Christmas haters and would-be Scrooges pick out How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Dr. Seuss' book and television special, as their type of Christmas classic. Like the Grinch, they hate the Christmas season, the noise, the tumwuggles and floozels. Those people who love Christmas (myself included) know, however, that Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. For Warner Home Video, Christmas means a little extra cash in the coffers following the release of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (50th Birthday Deluxe Edition.)
I'm not sure how many people need a plot summary of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The 26 minute television special from 1966 has been shown annually during my entire lifetime, and probably yours too. If you've never bothered to check it out, I can't imagine you're even reading this review, unless you are my one fan. Suffice to say the Grinch (voiced by Boris Karloff) hates Christmas and by extension The Who's down who Who-ville, who like it a lot. He dresses up like Santa and plans to steal all of the Christmas trappings to keep the Who's from celebrating Christmas. Little does the Grinch know that the Who's went on tour because Roger is broke, even though Keith and John are dead and it's just not the same.
Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) and Looney Toons icon Chuck Jones collaberated on this adaptation of Seuss' bestselling children's book. Wisely (are you listening Jim Carrey and Ron Howard) Jones didn't muck about with the source material. All the dialogue is from the book and the story is padded out not by some stupid backstory of the Grinch's days as a schoolboy but by clever Christmas songs with lyrics by Suess. Jones also adds a few dialogue free scenes of the Grinch and his dog Max preparing for theft, traveling down the mountain, and breaking into Who-houses.
The show is nothing short of a Christmas classic. One of those adaptations that works on almost every level. Fun visuals, catchy tunes, and the dialogue from Dr. Seuss is truly one of a kind. Casting Karloff as the Grinch and narrator turned out to be a stroke of genius. Forget the grunting Frankenstein's Monster, Karloff gives the right amount of slippery menace to the Grinch. Clearly a man whose heart is two sizes too small.
I'm glad they put out this 50th "Birthday" Deluxe Edition to acknowledge that it's been 50 years since this classic first aired on television. Wait a minute.....Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! premiered in 1966, it says so right on the back of the DVD case, that would only be 40 years by my meager math skills. I guess it must be 50 years since the book was published...right?.....right? Wrong. The book was published in 1957, meaning 2007 would be the 50th "Birthday." I guess this is more a case of Warner Home Video wanting a little extra holiday cash this year and playing fast and loose with the dates. But I can't complain too much, my VHS copy of this movie was pretty ragged, and it was nice to update to a new clear digital transfer.
Since How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a mere 26 minutes (wow, only four minutes of commercials in 1966), the disc is padded out a bit by a second Geisel/Jones collaboration, Horton Hears a Who!, a nice story about an elephant who goes to great lengths to protect the speck of dust where the Who's actually live. It has the same visual appeal and wordplay seen in the other show, but doesn't have the Grinch's charisma or a tight connection with Christmas and is not nearly as popular. I'm glad they have been packaging the two together.
In addition to the second short, this new disc contains a new featurette, "Dr. Seuss and the Grinch - From Whoville to Hollywood." This is a truly dreadful 20 minutes. Interviews with Theodore Geisel's widow, Audrey, and a passel of Geisel "experts" gives a bland retelling of his writing of various books, including "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and its adaptation for the small screen. The lack of interviews with anyone directly involved in the project is a shortcoming, as is the inclusion of five kids (all the colors of the rainbow, of course) who read selections of the book and say things like "I think the Grinch is lonely." Topping the whole mess is a rapping voice over who tells the story of Geisel's life and the Grinch in a lame rhyme.
That featurette looks even worse when compared by one done in 1994 when the TNT network showed How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. They also produced a 20 minute featurette hosted by Phil Hartman. It's entertaining and informative, as Hartman channels his best Troy McClure in hosting several people involved in the project, Director and Producer Chuck Jones, Composer Albert Hague, and singing voice Thurl Ravenscroft. This should be the featurette you watch to go behind the scenes with this show.
There are a few other minor features, including "Songs in the Key of Grinch," which was produced for the 2000 DVD release. Composer Hague and singer Ravenscroft are interviewed for about eight minutes. They tell many of the same stories in the TNT featurette, but how they came onto the project and what they contributed is expanded somewhat. Also, you get a "Grinch Pencil Test" which is just three drawings of the Grinch, "Grinch Song Selection" which allows you to skip right to the musical numbers, and "Who's Who in Whoville" giving a biographical sketch of Jones, Geisel, Karloff, and June Foray who did the voice of Cindy-Lou Who.
I checked to see what was on the 2000 DVD release and with the exception of the "Dr. Seuss and the Grinch" featurette, all the same extras are included. Since that featurette is pretty terrible, if you have the 2000 release, I don't see any reason to update it with this version. If you have a VHS copy or simply wait for the commercial laden version on TV every year, this is a good purchase.