Everyone’s favorite holiday-hating curmudgeon is back with Illumination Entertainment’s The Grinch. The animation studio behind Despicable Me and The Lorax, re-imagines Dr. Seuss’s beloved children’s book as a rollicking big-screen adventure. But as you watch a Benedict Cumberbatch-voiced Grinch scowl, slink, and steal, you’ll likely be comparing this festive film to Chuck Jones’s iconic TV special, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! After all, that’s the version that made its titular anti-hero green and originated the catchy Christmas jam “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
So how does The Grinch compare to Dr. Seuss’s 1957 picture book and Chuck Jones’ classic 1966 cartoon? We break it down below. SPOILERS AHEAD.
“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” gets a smooth groove cover.
The original track was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. Best known as the voice of Tony The Tiger in Frosted Flakes commercials, he did it with an enchantingly grumbly bravado. The 2018 cover is a collaboration from Tyler The Creator and Danny Elfman, and includes performances by Tyler and a kiddie chorus. In The Grinch, it plays over the opening sequence, setting up its sneering subject as he goes through his morning routine of coffee and crankiness.
The Grinch’s speech is not confined to rhyme.
The ‘66 version was produced by Jones and Seuss (credited as Ted Geisel), so its script was a pretty close adaptation, taking on the book’s rhymes with relish. While there are lines pulled from Seuss’s text in The Grinch, its characters have a more casual manner of speaking, allowing for references to “emotional eating,” silly asides, and earnest conversations to happen with greater ease. Besides, 90 minutes of Seuss-style rhyming would probably be too much of a good thing.
The new narrator brings a happier vibe.
The ‘66 version boasted horror-movie icon Boris Karloff as its Grinch and its narrator. Reportedly, Geisel fought this casting troubling, worrying that the man who played Frankenstein’s monster would be too scary for kiddos. Little worry of that with “Happy” singer Pharrell Williams in the role of the narrator. He lends a smile to every line, introducing Whoville and its residents with warmth and reverie.
The Grinch loses a bit of his snarl.
Karloff leaned into curmudgeon with his vocal performance, giving his Grinch an audible sneer. Cumberbatch has given voice to baddies like The Hobbit Trilogy’s Smaug and Doctor Strange’s Dormammu. But he eases up on the glowering and growling for his Grinch, offering something far more silly than scary.
Cindy Lou Who is a kick-butt little heroine now.
She’s no longer a toddling two-year-old confounded by this poorly disguised holiday home invader. The Grinch gives Cindy Lou surprising character depth and a significant amount of screentime. Here, she’s a rambunctious little girl who loves hockey, waffles, and the color pink, but most of all her harried single-mom. And hoping to get the best holiday possible for dear Donna Who, this clever kiddo concocts a plan to meet Santa and ask him personally for a very special holiday wish. While her design has a trace of influence from her predecessors, this precocious and pro-active kiddo gets much more to do than crash the Grinch’s robbery and look cute. She even offers him a few sage words that help spark his change of heart (size).
The Grinch gets a backstory.
Both the book and the ‘66 cartoon offered no justification for why The Grinch hates Christmas so much. Instead, they declared through narration, “The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.” But now we know why.* In The Grinch, his hatred of Christmas is succinctly explained in tragic flashback. As an orphaned lil’ Grinch, he was alone in the cold at Christmas, watching as the Who girls and boys played with their toys and parents, drooling as whole families gathered together to feast, feast, feast on Who-pudding and rare Who-roast-beast, feeling woefully excluded from their signature singing. All of the above hardened his heart (or shrunk it) against the holidays and his Whoville neighbors.
The Grinch is still green but less mean (especially to Max)!
Dr. Seuss originally depicted the Grinch in black and white drawings, with pink eyes. It was Jones who opted to make him that green. Grinch helmers Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier followed suit, but added a few flares of their own. The color is more vivid, with matching cuffs and collar. And he still wears shoes! Though this time, they and his pants are made of green fur that matches his own, for a seamless (and strangely nude) look! Plus, the Grinch employs “Green Goddess” dye to chase away the greys. But that’s a secret between him and the Who-beauty aisle.
Cheney and Mosier also softened their Grinch around the edges. He’s still a mean one, who will gleefully ruin a kid’s snowman or go out of his way to be a jerk to his neighbors, but he’s no longer downright abusive to his dog Max! Sure, he grouses and groans. But The Grinch shows the two having a much better relationship than in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, where the poor pup was bullied, barked at, and even whipped! In The Grinch, they share the same table for meals and even cuddle up on cold nights.
The Grinch actually wrangles a reindeer this time!
In neither the book nor the cartoon short did the Grinch find a reindeer to guide his sleigh, forcing him to employ his poor pup in its place. But in The Grinch, he and Max march together through the relentless, freezing winds across unforgiving mountain terrains in hopes to lure a herd of animal accomplices with his mating-call horn. Once their scheme is spoiled, the Grinch nonetheless lassos then befriends Fred, a plump reindeer who makes a mean cup of coffee but will bail before the big night. Which makes Max—with a big horn tied to his head—the sole “reindeer” for this faux-Santa’s sleigh.
High-tech tools are the new slithering and slunk.
Dressed as Santa, the Grinch rides a sleigh into Whoville, then slips into every single house, robbing it blind. But this time, he’s less cat-burglar and more James Bond. A reclusive engineer, he’s built a slew of devilish inventions like tree-binding ninja stars, giant candy canes that throw gift-grabbing nets, and Go-Go-Gadget winter boots that expand with teeny scissor-lifts. It’s Despicable Me meets Dr. Seuss, bringing an added dash of spectacle and whimsy to this family-friendly holiday romp.
The literal cliffhanger gets a change-up.
In each version of this classic tale, the Grinch has a change of heart at the tip of Mr. Crumpit, where he’s gone to dump all the Whos’ holiday goodies. In the ‘66 version, he teeters with it on the edge of a cliff in a memorable action scene! But The Grinch knows you see that coming. Instead, they pull this trick where he clamors to secure his vehicle, in an earlier sequence involving a cliff-perched catapult. And when it comes to this momentous mountain moment, the Grinch doesn’t just teeter, he falls as Crumpit’s tip gives way! But the day is saved by a deus ex machina named Fred.
The Grinch, he himself, still carves the roast beast.
After his heart grows and he restores what he stole, the Grinch is invited to that coveted feast. And in this expanded version of the story, he doesn’t do so with a bunch of anonymous Whos. He has newly minted friends in the ever-chipper Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), the caring Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely), and her proud mom (Rashida Jones). The roast beast itself looks a little different (it no longer has protruding turkey-like legs), but the sensation it ignites as the Grinch beholds it and all his friends will burn warmly in your heart, and maybe make it grow three sizes.
*Yes. I’m ignoring Jim Carrey’s live-action version. I advise you do too.