On a marketing level, the latest DVD / Blu-ray release of the classic TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas certainly coincides with the newest adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book from Illumination Entertainment, succinctly titled The Grinch. This is the second film released in theaters with a Christmas theme since November started, so it seems as if the marketing gods have deemed that we mindless consumers be in the holiday spirit now, whether we like it or not.
But for some — like me — it’s still autumn, and the Halloween season lingers. I’m still drawn to the horror movies available on FilmStruck and I’m having a hard time putting away my spooky decorations. Not to mention that two days after All Hallow’s Eve, the same day Nutcracker and the Four Realms stumbled into theaters, Suspiria birthed itself bloody into the world. The end of October and beginning of November make for strange bedfellows, apparently, for mixed moods that take more than a day to resolve themselves.
Still, whether the holiday season begins for you at 12:01 a.m. on November 1 or maybe a little closer to Thanksgiving, I’m not sure there’s a better transitional Halloween-to-Christmas movie than the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas. For one, the wacky weirdness of Dr. Seuss lends itself nicely to both holidays, and for another, you’ve got Boris Karloff, the scariest, smoothest voice in horror this side of Vincent Price. The latest home video release, dubbed “The Ultimate Edition,” is well-timed for people like me who like a little muddling between the fall and winter holidays.
Beyond that, however, it’s a little unclear for whom this release of Grinchis intended. The 1966 special is ubiquitous during the holiday season, and whether you grew up with it on TV, on a VHS recording taped from TV (hello, fellow ’90s kids) or on a previous home video release, everything on “The Ultimate Edition” besides the special itself is, well, a little superfluous and confused. For example, this edition also includes the other Grinch specials, Halloween is Grinch Night (1977) and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982). Did you know those existed? No? Forget I ever mentioned them. The less said about these strange artifacts, the better.
(A quick note: While “The Ultimate Edition” does have an English subtitles option for the hearing impaired, these subtitles are absent for two out of three of the classic Grinch songs, most egregiously for “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” This omission is truly upsetting, and I hope future releases rectify this mistake.)
Meanwhile, the special features are a hodgepodge of commentaries and documentary featurettes clearly culled from previous releases. The commentary track with June Foray (the voice of Cindy-Lou Who) and animator Phil Roman is from a 2006 release, which becomes all the more apparent when a short biography of Foray in the “Who’s Who in Whoville” section mentions she died in 2017. Additionally, the three main featurettes — “Dr. Seuss and the Grinch: From Whoville to Hollywood” (2006), “Songs in the Key of Grinch” (2000) and “TNT’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas” (1994) — vary in length and intended audience but tread much of the same ground regarding the development of Grinch from book to screen. “The Grinch Song Selections” chops the songs out of the TV special for no real reason — it’s not even like this a sing-along option, like so many classic Disney DVDs / Blu-rays offer these days.
While the featurettes are interesting to watch if only to see how dated they are, it’s hard to say they’re essential viewing. The most comprehensive of the featurettes is the 1994 TV special, which is distractingly dated (Phil Hartman is the host? Why?) but still the most comprehensive regarding the Grinch’s history. All in all, these are special features probably best left untouched. The only real reason to own “The Ultimate Edition” is for Grinch itself.
And even then, the excessively bright colors and crystal clear frames of this version left me a little cold. I miss the graininess of my taped copy of How The Grinch Stole Christmas from when I was Cindy-Lou Who’s age, but I realize grainy animation is a thing of the past. The kids who see this version of Grinch will never know what they’ve missed and, while a little sad, that’s not exactly a terrible thing.
What matters is that today’s kids watch the Grinch at all, and hear Karloff’s perfect voice, and learn that Christmas doesn’t come from a store. In the days between Halloween and Christmas, it’s important that they learn that Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. And you could do much worse than giving them this version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas as a lead-up to the holidays this year.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas: The Ultimate Edition is available on DVD / Blu-ray today.