Three Grinches, Three Ways to Steal Christmas

It’s been more than six decades and Christmas is still not safe.

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Mekado Murphy
, New York Times

It’s been more than six decades and Christmas is still not safe.

The Grinch is returning for more holiday theft, this time in a computer-animated film more vivid and immersive than Dr. Seuss might have imagined when he wrote his 1957 children’s classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

The hairy grouch has been captivating generations of children in different ways over the years, from the 1966 animated special on television to the 2000 live-action (and live-wire) comedy on the big screen with Jim Carrey. A musical version hit Broadway in 2006.

On Nov. 9, Illumination, the company that gave us the Minions, has a go with “The Grinch.” It takes audiences back to Christmas-adoring Who-ville, with a digitally retooled “mean one” who’s still not drinking the eggnog. Below is a closer look at how the Grinches and Who-villes have stacked up over the years.

Giving a Village a Makeover

The book only hinted at the town layout in relatively sparse line drawings. The television special gave it a bit of midcentury mod style, color and vitality. In 2000, the colors and props were multiplied to excess, with the town’s residents embracing a level of heightened materialism that seemed to be what the Grinch was railing against. That set was strung with 52,000 Christmas lights, and the design aesthetic was a combination of potpourri and candy-cane-explosion chic.

The makers of the new “Grinch” had yet a different conception.

“What we tried to do was make it a wonderful Christmas place, where they decorated and it was this beautiful holiday experience,” said Yarrow Cheney, who directed the film with Scott Mosier. “But we didn’t want it to go so far that it felt like it was broken and too kitschy.”

Production designer Colin Stimpson said that he and his team looked at the architecture of alpine villages to decide what materials should be used for the buildings and bridges, mostly wood and stone. “But then we added to that the Seuss-shaped language,” he said. That meant a stacked town that rises to a peak, much like the whimsically angular mountains that surround it. While it’s not a place of complete excess, this Who-ville is filled with the distinct and elaborate detail that computer animation can provide.

Making Ugly Prettier

The Grinch has always had a kind of goofy, semi-sinister look, but aside from the hair and the pear shape, the details have changed over the years. The Grinch of the book was black and white with pink eyes. Animator Chuck Jones made him green for the TV special and his face looked more like Jones’. The movement was in keeping with the style of the Looney Tunes characters Jones was known for animating. The live-action version had Carrey in makeup that looked something like a combination of a gorilla and a Muppet. The new version aims to get back to the source.

The filmmakers looked at the simplicity of the original drawings and worked out the best way to realize them in a three-dimensional space. So that pear shape becomes really pear-y. And while the live-action Grinch was somewhat off-putting in his menacing slapstick, this version of the character, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a little more relatable.

“The story point we were trying to push was the redemptive power of kindness,” Stimpson said. “So we wanted the characters to appeal to kids and adults as well.”

The new Grinch, while of course sharing features with the original, sports a softer, more cuddly look. Even when he’s plotting the most horrible of actions, he has fine, bright fur and an expressive face.

Now he looks like he just needs a hug.

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