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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 12/21/00



Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (new)

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
1966 (2000) - Warner Bros.

Program Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B

Specs and Features:

Approx 53 mins (both shorts combined), NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, Horton Hears a Who short feature, trivia, pencil tests, song selections, cast & crew bios, TNT's How The Grinch Stole Christmas: Special Edition featurette (1994), Songs In the Key of Grinch interview featurette (featuring composer Albert Hague and vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft), commentary (with animator Phil Roman and voice actor June Foray), film-themed menu screens, scene access (Grinch: 16 chapters, Horton: 16 chapters), languages: English, French & Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Closed Captioned



How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1st Warner release)

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
1966 (1999) - Warner Bros.

Program Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/C

Specs and Features:

Approx 53 mins (both shorts combined), NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, Horton Hears a Who short feature, Grinch trivia game, pencil tests, cast & crew bios, film-themed menu screens, scene access (Grinch: 16 chapters, Horton: 16 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0) and Spanish (DD mono), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned



How the Grinch Stole Christmas (original MGM)

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
1966 (1997) - MGM

Program Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A-/C

Specs and Features:

Approx 53 mins (both shorts combined), NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, Horton Hears a Who short feature, Grinch trivia game, pencil tests, cast & crew bios, film-themed menu screens, scene access (Grinch: 16 chapters, Horton: 16 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0) and Spanish (DD mono), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned



"The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea..."

Ah... Christmas. They say it comes but once a year, but for the Grinch that's one time too many. As everyone and their mother knows from the classic television holiday special, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the delightfully evil green furball decides that Christmas must not come. But just like Christmas... it's not what he does, but the thought that counts. The Grinch devises a plan so awful it has to be considered wonderful. I mean, impersonating Santa Claus and stealing all the Whos down in Whoville's toys and decorations (aided by Max, his trusty dog-turned-reindeer) is simply genius. He pulls the whole thing off like gangbusters. But in the end, it's the residents of Whoville who teach the Grinch a lesson and, by doing so, they convey a message of true Christmas spirit upon us all.

On his own, Dr. Seuss (real name: Theodore Geisel) has entranced children of all ages for decades with his delightful books. And Chuck Jones, no matter which studio he worked for, has inspired legions more with his animated renditions. But together, this team has given us a little bit of TV magic that could quite possibly be their most well-loved work. Ever since it first aired in 1966, How the Grinch Stole Christmas has been a staple of the holiday season. Very few films have that kind of staying power, let alone TV specials. Add to that legacy a new live-action feature-length film in theaters this holiday season and you're talking major love for the mean one, Mr. Grinch.

But why? Well that's simple - just ask a child. There is something delightfully appealing in the witty rhymes and rhythms of any of Dr. Seuss work. The character of the Grinch especially is every kid's dream play pal. He's a little offbeat, a little grumpy and well-meaning in the end. Kids can identify with that. Then there are the humorous little musical numbers that liven this short up. One compares the Grinch to an "arsenic sauce" and accompanies him as he tosses Christmas trees up chimneys and plays billiards with ornaments. Another uses nonsense words to convey the true meaning of the holiday season - no matter what denomination you are. This short is just too lovable in the same way that all of Dr. Seuss's work is lovable. And the underlying moral of the story is what has kept this a favorite of parents as well. It's nice to be able to sit back and let our children learn the real meaning of what we call Christmas (if there ever was one), not to mention find the anti-hero accepted by all in the end. Good deeds abound, and it all goes down with a spoonful of sugar thanks to the classically kooky animation.

Naturally, going totally against the meaning of the film, we find that in a commercial landscape such as ours, a true classic will ultimately have to be offered up for mass consumption. Enter then, these three dueling discs - a 1997 release from MGM, the exact same disc as re-released by Warner in 1999 and a new "special edition" version from Warner released just this year. Which one should I buy? Well... at the moment, as only the new Warner version is available, that answer is obvious. But we're going to take a look at all three anyway.

Starting with the video quality of each disc, we hit the one major difference right away. The new Warner disc features a "computer-enhanced" image. By that, I mean to say that the picture quality has been cleaned up digitally, and the color timing has been revisited. To the non-discerning viewer, this won't really mean much. But if you watch carefully, and do an A-B comparison with an earlier disc, you'll definitely see the enhancements. Now, there is a flip-side to this (and of course there would have to be) - the enhancement actually makes the colors look a bit different from what you may remember from your childhood TV viewing. For most, that's not a big deal. For others (we'll call these folks purists), it makes this disc a less favorable experience. Never fear though - the MGM disc (and the first Warner release, which is identical to the MGM version) is completely faithful to the original TV presentation. It represents the Grinch as you remember it quite well, with muted colors and source flaws included. Personally, I found the new Warner disc's video to be superior - it cleans up as much of the source defects as possible and updates the look of the film nicely.

The audio on these DVDs, on the other hand, presents an entirely different take. For my money, I'd have to say that the MGM disc's audio (and the first Warner release) is actually more robust and crisper than the new Warner version. For some inexplicable reason, there's a somewhat muted quality to the Warner disc's Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. In the end, it's not a major issue, but for sake of comparison, the audio nod has to go to the MGM disc.

Now we get to the extras, and this is where Warner's new disc really kicks things up a notch. The MGM and original Warner discs feature just the basics: a few character pencil tests, a trivia game and a couple pages of production trivia. But Warner has really added to that mix for the new release. The new bonus material includes a commentary featuring animator Phil Roman and voice actress June Foray (who voiced Cindy Lou Who). Roman basically answer questions from Foray about which animator did what and what it was like working on the project. The track gets a bit boring, when it should have been the disc's shining gem, but it's there at least. You also get Songs in the Key of Grinch, which features video interviews with composer Albert Hague and vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft (who is more famous as the voice of Tony the Tiger). This featurette beats the pants off the commentary track hands down and includes some awesome stories and informative nuggets of trivial lore. But perhaps the most comprehensive extra is the TNT's How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Special Edition which clocks in at around 20 minutes. Hosted by the late, great Phil Hartman, it includes interviews, raw pencil animation and production drawings. To say the least, this batch of extras comes together to beat any previous presentation of this classic anywhere.

It should also be noted that both discs also feature the Seuss short Horton Hears a Who (also directed by Chuck Jones), which has its own tiny batch of extras like pencil tests and song selections. It roughly matches up with the Grinch as far as video and audio quality on each disc. It's not as much of a classic as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but it's easily as intelligent and is a robust piece of Seussian animation.

So there you go. Based on the extras and the video quality, the new Warner re-release must be counted as the better disc of the three, and I'd recommend it over the earlier versions. However, if you're like some of my friends (purists all), you'll be aghast that the colors look a bit different than you remember them. If that's the case for you, try to find one of the earlier versions from Warner or MGM instead. Just keep in mind that the covers on both Warner versions are almost identical, except that (if still wrapped) the new Warner disc features a red sticker promoting the new digital transfer. The Warner Bros. Family Entertainment logo is also a bit larger on the new release. Be sure to check the spec list on the back to make sure of which version you're getting.

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com


Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas


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