How was Dr. Seuss’ cartoony Christmas classic translated into a realistic world? Today we’ll look at how the world of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) was created. Focusing on the realisation of Whoville’s snowflake world; the costumes/makeup of the Whos and the Grinch. But first, let’s look at the film’s inspiration.
The Original Designs
Dr. Seuss’ book drawings are very much aimed at children. Much of his scenery and objects are warped and lack straight lines. The people have weirdly long bodies, round chests, and stomachs; their faces being more prominent above their top lip. And the Grinch looks oddest. With fur covering his body. A figure-eight shaped head, large around his mouth and smaller near his eyes. And animalistic facial features such as whisker holes and an upper lip parting. How can you make something so cartoony work in live-action?
Creating the Snowflake World
Director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer wanted the film to feel true to Seuss’ world, so the crew set to work accomplishing this goal.
Production designer Michael Corenblith and his team broke down some of Seuss’ reference points and worked them into the sets. Whoville was structured like a medieval village, the Christmas tree being the central hub. The town hall was modeled on Greek architecture, Farfingles department store on Parisian art nouveau and Moroccan and Islamic architecture elements were also included. Resulting in a world that looks timeless and very Seussian.
Props also needed to be considered. Prop master Emily Ferry and her team sourced items from antique shops and retrofitted them into new designs reminiscent of Seuss’ wavey retro style.
Then the film was given some finishing visual effects touches. This included filling out shots with computer-generated Whos and adding digital backgrounds and skies to fill in the world. But arguably the most important creation is the opening. Inspired by Horton Hears a Who the opening places the story within a single snowflake. We track through the snowflake until we see a full view of Mount Crumpit and Whoville. All of this was created digitally. This effort makes the Grinch’s world feel truly fantastical.
Every Who down in Whoville
Producer Brian Grazer wanted the Whos to look otherworldly but predominantly human and “cute” to contrast the Grinch’s monstrosity. According to special makeup effects designer Rick Baker, the designs were difficult to perfect as some Seussian elements, particularly the focus on the nose, looked frightening. Eventually, they found the right design. Then they had to work on outfitting all the actors to look like Whos.
The production team made foam rubber pieces to apply to the actors which gave them prominent noses and a big gap between their lips and noses, with a faint edge that blended into their skin. Several Whos also received fake ears and brows to complete the otherworldly effect. Costume designer Rita Ryack also made creative costumes that allowed each Who to stand out. Lastly, the Whos were given dentures and inventive wig/hair designs that suited Seuss’ illustrations.
Giving the Grinch Life
For Rick Baker, the biggest challenges when creating the Grinch were finding a design that looked recognisably Grinchian and wouldn’t limit Jim Carrey’s facial expressions. To achieve the design, he made the makeup as thin as possible in certain areas to allow Carrey to move his face. The makeup took approximately two and a half hours to apply and one hour to remove.
Spoiler Warning – Massive spoilers ahead for The Truman Show
The Truman Show is a brilliant film. A short review but it gets to the point. In our difficult to socialise times, I have watched a number of old movies and decided to rewatch this film, which I hadn’t watched in years, and loved it as much as I ever did.
Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank – a man who was adopted by a television company as a baby and has been filmed and broadcast to the world for just about every moment of his life. Everyone around him is an actor and the world as he knows it is completely controlled by the show’s director, Christof. Truman knows none of this and thinks he has a perfectly normal life. At the start of the film, events take a turn that lead Truman to suspect that there is something wrong with the world and he begins to pick at some of the loose threads of this reality.
Jim Carrey’s Performance
When I saw The Truman Show, Jim Carrey was the guy from The Mask and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, a super over the top turned up to eleven comic actor and, at the time, I really liked that Jim Carrey. I daresay Jim Carrey’s involvement was what first made me want to see The Truman Show. Carrey’s performance was not only brilliant, it was surprising, I simply did not know this was something he could do. At times Carrey’s performance is genuinely heartbreaking. Memorable scenes are those of his young romance with one of the extras who tried to tell him the truth, to the conquering his phobia of the water to sail away from his fake home, to his final confrontation with Christof. There are a few moments of Carrey breaking out his wilder side, when Truman is realising something is wrong, and as we can probably assume this is him in the middle of a nervous breakdown it makes perfect sense. The fact that Jim Carrey was not even nominated for an Oscar has gone down in history as a famous “Oscar snub”.
After this film, Carrey would be considered a very talented actor – adept with comedy and drama, giving equally sensational performances in Man On The Moon and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, whilst remaining a regular comedic actor.
And Laura Linney’s For That Matter…
While we’re talking about acting a quick note on Laura Linney, who played Truman’s wife (or rather the actor playing Truman’s wife). I had never picked up before just how sinister a character she is, more than any of the other actors she is tasked with keeping Truman in the dark – with the possible exception of the actors who played his parents. She undermines his confidence, she plays on his fears and while many of the actors and those making the show are lying to Truman many seem to have some kind of affection for him – not so much with Linney’s character.
The show is hugely popular around the world and the film has a great deal of fun dealing with this and how the set works. There are legions of actors who simply exist to make it seem like a real town or the “adverts” that exist in the show – Laura Linney is fantastic at talking to Truman about new products like she’s in a commercial. We do see a number of people watching the show; there is a Truman bar that screens it non-stop, and the final third of the film has a lot of shots of people simply reacting to Truman’s escape attempt. Those watching are shown to be ecstatic when he does escape – one viewer is watching in the bath and as Truman’s boat is nearly capsized his frantic clinging to his shower curtain is amazing. Of course, there is the massive problem of the show’s audience – we are meant to see Truman as a prisoner, someone who has suffered, those watching the show have kept him in that prison.
The Truman Show came out in 1998, just around the time reality television was really taking off. Obviously The Truman Show’s premise is a lot darker than actual reality television (well, most of it) the question of what an audience will watch for entertainment and ignore any associated moral problems is more relevant now than ever. The show’s director, Christof, passionately defends what he has done to Truman but even in the most benevolent light he has done terrible things to him – manufacturing phobias, killing Truman’s family members, regularly placing Truman in stressful situations. In the film, the show is a huge worldwide success, more than justifying the huge cost of making it, and it is a genuinely interesting question – would this show be popular in real-life?
Relevance To Me
I saw this film as a child when it first came out and it is very important to me. Before The Truman Show most of my favourite films were silly comedies and action/scifi blockbusters – this was one of the very first films I loved that could be called a “drama”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with silly comedies and blockbusters but that’s not all there is. The film, in an odd way, taught me something about myself. I saw the film at the cinema on the weekend, on Monday morning I was back in school and we were discussing what we did over the weekend. I said I watched The Truman Show and was asked if it was any good. I responded by praising the film in the most eloquent way my teenage self could. What I learned was that it’s not a good thing to like things too much, you’re not meant to love films or be passionate about them, they’re meant to be “okay”. And that could be applied to much of life – it’s just meant to be okay. To be passionate about something is to reveal part of yourself and to make yourself vulnerable – and that is something you should never ever do. Of course, not long after I realised this was nonsense and I embraced my love of films (and more) and my life is infinitely better for it.
And In Case I don’t See Ya, Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Goodnight
This really is an amazing film and would highly recommend it to just about anyone. It has just about everything – great acting across the board, an interesting and original idea, it’s funny, moving and meaningful. It is a film that will actually leave you happy and uplifted after being put through an arduous experience.
1994 was a great year. Seal released “Kiss From A Rose“. The original Playstation made it’s way to homes everywhere as well as Friends airing its first season. Alongside this, we had some classic films released. The Shawshank Redemption, The Lion King, Pulp Fiction. It was an especially great year for Jim Carrey.
Carrey had his breakout year in ’94, with arguably his best-known work all being released during the year: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask. These films propelled him into a household name and some of his best performances. 1994 was the year of Carrey.
“Pleasure To Meet You, Mr. Camp, And Congratulations On All Your Success. You Smell Terrific.”
Originally, Rick Moranis was approached for the role, but after he and several others turned it down (including Alan Rickman), Carrey was cast for his sketch comedy work. He was allowed to rewrite the script and improvise a lot. The inspiration came from several places, like a desire to be “unstoppably ridiculous” and a bird.
Before Ace Ventura became such a big hit, Carrey had signed on for an adaptation of The Mask. A much lighter version of the comic book. Carrey was attracted by the cartoon-esque nature of the project, and was so animated himself he saved on some VFX budget. Being released after Ace Ventura, gave it some added, and unexpected, star power. It also launched the career of Cameron Diaz.
Jim Carrey is the closest thing the world has to a living cartoon, and The Mask is a perfect example of that. The premise allows him to be as wacky as he can be in a way no other film has allowed. The Mask is also the most successful film, critically and commercially, of Carrey’s 94 films. Until recently, it was also the most profitable comic book film ever, before being overtaken by Joker. Carrey was nominated for a golden globe for his performance.
“The most annoying sound in the world”
After two successful films in the year, Jim Carrey was certainly a star to watch. However, he wasn’t quite done yet, as December would see the release of Dumb and Dumber. This time Carrey was sharing the spotlight with Jeff Daniels, who was more known for his dramatic roles. Despite some mixed reviews overall, Carrey and Daniel’s performances won lots of praise.
The film owes a lot of it’s success to it’s two main characters, and has become a cult favourite. Like Carrey’s other 94 ventures, it spawned a sequel and an animated series, although this sequel took much longer, arriving in 2014, a whole 20 years later.
“Good Morning! And in case I don’t see ya, Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Good Night!”
Of course, Carrey’s career didn’t stop there, he would go on to fight Batman as the Riddler, explore dramatic roles in The Truman Show, and most recently, chase a blue blur in the Sonic the Hedgehog film. He is currently back in TV, working on the sitcom “Kidding”. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before he graces our screens with his unique brand of quirky comedy.
Christmas is fast approaching and to celebrate, Illumination Entertainment has released their take on the classic Grinch story. The original Dr. Seuss book about a reclusive grump who wants to steal Christmas is just as inseparable from the modern identity of Christmas as Santa Claus and Scrooge.
The story has received three high profile adaptations over the years. The 1966 Chuck Jones cartoon starring horror legend Boris Karloff as the titular green menace. The Ron Howard directed live-action retelling in 2000, starring Jim Carrey, and 2018’s animated offering with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead. But with so many different versions which one is the best?
Today I will compare the different grinch films by breaking them down into categories and analyzing which version did the best job with their portrayal of the Grinch and Cindy Lou. As well as which version had the better music, the best production value, and which version tells the story the best? With that said, let’s dive into this festive feast.
Who is the best Grinch?
The Grinch, of course, gets the star treatment in all three films and it is hard to choose between the players. Karloff’s Grinch is an angry, mischievous trickster. Carrey’s version is a bombastic ball of energy. The child in all of us that never quite grew up. And Cumberbatch is a modern-day cynic who just wants Christmas to stop getting so big. Since we must choose though, I would say Karloff’s version is the best of the three.
Cumberbatch’s version is just too nice to accurately represent the character of the Grinch. His social interactions are too awkward and his kindness to animals over people makes him seem like a lonely single guy resentful that his date never called back, rather than the antithesis of all thing’s holly and jolly. And Carrey’s version, although fun, is just Jim Carrey, playing Jim Carrey. Karloff being a horror star makes the Grinch feel imposing and hateful, but he also manages to excel with the softer side of the character during his transformation and makes it all feel genuine. Karloff feels like the truest representation of the character as he was intended to be.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Who is the best Cindy Lou?
This category is interesting because in the original story Cindy Lou Who is not a pivotal character. She is merely emblematic of childhood innocence at Christmas. As such her part in the 1966 short is minor. But with subsequent adaptations, Cindy Lou has become as important to the narrative as the Grinch himself.
In the 2000 version, Taylor Momsen does a good job at being the voice of reason to the grownups old-fashioned outlook. She even saves the day in the end, convincing the Grinch and the rest of Whoville that Christmas is about people, not presents. Meanwhile the 2018 Cindy Lou is trying to help her family through a tough time in their lives. Her mum is working hard to provide for her and her brothers, and she only wants her mum to be happy. All three versions are interesting or narratively fitting, but Cindy Lou in the 2000 version is the clear winner.
Unlike her 1966 counterpart, she is actively involved with the plot, being the audiences primary POV. And unlike the recent version, her character arc is integral to the proceedings. Going from disillusionment with the commercialism of Christmas to having her faith restored when everyone realizes, she was right after all. The new version is an interesting reflection of the attitudes of children in single-parent families. But her story feels like padding because without it the story would have largely remained the same. Giving the 2000 version the clear win.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Which version has the best music?
A part of the Grinch’s legacy that goes underacknowledged is the use of music. All the films use music to effectively place us in the characters heads, give a sense of place and help set the general mood of a Christmas tale. However, the 2018 version fails instantly because of its persistent use of gimmicky pop music throughout the film. This instantly takes the audience out of the experience as the setting ceases to be fantastical, instead becoming a merchandising exercise. The presence of classic crooner hits like Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” attempts to win us back but unfortunately, it comes too late. The 2000 version also has a few modern songs in there, but it feels less egregious, as commercialism is a central aspect of the story. As well as this the updates to the songs “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” are pleasing to listen to and the addition of the song “where are you Christmas?” for the character of Cindy Lou nicely complements her character’s arc. But I would trade all of that for the subtlety of the 1966 soundtrack. Sometimes simplicity is best. There is no pop music to take you out of the fantasy, no overblown production, just charming lyrics, the smooth tones of Thurl Ravenscroft and the MGM chorus; simple melodies that make the story feel like a folktale passed down from generation to generation. It’s timeless and has yet to be beaten.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Which version is better made overall?
This one really comes down to personal preference. None of the Grinch movies are badly produced. Chuck Jones’ version has the charmingly lucid animation one expects of old Looney Tunes shorts. The Ron Howard version has impressive (if slightly creepy) makeup work and impressive production design courtesy of Michael Corenblith. And the new film being from Illumination contains slick modern animation and very pleasing character designs. But again, since I must make a choice while both animations look nice, the 2000 version just edges them out for me.
Not only for the sheer gall it took to try and realize Dr. Seuss’ drawings in live-action but also for the imagination on display in the set design. The Grinch’s lair looks straight out of a 1920’s German expressionist horror film. The muted colours give Whoville a tinge of melancholy despite the festive trappings, perfectly fitting with Cindy’s, feelings. And the minutia that mixes the fantastical with just enough modern that it isn’t distracting makes for a film that feels very much in tune with our world while also being nothing like it. And for me, that just gives it the edge.
Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Which version tells the story the best?
And now we must decide which film delivers its narrative more effectively. All the films use a narrator to deliver the story. But all the films do different things with the source material. The 1966 version is a straight adaptation of the story with Boris Karloff providing the narration and voices for the characters. The 2000 version mixes in social commentary about the modern world’s disillusionment with Christmas; the voice of Sir Anthony Hopkins. While the new version aims itself at modern children who have grown up with the continual expansion of Christmas and had to contend with its impact on their families. Accompanied by Pharrell Williams voice over. So which film does it best?
The 1966 version is as stated as a faithful adaptation. No side plots or updates, just an animated version of Dr. Seuss story. And Karloff’s grandfatherly voice gives the special an extra layer of warmth. However the special is on the short side because of its adherence to the text. With some of the slower animated sections feeling like padding to fit the necessary time slot. The 2000 film focuses on the Grinch’s backstory, explaining his hatred of Christmas and taking jabs at how overblown the Christmas season has become. Which is surprisingly relevant today. And Anthony Hopkins is a fine complement to Karloff’s original narrator role. Even surpassing him in some regards, particularly in dramatic flair. But the backstory takes away from the simplistic mystery of the Grinch. His heart was two sizes too small was all the reason we needed for his hatred of Christmas. The adage of childhood bullying turns the Grinch into an antihero rather than a villain and makes most of the humans unlikable as a result. So the final revelation never quite rings true. These people have spent most of the preceding film tormenting the Grinch, yet he instantly forgives them. In summary, the story is a little confused and feels too mean for what the story is supposed to teach. Lastly, in the new version, the folktale vibe is subtly diverted. Pharrell’s voiceover sounds more like a friend than an elder. And the decision to deal with themes of neglect and generational doubts is an effective choice for this moment in time. But it never feels like it amounts to anything. Pharrell’s voice is a distraction due to his status as a musician, not an actor and the themes as previously mentioned feel like window dressing more than anything.
So, in the final analysis, all of the stories have flaws and their strengths but the only adaptation where I would argue it’s merits outweigh its flaws is the short version. Due to its concise nature, lack of painful extraneous diversions and focusing simply on telling a charming story in a way that appeals to all, not just to misanthropes or single-parent families.
Overall Winner: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
This article was not intended to discredit of the new Grinch movie. Illuminations the Grinch has some good aspects to it. The voice cast all do their jobs well, with Benedict Cumberbatch being the best part of the film. The visual design is pleasing and some of the story updates are a nice change of pace. But ultimately what it comes down to is the new Grinch movie never entirely justifies its own existence.
For an entertaining movie, with lush production design, modern social commentary and a well-rounded female character, with Cindy Lou, stick with the Carrey version. And for the purest representation of the original story, with perfect music, charming animation and the best version of the Grinch go with the Karloff animation.