karloff vs. carrey–which “grinch” is best?

Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1957. Nine years later, it was adapted into a half-hour, animated special for television and it’s been running ever since. In 2000, Ron Howard teamed up with Jim Carrey to create a live-action version of the story, a big, colorful, noisy adaptation that ran for 104 minutes and made nearly $350 million worldwide. It was a huge success and yet… I prefer the original.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. Boris Karloff. Not only was he the voice of the animated Grinch, he also provided the narration. It was like having your grandfather read the story to you, a grandfather who was gifted at doing voices and whose own deep and resonant voice belied his age. (Karloff would die three years later at 81.) All due respect to Carrey, but an awful lot of the time, his Grinch sounded like Richard Nixon.
  2. The songs. Dr. Seuss wrote the lyrics for the songs and they were in rhyme, just like the rest of the tale. In the original animated adaptation, nothing was added to Seuss’ words because nothing needed to be added. And who can forget the signature song, “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch?” sung by Thurl Ravenscroft.
  3. Thurl Ravenscroft is not credited on Grinch, a mistake that horrified Seuss and co-producer/director Chuck Jones, who took out an ad in Variety to publicize his performance. Thurl did a lot of work for Disney but he’s probably best known for being the voice of Tony the Tiger in Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes commercials. His voice was as indelibly imprinted on the material as Karloff’s.
  4. The simplicity. Ron Howard created his own version of Seuss’ classic story but it was very much his version and not Seuss’ version. Everything about the original version had to do with the meaning of Christmas and the simplicity of the message that Christmas is in our hearts and not about the presents. Howard’s version has the same message but it’s overblown and overdone and not simple.
  5. The subtlety and sweetness. In the animated version, little Cindy Lou Who is an adorable two-year-old with wide blue eyes. In the Howard version, she’s an annoying sitcom moppet played by Taylor Momsen, who would make a splash as Jenny in Gossip Girl seven years later. It was a whole different vibe.

Animated or live action—no Christmas season is complete without a viewing of one or the other. My choice is the original.

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