Dr. Seuss stories have been adapted into iconic holiday specials, Broadway musicals and feature-length films. A certain “mean one” previously hit the big screen in 2000, embodied by Jim Carrey. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in director Ron Howard’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. It also won the Best Makeup Academy Award and was the top-grossing film of 2000, earning $260 million.
18 years later, Universal teams-up with their animation powerhouse Illumination Entertainment (the makers of “Despicable Me” and “Sing”) for a new take on the classic story. “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” opens this weekend, and directors Yarrow Cheney and Scott Mosier are excited for audiences to experience this deeper look at such a well-known character.
“We wanted to not only to stick to the emotional core truths of the book and the heart and spirit of the book – but also modernize the film and make it more relevant to today’s audience,” says Mosier. “And to understand the reason why he stole Christmas – looking into his past to give audiences the sense of why he hates it so much.”
“The word ‘Grinch’ has come to define very specific characters. What you want to do is have fun with his Grinchy nature,” says Cheney. “But through the film, it also has to be built into this character that there’s something broken about The Grinch that makes it so he can’t enjoy these wonderful things.”
Mosier adds, “We’re riding this fine line because we wanted him to be The Grinch that people know – that malicious wickedness that people love so much. But we also didn’t want people to disengage from his emotional story by going too far in one direction.”
Carrey is a comedy aficionado. Benedict Cumberbatch is an Oscar nominated dramatic actor, but he became the perfect choice for The Grinch’s voice. For Mosier, it was one line that was a game-changer in the recording process. “I remember there was the moment where he did, ‘I’m going to steal their Christmas.’ It’s one of those moments in animation where we took that line and did a quick animation to it, and it clicked for everybody. That’s it.”
The voice cast also includes Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson and Angela Lansbury, in her first movie in more than 7 years. Lansbury, of course, also voiced Mrs. Potts in my all-time favorite “Beauty and the Beast”. Mosier told me the 93-year-old Lansbury drove herself to the recording studio. “She’s so sharp. She’s so present. She’s so professional.”
Illumination took Dr. Seuss’ hand drawings and turned them into CGI for 2012’s “The Lorax”. For “The Grinch”, Cheney (who also worked on “The Lorax”) says there were plenty of challenges in the animation transition. “Dr. Seuss, his style is so unique. You can tell a Dr. Seuss drawing – out of the millions of drawings in the world. The challenge is… how do we take all of those design cues and artistic stylization and translate it to 3D… to what feels like a real-world space?”
The result is “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch”, which has the chance to match its live-action predecessor’s $260M total this holiday season and may compete for its own Oscar or two. But… does a follow-up feature even make sense?
Cheney’s first thought: “How do you tell another story about The Grinch’s life that’s bigger than this one?” But Mosier admits he recently met-up with someone who saw the movie. That person told him, “I just want to watch The Grinch and Max more.”
I brought-up the idea of another holiday special. NBC, the network hand-in-hand with Universal, is the current home of the ’66 “Grinch” cartoon and DreamWorks’ “Trolls Holiday” (which debuted last year). Another 22-minute adventure, this time with CGI Grinch and Max, could ideally air as early as Holiday 2019.
Cheney and Mosier seemed to like that idea.
For my complete Animation Scoop Q&A with the directors, click here.