What He Won For – When The Departed finally got Martin Scorsese his Best Director Oscar there was almost a universal declaration that is was for the wrong film. In fact, this is the film that inspired the whole article, the classic example of a the Academy rewarding a career of greatness rather than the particular film.
What He Should Have Won For – There are a lot of contenders but it is a crime for which someone should be arrested that he did not win for Goodfellas. This is one of the best films ever made and in my opinion, edges out even The Godfather as the definitive Mafia film. This is an epic story of crime, friendship and betrayal with some of the most memorable scenes in film history such as the long take entrance to the Copacabana, Joe Pesci asking if he is a clown and the stunning final scene wrapping up what has happened with Henry Hill’s narration. It is a practically perfect film.
What He Won For – Cuaron has two Best Director, one for Roma and one for Gravity. As I have not seen Roma I cannot comment but I have seen Gravity. Again this is not a bad film, it’s a very good film but certainly feels more like a technical achievement than an artistic one. It is the only film I have seen where I thought it made sense to be in 3D, where the director actually did something worthwhile with that technology.
What He Should Have Won For – One of the great overlooked and underrated films of all time – Children of Men. This is one of the bleakest settings for a film ever yet ends up being hopeful. There are technically brilliant shots – such as two incredible long takes, one of a conversation and subsequent attack in a car which I’ve never been able to work out how it was filmed to the shot near the end of the film of Theo rushing through a warzone which is a contender for the best scene ever filmed. But there’s also a lot of emotion and caring, Theo’s relationship with Kee is very touching and Theo transforms from one of the most jaded and cynical people you can imagine to someone willing to die for someone else.
What He Won For – In my younger less cinema-literate days I assumed there were two directors named James Cameron – Cool James Cameron and Not Cool James Cameron, one made brilliant sci-fi and the other made Titanic, but indeed they are the same person and Cameron got his Oscar for Titanic. This is a bad film that relies on the romanticism of the real Titanic. Certainly it is a visual spectacle and the sinking of the ship is very well done but still – it is a bad film.
What He Should Have Won For – Cameron can lay claim to making two of the best sequels ever Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Aliens but I think the latter narrowly takes it. In Aliens Cameron does something which is nearly impossible in that he introduces a young child character that not only isn’t annoying but improves the film. Ripley’s relationship with Newt basically becomes the central part of the film and has a big emotional impact. As well as this emotional weight the film has some of the greatest action scenes ever and is incredibly enjoyable. The Academy has a long history of disdain to science-fiction and not recognising the brilliance of Aliens is another part of that history.
What He Won For – A Beautiful Mind won four Oscars, including one for Ron Howard as director. Certainly not a bad film but hardly the best example of Howard’s talents.
What He Should Have Won For – Howard has a number of great films but Frost/Nixon is an astonishing achievement. An adaptation of a play where most of the dramatic moments are literally one person interviewing another does not scream cinematic but it is gripping. Perhaps the most dramatic moment, however, is not part of the interview, with Nixon calling Frost in a rant about they were both from humble backgrounds, were always looked down upon by the upper class and were going “to make them choke on our success” is unforgettable.
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.
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.
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