Essentially an upgrade of the 2011 collection Dr. Seuss: Holidays on the Loose, this year's questionably-titled How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Ultimate Edition is almost identical to its previous release with the addition of two loosely-related specials: Halloween is Grinch Night (1977) and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982), both of which have been newly restored for their Blu-ray debut.
Based on Dr. Seuss' beloved 1957 children's book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966, above) is still a perennial holiday favorite for kids of all ages. Featuring the strong visual talents of legendary animator Chuck Jones, voice work by Boris Karloff and June Foray, music by Albert Hague and booming vocals by Thurl "Tony the Tiger" Ravenscroft, this 26-minute story is much more than the sum of its parts. There aren't many folks who haven't experienced How the Grinch Stole Christmas in one form or another, but rarely do a book and its film adaptation complement each other so perfectly. Seuss was involved in the animated production as well, lengthening the narration by a few verses and beefing up the epilogue. Yet the original story -- about a grumpy old creature who lives on a mountain, determined to take Christmas from the peaceful folks living below -- remains totally intact. It's timeless entertainment and, without a doubt, will stay in the top tier of classic Christmas specials for decades to come.
The Grinch returned to television in Halloween is Grinch Night (below left); it's either a prequel or sequel to the main feature, depending on who you ask. Though much less remembered than its older brother, this Emmy-winning holiday special features a few familiar elements that might help first-time viewers ease into it: colorful characters and memorable songs, two of which feature vocals by Thurl Ravenscroft, as well as great Grinchy voice work by Hans "Captain Hook" Conried and an appealing visual style in line with Seuss' artwork. (It's written by the good doctor as well, but not based on an actual book.) Even the differences stand in good contrast: Joe Raposo's dramatic score is an easy highlight, the dark and muted color palette fits like a glove, and there's a few good doses of nightmare fuel in this one as well. The story itself falls a little short, however: it lacks the smooth lyrical flow of Seuss' best work, but as a whole Grinch Night still feels like a forgotten little adventure that fans should enjoy revisiting.
For obvious reasons, The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (below right) feels like the black sheep of the family: not only is it a crossover episode but takes place in an environment far removed from his cave above Whoville. The Grinch (voiced by Bob Holt this time around) been transplanted to an apartment in a colorful city, Max still lives with him, and everything's coming up roses...that is, until he renews his Grinchy vows to spread doom and gloom across the land. He targets The Cat in the Hat (Mason Adams, who also narrates) after a near-accident on the road, eventually tormenting him with inventions not far removed from a Road Runner cartoon. Its feel-good coda seems tacked on, but the memorable score (again by Joe Raposo), solid songwriting, Seuss script, and familiar characters keep everything afloat. Unfortunately, the animation is even more stripped-down than Grinch Night and, combined with the brighter environment, makes this feel more like a Saturday morning cartoon episode than a true "special".
As far as the main feature goes, this Blu-ray appears to use the same 1080p transfer as the one found on the 2009 disc, itself based on The Grinch's "50th Birthday" restoration from several years earlier. It may or may not be a different encoding but any perceived differences are negligible: featuring bright colors and crisp image detail, the only drawbacks here are occasional artifacts and mild (unavoidable) print damage. Would a new scan and clean-up job yield better results? Probably, but what we get still isn't disappointing. The real selling points are the new 1080p transfers for Halloween is Grinch Night and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat: it simply can't be overstated how much more impressive they look than their DVD counterparts, which utilized badly-worn source prints further riddled with noise reduction. In contrast, these shorts now look as great as How the Grinch Stole Christmas (relatively speaking -- they are less visually ambitious, of course) with strong colors, no obvious wear, and stable levels of film grain.
NOTE: The images on this page do not necessarily represent the title under review.
When will Warner Bros. finally wise up and use lossless audio for their catalog animation releases? Not anytime soon, apparently. How the Grinch Stole Christmas still features the same old Dolby Digital mono track as virtually ever other past release on disc, while both Halloween is Grinch Night and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat suffer the same fate as well. Don't get me wrong: the age and format ensure that a lossless audio presentation wouldn't yield night-and-day improvements, but every little bit helps (and it's not like there isn't extra room on the disc!). Grr. Anyway, optional English SDH subtitles are included during all three shorts and the applicable extras, which is probably the only good news here.
Featuring Warner's standard no-frills interface, the menu offers basic navigation that isn't bogged down by slow loading time and endless trailers. The packaging is also very reminiscent of past editions: this two-disc release arrives in a dual-hubbed blue keepcase (one Blu-ray, one DVD) with a Digital Copy sheet, colorful front artwork, and a matching glittery slipcover that doesn't shed sparkles all over the place.
These extras are taken from the 2009 disc, which all pertain to the main feature. Recycled material includes an Audio Commentary with animator Phil Roman and June Foray, the dated but interesting "Dr. Seuss and the Grinch - From Whoville to Hollywood", TNT's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas Special Edition" (a behind-the-scenes piece hosted by the late Phil Hartman), music featurette "Songs in the Key of Grinch", an underwhelming Grinch Pencil Test, an abridged assortment of Song Selections, plus a few Text Bios for Chuck Jones, Ted Geisel, Boris Karloff, and June Foray. A nice little assortment, to be sure, but it's all more than a decade old...and the lack of bonus features for those other two shorts is just as lazy.
Warner Bros. is notorious for their recycled discs, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Ultimate Edition is almost guilty on all charges. Were it not for the inclusion of lesser-seen "sequels" Halloween is Grinch Night and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (both newly restored, unlike the worn-out prints seen on the 2011 collection Dr. Seuss: Holidays on the Loose), this might as well be another sneaky repackaging job -- from the older transfer and lossy Dolby Digital audio to the same familiar assortment of extras, it's pretty much business as usual. Depending on your fondness or interest for those other two shorts, this Ultimate Edition will either be a mild curiosity or a complete pass. Recommended, but just barely.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.