christmas tale may not be as essential to UK holiday programming as The Snowman, but its two versions this millennium – the second, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, out in cinemas this week – have firmly ingrained it in the canon. Go back a bit further and the iconic mid-century monster man himself, Boris Karloff, lends his voice acting talent to narrating and vocally animating a 1966 television short – at 26 minutes, it is a warming dose of holiday cheer best watched with a cup of tea during the chilly run-up to Christmas.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is essentially just a reading of the children’s book accompanied by some heartwarming, hilarious animations – not to mention Thurl Ravenscroft’s original rendition of ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch’, with lyrics by Theodor Geisel himself. Karloff does both the narration and the voice of the titular character, giving the impression of an especially charming audiobook but turning up the schlocky menace when required.
Some of the sections are expanded to showcase the marvellous toys and delectable feasts of a Whoville Christmas, and drama is added at the climactic moments (as is typical in page-to-screen adaptations), but the trademark rhymes, hand-drawn animation, and authorial whimsy reign first and foremost. Yes, it basically lifts the original text and illustrations with minimal embellishment, but when the source material is this strong there is not much that can meaningfully be added.
This short’s charm stems largely from the simplicity of its premise and the exaggeration afforded by a wholly animated world. Unlike the 2000 version, no backstory is given for the grumpy green creature; the motiveless Scrooge is therefore both more dastardly and more lovable. This Grinch is a different beast to Carrey’s (and possibly to Cumberbatch’s as well) and deserves his own delightful spot in one’s holiday viewing.
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CAST: Boris Karloff, June Foray, Dal McKennon, Thurl Ravenscroft
DIRECTORS: Chuck Jones, Ben Washam
WRITERS: Dr Seuss (book), Irv Spector and Bob Ogle (additional story)
MUSIC: Eugene Poddany
SYNOPSIS: A grumpy hermit hatches a plan to steal Christmas from the Whos of Whoville.