Festivus Retro Squad: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
A Charlie Brown Christmas will always be about eight billion light years above all other holiday specials in my mind, but that's not to say I don't enjoy those other old standards that pop up on TV this time of year. How the Grinch Stole Christmas remains one of my favorites: a perfect blend of all things Seussian and Jonesian.
To be honest, from a visual standpoint How the Grinch Stole Christmas is pretty much a Chuck Jones special. The only characters who really resemble Dr. Seuss' graphic style are The Whos, and even the precocious Cindy Lou Who (who was no more than two) is given the doe eyes and adorable but dopey face that made Jones' characters instantly recognizable. Jones did much the same thing when he took over the Tom and Jerry shorts for MGM which were originated by William Hanna and Joe Barbera: he redesigned the characters and made it his own thing.
If one thing sets Grinch apart from other holiday specials, it's cartooniness. Charles Schulz drew simple two-dimensional characters, and the animation style for A Charlie Brown Christmas and other Peanuts specials is simplified to maintain the look and feel of the comic strip. There's a lot to be praised in A Charlie Brown Christmas, but amazing animation isn't one of them. Rankin-Bass' certainly has its own niche carved out in timeless holiday entertainment with its stop-motion contributions, but out of all the specials that come back year after year, How the Grinch Stole Christmas still feels the most modern to me. At least, it did until I watched it recently and began to realize that the old Warner Bros. style is no longer the norm anymore, and has given way to the thick lines and sharp corners that have become the new template of animated TV for kids.
Still, all these years later the special is still fun to watch, even if its age is starting to show (it turned 40 this year). Jones is a master of visual storytelling, which is perfect for this special. There is very little character dialogue save for Boris Karloff's narration, but it's as fun to watch as anything Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck have appeared in. The scenes involving The Grinch and his reluctant canine are priceless, and the dog's struggle between doing what's right and not wanting to upset his master is shown with absolute clarity with nary a line spoken about it. Even the heartwarming ending that is the stuff of all holiday specials is played for laughs: The Grinch literally has a change of heart, his eyes turn from red to a misty blue, and The Whos' indecipherable song turns him into a smirking dope who has all but been knocked stupid by the Christmas spirit. Jones' knack for visuals and Dr. Seuss' knack for storytelling and absurd wordplay come together perfectly in this special: a prime example of something wonderful being created from the best of two minds.