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A Brief History of The Grinch, from Picture Books to Blockbusters
Let's take a look back at the pop culture life of everyone's favorite holiday grump.
Think about all the characters you most associate with the Christmas season. There's Santa Claus, of course, and his various reindeer. There's Ebenezer Scrooge in his many pop culture forms. There's even a little drummer boy who makes his way to the birth of Christ. Then there's a furry Green guy who hates Christmas... right up until he doesn't.
Yes, in a lifespan of less than 100 years so far, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch has managed to become an indispensable part of the Christmas season thanks to his impact through a single timeless story. Just walk through the decor section of your local department store, and you'll see him everywhere, sneering at us on everything from cookie jars to tea towels. Turn on your television and he's there too, in TV special and movie form. Not bad for a guy who first got famous for being the guy who "stole" Christmas because he couldn't stand the holiday so much.
It's very clear at this point that the Grinch is an essential to any Christmas season, but his story is a little more complicated than you might remember if you only think about the character for a few days every December. So, in honor of the Grinch's annual Yuletide stardom (and with The Grinch, The Grinch Live!, and the original How The Grinch Stole Christmas all streaming on Peacock), let's take a look back at his long road to Christmas ubiquity, including some detours into other holidays along the way.
The Rise of The Grinch
Though the word "Grinch" appears in a couple of other works by Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, the character as we know him had his roots right where you think he did, in the 1957 children's book How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It's a story just about every Christmas-celebrating person in the world knows at this point, a simple fable about a grouchy creature who tries to take Christmas away from the Whos down in Whoville, only to find that the true meaning of Christmas is togetherness and love, not presents and decorations.
Like many of Seuss' books, How The Grinch Stole Christmas proved popular, and just nine years later it made it to television courtesy of animation legend Chuck Jones, who helped Seuss to bring the story to life on the small-screen in the form of a cartoon special that's just as legendary as the book at this point. Closely following the story of the original picture book and starring Boris Karloff as The Grinch, the animated How The Grinch Stole Christmas is still a holiday must-watch, but it's not the end of the Grinch's story.
After appearing in one of the most successful and enduring Christmas specials of all time, The Grinch's popularity continued to rise, and Seuss fans kept asking if the author could put the character in more adventures. In 1977, more than a decade after How The Grinch Stole Christmas hit television, Seuss created Halloween Is Grinch Night, a new animated special that placed the scowling Grinch in the midst of All Hallows' Eve. Five years after that, The Grinch appeared on TV again alongside Seuss' other most famous character in The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat, an animated special that pitted the two characters against each other. Neither, of course, had the reach and impact of the Christmas special, but both still have their fans, and you can still watch them if you're willing to do a little digging online.
The Grinch, Movie Star
Though he did get two other TV specials, and some puppet appearances on Nickelodeon's The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss in the 1990s, The Grinch mostly remained an animated Christmas special for three and a half decades, but that all changed in the year 2000. That year, How the Grinch Stole Christmas was expanded and adapted into a live-action feature film directed by Ron Howard, starring Jim Carrey in the title role alongside a supporting cast that included Taylor Momsen, Molly Shannon, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, and more. Packed with lavish production and featuring a story that shed a little more light on exactly why The Grinch hated Christmas so much in the first place, the film got a bit of a mixed reception, but still earned a hefty amount at the box office, and has since become a Christmas marathon staple on cable networks.
It took almost 20 years to get another Grinch movie after that, but in 2019 we got the latest incarnation of How The Grinch Stole Christmas courtesy of Illumination Entertainment, the minds behind the Despicable Me films. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, The Grinch brought computer animation to the world of Whoville and Mt. Crumpit, and put yet another spin on Seuss' classic story, with critical and commercial success to go along with it. Like the live-action version, the animated movie still has an uphill battle when it comes to earning Christmas classic status alongside the original TV special, but it's well on its way.
Even More of The Grinch
Three TV specials and two hit movies are enough to make any character an icon, but there's still more of The Grinch to take in, and we're not just talking about the coffee mugs and cookie plates you can buy with his face on them. In 2020, NBC produced a live musical production, Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Musical Live!, based on the story, starring Matthew Morrison in the titular role, if you like your Grinch tales with a lot more Broadway-style production. There's even, thanks to a little clever rights dodging, a horror movie based on The Grinch story. Released in 2022 and titled simply The Mean One, it follows a murderous version of the character who never actually gets to be called The Grinch, but certainly looks the part. If you're a horror fan and/or a Grinch completist, it's worth checking out, if only so you can say you watched it.
But even that's not the end of the Grinch's saga. In September of 2023, the Seuss estate released an authorized sequel to his original book titled How The Grinch Lost Christmas, giving us another picture book story to enjoy over the holiday season. And in November of 2023, Saturday Night Live cast member James Austin Johnson began starring in a new podcast titled 'Tis The Grinch Holiday Podcast, a talk show of sorts in which The Grinch (Johnson) dresses down various celebrity guests.
So you see, if you really want to fill your entire December with Grinch stuff, you are well on your way.