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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) (Blu-ray)
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // October 6, 2009 // Region Free
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 12, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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All the Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not.
The Grinch hated Christmas...the whole Christmas season.
Oh, please don't ask why; no one quite knows the reason.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight
Or maybe his head wasn't screwed on just right.
But I think that the best reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

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The Grinch doesn't skulk around three thousand feet up Mt. Crumpet for the view...he's hermetically sealed himself up there to keep at arm's length from those pesky Whos down in Whoville. Every Christmas morning like clockwork, they trot out of their tidy little houses, hold hands, and sing. Bah. To a Grinch, that's kind of like nails on chalkboard, only in a bad way. And those rackety, clackety presents! Something has to be done, so that fiendish little green furball cobbles together a cacklingly nefarious scheme: swoop into Whoville gussied up as Santy Claus, swipe all the presents, decorations, and every last morsel of food, and those Whos down in Whoville will be boo-hoo-hooing. That's sweet music to a Grinch. So, with his very reluctant pooch Max lugging the sleigh around, The Grinch slinks in at the dead of night to pick Whoville clean. Geez, you really are a mean one, Mister Grinch!

I know, I know...some families whip up some hot cocoa, sit around the TV, and soak in It's a Wonderful Life every year. Me...? It was always How the Grinch Stole Christmas. What's not to love? There's Dr. Seuss' deft wordplay and skewed visual style, for one. Chuck Jones takes the sketches from the original book and does a spectacular job bringing them all to life through animation. Without Jones' flawless timing and twisted sensibility, it's kind of tough to imagine How the Grinch Stole Christmas being the timeless holiday classic it's been for more than four full decades now. The mid-'60s television budget doesn't give Jones the chance to heap on the sort of polish of his best Looney Tunes work, but it's every bit as expressive and has all the splashes of imagination I've come to expect from his work. All those scowls and sinister smirks make for a heckuva hiss-worthy bad guy, and Boris Karloff -- himself no stranger to playing green monsters -- infuses that misanthropic green furball with just the right amount of menace. Karloff also pulls double duty with the narration, and his charming, melodic delivery complements those Seussian sensibilities exceptionally well. Oh, and who would've thought a musical number with lyrics about seasick crocodiles and termite-ridden teeth could be this infectious?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas crams just about everything I love about Dr. Seuss and Chuck Jones into the space of 26 minutes: its terrifically skewed designs, an offbeat wit that's endured for more than forty years now, a genuine heart thumping around underneath it all, and a charm and lasting appeal that runs up and down the entire family. Hey, there's a reason I keep rattling off words like "timeless" and "classic" all over this review. Recommended.

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas looks terrific in high definition, especially compared to the other DVD releases that have come and gone over the years. The first DVD I picked up all the way back in 2001 was extremely grainy, and the Grinch's fur was more of a mustard yellow than the lime-grinchy-green we all know and love. Even the DVD from a few months back has some mosquito noise that looks pretty nasty splashed across a 60" screen. The linework on this Blu-ray disc is crisper and much better defined, especially in wider shots where the distinctness and clarity belted out here really shine. A very, very faint trace of grain is still visible. Sometimes the grain coupled with the layers of the different cels that've been stacked together look kind of noisy when the camera pans, but that shouldn't be chalked up as a flaw with this Blu-ray disc. This remaster is just extremely clean and clear, sporting a punchy palette and not bogged down by any speckling or wear at all. At the end of the day, this is still a modestly budgeted TV special from 1966, so there's definitely an upper limit to how spectacular How the Grinch Stole Christmas can possibly look, but I can't really picture it ever coming across much better than this.

It kind of goes without saying that this twenty-six minute television special doesn't have any trouble squeezing onto a single layer Blu-ray disc. Even with all of the extras, this high definition presentation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas could've fit on a regular DVD with plenty of room to spare! The special is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 -- the same as when it first aired more than forty years ago -- and the video has been encoded with VC-1.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is lugging around the exact same Dolby Digital mono audio (192Kbps) as the DVD, so don't hold out hope for any improvement here. It's a passable track, especially considering that this wasn't any sort of lavishly budgeted theatrical spectacle in the first place. The rendering of the dialogue and narration by Boris Karloff does sound fairly harsh and dated, and I found myself dialing down the volume quite a bit more than usual to compensate. The musical numbers are much more lively, though, but the songs and the effects don't trump what I'd expect to hear on broadcast TV either.

I'm not sure if lossless audio or even a lossy track with a beefier bitrate would've made much of a difference here, considering the limitations of the source material. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is perfectly listenable on Blu-ray, but keep your expectations in check. There aren't any dubs or alternate mixes this time around, and the only subtitle option is an English track for the deaf and hard of hearing.

  • Audio Commentary: This Blu-ray disc carries over the same commentary track with animator Phil Roman and voice actress June Foray as earlier DVD releases. It's an amiable, likeable chat, but...no, there's really not all that much insight to be gleaned here. Roman delves into the mindset of an animator and is frequently able to note who'd contributed what to quite a few shots. He also speaks about Chuck Jones' approach as a director and just how many months it took to produce the special. Foray really didn't do all that much voicework this time around, and she doesn't have much to say about her work here in particular, although she does quickly break into Witch Hazel for a second there. I think this might've played better as an interview or if one or two other people had been crammed into the recording booth with 'em...there's just not all that much commentary being dished out here.

  • Dr. Seuss and the Grinch - From Whoville to Hollywood (16 min., SD): There's a pretty decent bio on Ted Geisel -- y'know, Dr. Seuss -- buzzing around in here, delving into his imagination and artistry, how he approached his books both as a writer and as an artist, his complete disinterest in straight lines and straight answers, falling for Whoville enough that he'd give the place another whirl with his new pal Horton, as well as his collaborations with Chuck Jones both before and as part of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It's definitely aimed more towards the junior set, though, especially with the really obnoxious raps that bridge each segment.

  • TNT's How the Grinch Stole Christmas Special Edition (19 min., SD):
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    Hosted by Phil Hartman, this retrospective runs nearly as long as the animated special itself. Chuck Jones, Audrey Geisel (Mrs. Dr. Seuss!), vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft, and songwriter Albert Hague all offer their thoughts along with fellow fans Danny Elfman and Tim Burton. The featurette breezes through how the book first came together, Geisel's initial disinterest in an animated version, and how such a short book was fleshed out to fill its 26 minute runtime. They also chat about the appeal of Seuss' skewed imagery, Geisel doing his best to make sure Ravenscroft's contributions were appreciated even though he didn't score an onscreen credit, bringing Boris Karloff onboard, and composing what might be the first Christmas polka the world over. As much as I love Phil Hartman, he really hams it up here, and that can be kinda tough to swallow. Along with playing host, Hartman also runs through the fundamentals of animation, including how many frames it takes to produce a single second of footage, how key the right voice is for a cartoon, and the inventiveness that goes along with recording sound effects.

  • Songs in the Key of Grinch (8 min., SD): Singer Thurl Ravenscroft and composer Albert Hague both speak briefly about their backgrounds as well as their contributions to what'd go on to be such a timeless classic. Hague chats about winning Geisel over with just a spin through one chorus, and Ravenscroft touches on the recording process -- taking turns with several other vocalists! -- at MGM's studios.

  • Grinch Pencil Test (SD): The title's misleading, really; these aren't animated pencil tests at all but a set of three extremely low-resolution storyboards. It's not as if an actual pencil test would've been hard to dig up since there's quite a bit of that in the TNT retrospective.

  • Song Selections: Snippets of the music from How the Grinch Stole Christmas are belted out over a static menu screen.

  • Who's Who in Whoville?: Brief textual bios are served up for Chuck Jones, Ted Geisel, Boris Karloff, and June Foray.

  • Trailers (3 min., SD): Plugs for a couple other DVDs -- they're not trailers so much, but that's how the menu's labeled -- round it all out.

The second disc in the set doubles as both a DVD and a digital copy. It's probably worth noting that the digital copy is only for use on Windows Media-powered devices, and iPods and Macs are getting the brush-off this time around. This Blu-ray disc comes packaged in a bright green plastic case that slips into an embossed cardboard sleeve complete with snowy sparkles all over the front.

The Final Word
I have to admit that it feels like Warner Bros. is being...well, kinda grinchy with this Blu-ray disc. Oh, don't get me wrong: How the Grinch Stole Christmas is clearly a timeless holiday classic, it looks gorgeous on Blu-ray, and this disc dishes out a fair number of extras (even if most of 'em really aren't that great). It's just that at the end of the day, this is still a twenty-six minute TV special with a $29.99 sticker price. That's more than a dollar a minute, and even after the usual discounts on sites like Amazon, it's still only a couple of bucks less than the lavish special editions of Up and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. My first Grinch DVD also piled on Horton Hears a Who! while it was at it, and maybe a double feature like that would've made this Blu-ray disc tougher to pass up. I'll still cheerfully recommend this high-def release of an animated classic I've adored for decades now, but it really would be worth holding out for the price to ease back. Recommended...just not at this price.
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