“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”
This year especially, we could all use a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. Watching classic Christmas movies is a great way to bring some holiday cheer into the home.
The 1966 animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one of the best Christmas movies that many families still watch each year. The allure of the Grinch led to two modern adaptations, both emotionally powerful in portraying our favorite troublemaker’s tale of transformation.
We don’t want to touch the Grinch with “a thirty-nine and a half foot pole” any more than we ever did. But we might feel his heart-expanding journey just a bit more this season.
Keep reading to revisit the details behind each one of these classic Christmas movies.
Why not put all three movies on your viewing wish list? Cindy Lou Who would approve of such Christmas spirit.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
The original animated movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a classic that remains a hands-down favorite for young and old. Based on Dr. Seuss’s classic book of the same name, the movie first aired on December 18, 1966. The Grinch cast includes Boris Karloff as the narrator and voice of the Grinch, June Foray as Cindy Lou Who, and Dal McKennon as Max the dog. Thurl Ravenscroft sings the classic, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
At 26 minutes, the Grinch original is a tight masterpiece—the wit, the wonder of Whoville, the epic meanie everyone loves to hate and then loves to love once he reforms. The animation is a huge wow visually–still jaw-dropping when we see Whoville in all its Christmas glory.
Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel teamed up with legendary animator Chuck Jones to create the movie. Viewers in ‘66 became obsessed with Whoville and wanted to know the translation of the “Fahoo Fores” song. Turns out, those particular words are made up by Seuss and don’t mean anything at all!
Today, Boris Karloff, of Frankenstein’s monster fame, is still widely considered the best Grinch voice. Fans of the original movie enjoy reciting the clever lines and singing the iconic songs. They also love the simple storyline where the Grinch is awful mainly because he’s super annoyed by the singing and noisy festivities of Whoville.
There’s no dark backstory explaining how the Grinch came to be so mean. The song emphasizes his hatefulness—garlic in his soul, termites in his smile—but in the movie he doesn’t come across as evil. He’s more of a grumpy man shaking his fist at Christmas from his lonely perch on Mount Crumpit. The noisy joy bothers him, as well as Christmas consumerism.
But in the end, when his eureka moment grows his heart three sizes–well, the relief is huge because underneath it all, we root for the Grinch. And we love the simple, elegant symbol of transformation. The movie is the definition of joy. This holiday season, when everyone is feeling a little lonely in their home cave, we could use a dose of Whoville optimism and connection.
Directed by Ron Howard and narrated by Anthony Hopkins, this live-action movie stars Jim Carrey as the Grinch. This update to the original runs 105 minutes and is the second-highest grossing holiday film of all time at the box office, with worldwide earnings of more than $345 million.
Alongside Carrey, still celebrated for his performance, the Grinch 2000 cast includes Taylor Momsen (Cindy Lou Who), Kelley (Max), Jeffrey Tambor (Mayor Augustus Maywho), Christine Baranski (Martha May Whovier), Bill Irwin (Lou Lou Who), and Molly Shannon (Betty Lou Who).
Grinch fans will love this modern adaptation, even if the bad boy goes off the rails at times. At one point, he calls himself a “psycho,” and he might remind viewers of the “Joker” from the Batman series in his manic vengeance. That’s partly Jim Carrey’s signature excesses, and partly a portrayal of a wounded soul turned vengeful.
Turns out the Grinch was bullied by the Whos in his childhood because he was different. They ridiculed his beard and his other-ness. This builds into a traumatic moment that sends the Grinch fleeing from Whoville. The story unfolds with the familiar clash between him and Whoville; he visits the town only occasionally when he feels like creating chaos.
The story becomes emotionally complex with three key elements: the wonderfully drawn character of Cindy Lou Who; the flawed and sometimes greedy citizens of Whoville; and the Grinch’s love interest (Baranski). Lots of comic elements are thrown in the mix. But it’s Cindy Lou Who who carries the movie with her kindness, empathy, and intellectual fearlessness (she has her own “yuletide doubts,” she admits to the Grinch).
The Grinch’s epiphany and transformation are satisfying, too. His pivot adheres to the meaning of the Dr. Seuss story. He has to feel first, in a private moment, before he can feel for others—a psychological truth that Howard tries to show on screen.
“What’s happening to me?!” the Grinch wails as his heart thumps and feelings pour into him. Oh, and Max gets to recognize the new Grinch in a wonderfully real way. Max fans will not be disappointed!
As of today, you can watch this classic Christmas movie on Netflix.
The Grinch (2018)
The 2018 Grinch cast stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch, Cameron Seely as Cindy Lou Who, Rashida Jones as Donna Who, and Pharrell Williams as the Narrator. The movie runs 92 minutes and is produced by Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy.
This animated adaptation simply called The Grinch will have you “heart to heart” throughout the whole movie. It’s visually gorgeous, and the vibe and story twists are modern without being too jarring or psychologically probing. The Grinch here is more of a sourpuss compared to the 2000 version of the holiday film.
As expected, The Grinch has a sad backstory—he was lonely as a child, left in an orphanage, and so his isolation intensifies around the holidays. He grows up to be edgy, sarcastic, resentful, and prone to stressed-out eating. But he’s far less angry than the Grinch in Howard’s movie. If you’ve ever heard someone say, ‘the Grinch is just misunderstood’—you’ll find that portrayal in this movie.
Cindy Lou Who is an affecting character, too. In this movie she tries to get a letter to Santa to ask him to help her single Mother. Cindy has twin baby brothers, and her Mother is overworked between her job and parenting. She hatches a plan to trap Santa when he enters her home on Christmas Eve; that way, she can state her case.
The story unfolds in the familiar way, but with some fresh twists and delights. The part of the movie that really satisfies is the ending, when the Whos embrace the Grinch quickly after he apologizes to them. Cindy invites the Grinch to a celebration at her house, which is full of extended family and a few neighbors. They eagerly bring him into their fold. Whoville “gets” him without a lot of fuss. It’s a soulful moment of easy forgiveness before moving on to the celebration. The Grinch gets to cut the “roast beast” of course, as the guest of honor.
The Grinch raises his glass and leads the Whos in a toast, saying “To kindness and love, the things we need most!”
The little girl that ties all 3 films together
What brings down the house for viewers everywhere for all three Grinch movies is the pure heart of a little girl. In this movie, Cindy Lou Who is just a toddler, but her selfless love for her Mother is the holiday magic that plants the seed in the Grinch.
In the 2000 version of this classic Christmas movie, Cindy Lou Who is 6 years old and takes Whoville by storm. The town needs a shakeup, and she’s exactly right for the job. She even calls out the Mayor on his hypocrisy, as she nominates the Grinch to be “Holiday Cheermeister” for their celebration.
And let’s not forget the original Cindy Lou Who, who is seared into our memory from the 1966 holiday film. She melts our heart with her large observant eyes and her honest questioning of a Santa fraudster. It’s like innocence staring down the wicked, and we love it.
Now, grab that cup of hot chocolate and settle in for a Grinchfest! Like us on Facebook and share your favorite Grinch film in our latest post.
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