Friday, January 2, 2015

Coming to Terms with the Disturbing Chronological Inconsistencies in Dr. Seuss' Animated Grinch Trilogy

The Grinch

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We all know the story. A grumpy old Grinch grinches his way to Christmas by disguising himself as Santa Claus, with his faithful dog, Max, and stealing Christmas, literally, from the unsuspecting and benevolent residents of Whoville. His devilishly evil plot is thwarted by the Whos themselves, who sing together, happily, despite the absence of their materialistic belongings, embracing the basic fundamentals of the Christian holiday, of love and devotion, and commitment to Christ (we can suppose). Touched by this basic decency, "Maybe Christmas, perhaps, doesn't come from a store." the Grinch's heart grows three sizes that day, and instead of suffering from an abnormally swelling heart and dying instantly (this movie admittedly does take some dramatic licenses), he gathers the strength to save all of the gifts that nearly plummet off his mountain, and returns them to the Whos of Whoville, though they really didn't need them anymore because love. Finis.

Except not finis. Emboldened by the success of this iconic Christmas movie, their were two subsequent followups to the 1966 tale, which bring up serious questions within the Grinch canon (we will ignore the more recent 2000 live action film of the same name, starring Jim Carey, and The Grinch in the Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, with the assumption that they exist in a realm separate from the animated chronology).

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977) 


The Grinch Halloween

The superior of the two follow ups would undeniably be Halloween is Grinch Night, which, needless to say, attempted to do for Halloween what the character previously did for Christmas, presenting a story that would embody the true meaning of the holiday. One wonders what stories could have unfolded if the character had been given other holidays. Perhaps a Thanksgiving story, or Easter, or maybe Hanukkah? Eight Holy Days for the Grinch. The possibilities, like the holidays, are endless.

But, I digress.

This story takes an expectantly darker look at not just the character of the Grinch, but the surroundings of Whoville. What's most bizarre is the shift from the kindly world of Whoville from the first film to an existence wrought with peril. While Whoville itself is rather idyllic, a sudden and dark "sour sweet" wind awakens, in the surrounding forest, the Gree Grumps from their tree stumps, causing them to growl and howl, awakening the inhabitants of the sinister pond, which houses large green sea monsters, that subsequently yowl. The cacophony of sounds signals, and thereby outrages the Grinch, who, as tradition dictates, decides to make his descent into Whoville and cause untold mischief.

And truthfully, the mischief is literally untold - we have no real sense of what exactly the Grinch will do once he arrives at the base of the mountain, and how many times he has done this unspeakable evil onto the Whos of Whoville, though it seems like an ongoing conflict - the Whos even have a call center that monitors the Grinch's activity.

A young Who named Euchariah is the one who thwarts the Grinch's schemes, not through basic decency, but by constantly getting in the way of the Grinch and delaying his arrival. Perhaps it's because of the "trick" dimension of the holiday that this solution is called for, though it is far less fulfilling than the redemption song of the previous movie.

The Grinch uses his demonic powers to scare Euchariah, giving an unsettling scene of ghouls and ghosts that puts into question the very nature of the Grinch.

Nightmare Grinch

As he was presented in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch was just a grumpy outcast in the mountains. Here, he's the lord of monsters, a keeper of frights, a representation of evil. It's a startling change, one that gives a different, unsettling angle to the rest of the Grinch trilogy. Yes, the Grinch is thwarted, and time for him, this time, runs out. He returns up the mountain, vowing to return, hinting, perhaps, of the Christmas scheme to follow.

This can almost be viewed as a prequel to his Christmas vengeance, ignoring the fact that he is somehow the Demon King (who doesn't use his demon powers, for whatever reason, on the Whos during Christmas). Though it is strange that the Whos seem unconcerned of him during Christmas, perhaps they never faced the Grinch during this holiday.

But then there's that damn dog, Max. At the end of Halloween is Grinch Night, Max leaves his spiteful owner and takes up with Euchariah, which brings up the question: how did Max return to the Grinch between this movie and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, if it has, in fact, taken place before that movie's chronology.

Max Grinch

Did the Grinch kidnap Max during the next Grinch Night? Did Max run away from Euchariah and his family? Did something terrible happen to Euchariah? These sinister questions dampens any catharsis felt for Euchariah and his heroics by the end of the movie, as one can gather that an ignoble end awaits him. If Halloween is Grinch Night somehow takes place after How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and one can argue that, considering both the power the Grinch now has accumulated and Max being featured with the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas), then it puts into question the very idea of change and growth in the character, dimming the genuine cheer of the Christmas classic. But maybe the third film will enlighten us to the Grinch's chronological character arc? But then again, maybe not.

The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat (1982) 

Grinch Cat in the Hat

Which brings us to the lesser Grinch movie, The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. And when I say lesser, I mean far lesser than the previous two Grinch movies. What's appalling with this movie is the absolute disregard of both the continuity that has been established in the Grinch canon and the textured characterization inherent in the previous interpretations of the main characters. That's not all. The animation is subpar. The songs are without melody. The color palette is sickening and inconsistent. The language is decidedly faux-Seuss, with an occasional rhyme but with none of the absurdity.

We open on a beautiful day (where? Clearly not Whoville as there are no Whos present). Even the Grinch is in a good mood, until he reaches his reflection in the mirror, who has a mind of his own (a psychological representation here, predating Peter Jackson's interpretation of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by two decades). What's interesting is not the representation of this mirror duality, but the oath that the mirror requires the Grinch to recite: "A Grinch is unhelpful, unfriendly, unkind. With ungracious thoughts, in an unhealthy mind." (and so on, and so forth)

The Grinch Oath

This oath implies that the Grinch is one of many Grinches, all born of this singularly foul disposition, which brings up larger, unintended philosophical questions regarding learned behaviors as opposed to instinctual drives (nurture vs. nature), but also could possibly clear up the inconsistencies that these three movies have created.

Namely: Every Grinch in every Grinch movie could be a different Grinch. That would explain his redemptive arc in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and his devilish turn in Halloween is Grinch Night, to this grumpy figure who is not even in Whoville for his confrontation with the Cat in the Hat. That would explain the very different characters we see in all three movies. But what it doesn't explain is that damn dog. Max, once again, proves to be the wrench that unhinges the wheels of any practical analysis. How can the Grinch be different Grinches if they all own a dog named Max? This cannot be so, unless there are a species of Maxes that are always called Max (nothing in the Seussian nomenclature would lead to this conclusion). Moreover, if there were a breed of Maxes all called Max, why would all of the Maxes accompany Grinches?

No, this is the same Grinch and the same Max, and they are not in Whoville anymore, but they have run into the popular and cheery Cat in the Hat who behaves decidedly unlike the character from the original animated movie (let alone the book it was adapted from).

Cat in the Hat the Grinch

The Cat in the Hat in The Cat in the Hat was a madcap character, clever, a little mean (but meaning well). He's an agent of destruction. A hurricane - a force of nature that brings calamity to the lives of the children he entertains/torments. Who else would be just the right match for the Grinch? That was probably the impetus in the creation of this movie - these two opposing forces of indomitable will. Dr. Seuss's Batman vs. Superman. 

Except this Cat in the Hat doesn't match wits with the Grinch - he plays victimized foil to the Grinch's repeated bullying. The cleverness is gone. The biting humor is absent. Yes, in a way, the Cat in the Hat does start this conflict by leaving his car in the middle of the road while he picnics (very unsafe), impeding the progress of the Grinch in his own car. He even calls the Grinch, while apologizing, "Mr. Green Face," which, at the very least, is fucking racist.

The Grinch responds by chasing the Cat in the Hat's car with his own, nearly killing him as he races home. This is when the true extent of the Grinch's power is revealed. While the Cat in the Hat sings at his home, he is disrupted by, as the Grinch calls it, "the Acoustial Audio Bleeper." This device disrupts and gargles audio in any way the Grinch sees fit. It even has a fifty-mile radius, which is very impressive for a prototype model. You may be wondering how the Grinch has become so technologically adept, and you would be right to do so. He seemingly reveals startling new abilities with each animated movie. In this movie, the Grinch is a technical genius, reaching near god-like levels. He even has his own "Dark House," which emits literal darkness on the Cat in the Hat and any other surrounding victims.

Dark House Grinch

The Grinch can control sound. He can control light. As the movie becomes more abstract, it's as if the Grinch can control reality itself, changing the composition of matter and the very laws of the physical world.

The Grinch abstract

By the end of the movie, the Cat in the Hat confronts the Grinch, through song, reminding the Grinch of his dear old mother. Maybe this was to coincide with Mother's Day, keeping with the holiday spirit of the other Grinch movies? It does seem forced, but a redemption is a redemption, and the Grinch changes his ways, at least for a little while, and there is "peace in the land" (wherever that land is).

This resolution, of course, is problematic. This redemption is not as fulfilling as the Grinch's redemption in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and it's even lessened by the mere fact that in order for these two movies to coexist, one of his redemptive periods proved to be fleeting, as he needed to be redeemed again later (regardless of which movie comes first chronologically). Which puts into question whether his second redemption would prove to hold up after all, or if he would backslide once again to his Grinchian roots. Which puts into question a person's ability to change, truly change. Are we destined to error again? And again?

Coming to Terms with Inconsistency

Whichever way you believe is the chronology of these movies, says something about you and your character. Let's say you think the chronology goes as so: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Halloween is Grinch Night, and then The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. You would be a traditionalist here, following the chronology of the literal release of these animated movies. You'd think that the Grinch redeems himself during his Christmas escapade, but that the darkness within him eventually takes control, leading to his Halloween evil, and then, in his later years, after moving beyond Whoville, his fight with the Cat in the Hat. You'd also believe that either Max returned to the Grinch before his final movie (Max leaving him in the Halloween movie), or that the Grinch took Max back by force. What does that say about your moral view of the universe? That change, much like light, is relative?

What about this chronology: Halloween is Grinch Night, followed by How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and then The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. You might follow this chronology because you believe the Grinch at his darkest, most demonic should come first, and everything else is his slow redemption. But what caused him to leave Whoville to end up wherever he ended up in his confrontation with the Cat in the Hat? Was Christmas not enough to soothe his miserable heart?

Or are you like me, and believe that How the Grinch Stole Christmas absolutely must be the endgame here because there is nothing in the narrative that is as cathartic as the Grinch's heart growing three sizes and saving Christmas for all the Whos in Whoville. A story-focused chronology. In this case, the inferior The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat would come first, followed by Halloween is Grinch Night, leading to, of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You'd have to reconcile that the redemption during his foray with the Cat in the Hat was a false start - that the Grinch needed to struggle more to convincingly change and grow. He descends into darkness as he realizes that his heart is still too small, moves to Whoville, terrorizes the Whos, loses but then recovers Max (in my mind, by force), before, years later, his demonic and scientific powers waning but his cleverness at his peak, he truly redeems himself by learning the true meaning of Christmas, and subsequently, the meaning of his life.

None of these scenarios are a real comfort. Any way that you look at it, the moral questions that these animated movies pose far outweigh the simple messages they originally intended. Looking at these three movies, I am left with uncertainty. Does the Grinch truly change? Or is he just a repeat offender? Is his cruelty and heart destined for eternal conflict? Is it in his very nature, as one Grinch of many, to be deceptive and mean? Let's say the Grinch can't truly change, even after everything he's been through.

Then what chance do any of us have?