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Page to Screen: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Updated on December 15, 2015
A poster for Ron Howard's film
A poster for Ron Howard's film | Source

The Film

Brought to you by Ron Howard, (known for other films such as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Angels and Demons, and many others) this was the first live-adaptation of the original work as a couple animated shorts had already been created. Starring Jim Carrey in the titular role, this 2000 adaptation carries on the original story and inserts a lot of original content into it including the Grinch's origin as a child, an attempt by Whoville to interact with the Grinch, and the Whoville citizens who also fail to understand Christmas.

The film also stars Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon and Anthony Hopkins narrates.

The Book

Written by Theodore Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss), How the Grinch Stole Christmas was published in 1957 by Random House. It's heavily focused on the commercialization of Christmas, following a strange creature that looks down on a town full of people celebrating Christmas. This creature, called the Grinch, then hatches a plan to impersonate Santa Claus and ruin everyone's Christmas before himself learning the true spirit of Christmas.

It's largely recognized for its success as a picture book. In 2012 it was ranked number 61 among the "Top 100 Picture Books" in a survey published by School Library Journal, along with four other Dr. Seuss books.

The original book cover (note that the Grinch was originally black and white only)
The original book cover (note that the Grinch was originally black and white only) | Source

The Adaptation

What it Keeps
Everything remains intact for the live-action adaptation. The Grinch still hates Whoville and Christmas, dresses up as Santa, encounters Cindy Lou Who, has a change of heart up on his mountain, saves the presents with his newfound strength, and reconciles with his neighbors lower down on the mountain. It's amazing how some of the littler details remain in the adaptation, including many of the original lines and articles such as 'Who-pudding' and the great 'Rare Who Roast Beast.'

*Fun fact, it was the first animated flick that made the Grinch green; the live-action film kept this detail as well.

New Material

Introspect into the Old Material
This adaptation pays attention to the original work as well. For instance, the Grinch is said to live on Mount Crumpit. In order to further drive home the theme that 'Christmas isn't commercialism,' the Grinch's home is essentially the town dump; not only does all their garbage end up there, but the Grinch states that all their presents end up there, unwanted and forgotten.

The original intent of HTGSC was the threat of commercialism taking over Christmas, a holiday where at the very least, family should enjoy spending time with one another. The original film has the Grinch state that Christmas is more than presents after stealing everything, although the Whoville citizens apparently don't require presents and celebrate anyways. The movie further focuses in on this message by having the whole of Whoville believing and even celebrating the commercialism of Christmas.

Basically, despite adding a great amount of material to the source matter, this film never really contradicts the original work. The most clear contradiction was when Cindy Lou Who appeared after the Grinch's turn of heart. Which brings me to a point.

Do you believe in the Grinch?
No one actually climbs up to meet with the Grinch, which infers that no one really knows that he exists. We're given the story from his perspective only, but we're left to wonder about the mindstate of the Who's. They never acknowledge the Grinch until he suddenly pops up in their midst with all their stolen Christmas materials.

The film is obviously very different, as the Grinch grew up among them, had a humiliating moment in school, and then swore to hate everyone else while living like a recluse. It gives the Grinch a little more of a reason to hate Christmas than just 'all the joyful singing.' If anything, it's more on point to the original message. The Grinch is convinced Christmas is about presents and this is what he blames for his embarrassment, gift giving.

The film goes a bit farther with its ending too. While the book lets the Grinch carve the main entree at the Christmas dinner, the film implies that the Grinch invites them to his home where he does the same. I'm not sure how it smells, considering it's a garbage dump, but it goes the extra mile to show how far the Grinch has come.

Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) and the Grinch (Jim Carrey)
Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) and the Grinch (Jim Carrey) | Source

Mimicry at Its Finest

While also creating a lot of original content for the film, many times characters (especially the Grinch) will perform lines straight out of the original book, as well as at times purposefully twisting the original sentences. Regardless, the film does a great job in its proposed new material by keeping in 'Seuss style.' New characters have very 'Who-ville' names, characters will incessantly speak in Seuss- rhyme and style, the architecture and aesthetic all falls in line, and so on and so forth. It all fits very seamlessly, which in itself serves as a great compliment to the original work.

Closing Thoughts

Now, I'm far from saying this is a work that improves on all facets of the original material but it does go a very long way. There's a tremendous amount of work put in here, and in my opinion it all fits Seuss's style. After all, this is the highest grossing Christmas movie to date. It's certainly doing something right.

However, I will concede that often this is a vehicle for Jim Carrey acting. Those who aren't found of Jim Carrey probably won't like this film as much. At times it may feel forced, but that's most comedies. I do enjoy some of Carrey's movies from time to time, so I really don't have an issue here.

All in all, I feel this live-action adaptation does its original source justice, and then some. It improves and elaborates the original tone, theme, and plot while remaining faithful to the original goal. You don't find that often with movies based on books, even if they are books designed to help children read.

Book vs. Film

Which did you enjoy more?

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Further Reading

You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.

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