The Cat In The Hat may be Seuss’ mascot, having appeared not only in two of his own specials, a crossover with the Grinch, the main character of a Muppet take on the Seussiverse, and even had his own TV show or two. However, How The Grinch Stole Christmas is his most famous work, thanks to Chuck Jones convincing him to make the adaptation. It wasn’t even the first time a Seuss book was adapted into animation. Merry Melodies (an alternate name for Looney Tunes that fell by the wayside outside of a namesake homage character on Tiny Toon Adventures) produced an adaptation for Horton Hatches An Egg in 1942, directed by Bob Clampett, but it was done in the usual Looney Tune style. There may even be one before that which I’m not aware of.
Seuss got fed up with movies after co-writing the screenplay for The 5000 Fingers Of Doctor T, but Jones really wanted to make a Christmas special without Christ or Santa Claus. Learning this bit of information made me sad. As a Christian I don’t like the idea of pulling the reason for the season out of the season, while I’m not sure what Jones had against Santa. Still, it’s not like you couldn’t do it, just it’s odd to want to do both. At any rate, the 1966 special was a hit and led to more adaptations and original stories featuring Seuss’s visual and storytelling style, including two more appearances for the Grinch. They were all about a half hour in length and everyone was okay with that.
Except 21st century Hollywood, who seem to believe something is only good when you do it in live-action, and special effects have taken enough of an upgrade that the idea of doing animated gags in live-action sounds plausible. Look at how the Oscars banished animation to its own section so as not to “taint” the Best Picture nomination after Beauty & The Beast got a nomination for Best Picture and the “real” actors had a temper tantrum. Also look at how Disney is remaking their animated classics…and making lesser movies out of them. So we got Ron Howard’s 2000 live-action adaptation with Jim Carrey in the role. The response was kind of mixed, with many preferring the animated half-hour special over the live-action theatrical film. So Illumination tried to give us an animated version in 2008 simply titled The Grinch…and nobody talks about it. Like, at all.
How is that the short version is superior to the theatrical versions, that have more time to really explore the characters? Maybe that’s the problem. First, an audio adaptation of the book to get us close to the same page.
The original book is around a ten minute read. Trying to stretch that to 90 minutes or more is a lot of padding. This isn’t adapting a regular novel with multiple chapters. This is a kids book with maybe two paragraphs of rhyme per page. You’re already going to have to add a lot of things, where most book adaptations actually require you to truncate or outright remove things to make the runtime. This leads to the obvious question of why this had to be a full-length movie live-action or animated, but I think we know the answer to that. Hollywood directors are all about the theatrical movie, which has been the top status symbol for so long that they fight to protect it even as audiences have been moving away from it, either because of the jerks in the audience or the convenience of at-home theater set-ups with TVs and sound systems. The popcorn’s definitely cheaper and it won’t be called off because of bad weather. Ron Howard makes movies so he wants people in the theater (odd given his biggest successes as an actor were on television, The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days) and nobody’s going to a half-hour production at the movie theater without a lot of extras. These guys also want to put their own spin on a holiday classic in the hopes that they’ll get the same praise without the same effort or detail.
(Yeah, I know a lot of work went into the live-action movie; that was a general comment.)
This meant that they did the one thing the TV special did not–adding useless stuff. The original special only had to build up to about 25 minutes of production, including credits and leaving room for CBS to put commercial breaks in in building to a full half-hour airing. This still required a few things but all Jones did, and he got Seuss involved in the production, was to add two songs, one of which was reprised for the final act, and actually showing some of the moments only mentioned in the book. We watch the Grinch make his Santy suit, we watch the robberies in progress, and we actually get to watch the interaction with Cindy Lou Who.
A Who that is supposed to be a cute two-year-old, not six like she is in the…wait, she’s 6 in the live-action movie? And she’s climbing mountains on her own? Go, Cindy! Not sure where your parents are…oh right, they’re caught up in all the festivity, proving the Grinch right about Christmas. Yeah, that’s kind of the problem with Cindy Lou. She’s the only character in the book with a name outside of the Grinch (who is called the Grinch, not Grinch, as if he’s some renegade Time Lord like The Master–still better than that Skeletor-regeneration the Master went through I guess) and Max the dog. So her character gets upgraded but they have to age her up to do so. In the animated movie she’s also 6 according to Wikipedia (question the source but I have no interest in seeing this version) to have her in a plot where she wants to kidnap Santa to get help for her overworked single mother (of course) raising her and her baby brothers. All she did in the original was get a glass of water and fall for the Grinch’s lie.
That’s the point of her appearance in the story. The live-action movie wants to make her the savior of the Christmas spirit and the latter someone who uses kidnapping to help people she cares about…which is not the best message in that context…but that’s not her role. The Grinch is such a jerk that he can lie right in the face of a two-year-old girl (given even more human-like features in the special compared to the other Whos and her book design) and still rob her, her family, their friends, and even their mice blind. That’s it. By making her character the one who convinces the rest of Whoville that there’s more to Christmas than the decorations and gifts also makes the whole town look bad…which is certainly what the live-action movie was going for. Not only is the mayor getting everybody obsessed with the celebration, we learn he’s responsible for the Grinch being bad in the first place because he used to bully the kid to keep him away from their shared crush, and probably only cares about the festivities because it will boost his election later if I know my fictional (and real world) politicians. In the book and special everybody already has that love of Christmas despite losing all their presents and decorations and doesn’t need a former toddler to save them.
This is also the problem with the Grinch in the theatrical versions, a need to give him motivation for being a grump. Go to the original story and it doesn’t matter. He is simply supposed to represent people who look down on Christmas celebrations and want to ruin it for their own peace of mind, believing it’s all about the frivolity and the noise, thus having to learn that’s not what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. In the live-action movie he has to be the victim of bullies because Ron Howard and/or the screenwriters wanted to make a statement on bullying. The animated movie wanted him to just be acting out of loneliness because he grew up in an orphanage without being adopted. In both cases the Grinch has been altered not only from his actual character in the book but his point in the story as he’s acting out of revenge, both understandable and petty depending on the version. In the original he just hates Christmas and wants to mistreat the Whos.
We’ll see that again in his next appearance, Halloween Is Grinch Night, which also doesn’t try to psychoanalyze the Grinch…that would come later in The Grinch Grinches The Cat In The Hat and it really doesn’t work there, either…but just has him as a nasty guy. That time he wanted to put a scare into Whoville on Halloween, but this time he isn’t the main character, he’s the antagonist as Euchariah Who learns to not be scared. It’s been called a prequel but I don’t know if that was intentional or just fans misreading the ending. Maybe the Grinch only temporarily turns good, like Skeletor in the He-Man/She-Ra special. The crossover with the Cat has El Gato in a Sombrero actually reforming the Grinch, though it’s a question of how long that lasts as well. It even suggests that this is just a Grinch thing, complete with an oath.
Even the use of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is altered in the live-action movie, with the Grinch singing his self-viewed praises rather than a narrator condemning his sins, as I went over yesterday. That makes it fall a bit flat as a homage since it recontextualizes the whole point of the song.
Admittedly there is one character who is changed in the original. According to Wikipedia (again, question the source) Jones had wanted to do more with Cindy Lou, which was part of the reason for her redesign I’d wager, but you can guess from my earlier statements that I’m glad he wasn’t able to. However he did alter Max’s characterization. The loyal dog is actually a good “person”, which is also seen in later appearances, and wishes his master was a nicer guy, especially to him. The Grinch doesn’t abuse the animal outside of the sleigh and terrible reindeer guise (played mostly for laughs in the special) but he isn’t apt to play fetch and give cuddles to Max. This adds to the comedy but doesn’t really alter the story itself. We don’t see him try to change the Grinch’s mind or do anything other than go from “fake reindeer” to “goofy sidekick who’s actually pretty nice when you get to know him”. I see this the same way as the scenes of making the fake suit or the actual heist moments, something that adds to the story without changing it. This could have been an extension of the scenes in the book rather than the alterations done in the movies.
I know there are people who like the live-action movie, and I don’t have a problem with that. Ron Howard is a good director, the scenes with Jim Carrey as the Grinch are funny if you like that kind of comedy (at least it isn’t what they made Mike Myers do to the Cat In The Hat), and maybe the animated movie does something good as well. However, the additions chosen alter the characters from the Grinch to Cindy Lou (no more than two) to the citizens of Whoville themselves and it’s just not necessary. Dr. Seuss’ original book is short, simple, to the point, and gives its message just fine. That’s the same reason the later animated special The Lorax is also more interesting that it’s Illumination adaptation since the only additions build rather than alter the original story to fit their respective run times. Sometimes less really is more, and for this story that’s very much true.