These well-known holiday classics—A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas—hold a particular place in all of our hearts. They’ve been used so frequently that they’ve evolved into pop culture clichés in and of themselves. The majority of the holiday specials we see now have them as structural elements, transcending the limitations of their screen time. Only one of these endearing books, How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, has appeared in three different versions.
Seeing as this column is all about narration in TV and film, it seems only fitting with the holidays right around the corner that we explore the three different voice-over narrations in one of the most beloved holiday stories of all time. Like with any great story, Dr. Seuss’ work has been adapted more than a few times.
How Many Times has The Grinch Been Adapted On-Screen?
While the book has been adapted three times for on-screen use, it’s seen several treatments over the years. From parodies and pop culture references to on-screen adaptations and broadway musicals, everybody has seen, heard, and experienced the Grinch in one way or another.
However, it’s not only interesting to look at the differences between them but to examine and unpack the evolution of three very different on-screen iterations. Each version maintains the intrinsic focus on the narrator as one of its main characters. Each telling guides the audience and interacts with the story in its unique way. They joyfully draw us into the narrative with explanations of who the Whoos are. They endear us to the characters and make us feel something for everything that happens. What we see, where they live, what they eat – how they look like and speak.
All of these descriptors are trademarks of Dr. Seuss’ unique writing. These narrators usher us into his world – and no matter who we hear telling us the Christmas classic – they all uphold his wonderfully whimsical method of storytelling.
Three Grinches – Three Narrators
It’s impossible to think of the Grinch without hearing a narrator in the back of your mind.
Whether it’s an introduction to the story, an explanation as to why the Grinch’s heart might have been two times too small, or explaining the significance of cutting the roast Christmas beast, each film puts its narrative stamp on the grimacing green fellow. Each tells us a different interpretation of the same classic story and highlights things we might not have known or seen in past versions.
As informal as Seuss’ use of narration often is – each narrator brings something different to the table. Each narrator puts their spin on the beloved holiday classic and tells the story in a distinguished way. It’s an evolution of the narrative.
Boris Karloff’s Narration in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
When we hear Boris Karloff’s narration in the classic version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), it’s a much more simplistic version of the story than anyone born after the ’90s is used to hearing. But it’s also considered one of the most iconic narrations of all time for a reason.
He tells us the essentials of the tale, dramatically narrates and punctuates all the speaking points of the film, and gives us the exposition within the first few minutes of screen time. Of all the narrative re-imaginings, Karloff’s is by far the most interactive with the story. He punctuates characters’ thoughts and feelings – he embodies the role of a true storyteller and indulges in the voices and thoughts of characters. Karloff narrates the story in a way that’s less big-screen performance, and more as if he were telling his kids a holiday bedtime story by the fireplace.
The original on-screen adaptation of the Grinch is a classic for a reason – it works. Karloff somehow manages to bridge the gap between formal and informal, playing both sides of the fence and weaving together an enjoyable, cohesive experience.
Anthony Hopkins’s Poetic Narration in How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Dr. Seuss’ method of storytelling is actual poetry. And the 2000s version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas acts as an example of that.
Between a star-studded ensemble and awe-inspiring cinematics, the film managed to land Sir Anthony Hopkins as its narrator. And the voiceovers he adds to the film are nothing less than what we’d come to expect from an Oscar-winning actor of his caliber. Hopkins injects his poetic monologues throughout the film, leads us into a world within a spec of dust on the surface of a snowflake, and punctuates every major scene with tenor and grace.
He uses the larger-than-life grandeur of his voice to set the stage for a story as rich and vivid in detail and context as it is time-honored and beloved. Where Karloff acts as an all-in-one storyteller, Hopkins uses his voice to compliment the world of the Grinch rather than outright illustrate it. He articulately monologues the film’s defining moments and highlights the underlying plot points essential to understanding the story. Unlike Karloff, Hopkins’ narration isn’t a definitive voice of the Grinch so much as a narrative focal point and outside perspective that * on the world within a world. In true Seussian fashion, he uses his narration not to simply tell a story, but put add poetic allure and guiding focus to it.
Pharrell William’s Narration in 2018’s The Grinch Tells Us Why the Grinch Stole Christmas
What’s fascinating about the different spins on the story is that there’s a distinct narrative shift through the decades. It’s almost like a gauge for our collective change in perspective. Over the years, we’ve found a deeper understanding of the villain as a character. And this version of the story reflects that perfectly. It’s about a villain who never intended to be the bad guy, but rather, a hero in their own story.
When we look at the film’s third incarnation, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018), the film might not have received the same widespread critical acclaim as its predecessors, but the narration we hear tells a much more humanizing side of the Grinch.
Karloff’s and William’s Narrations are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Where Karloff’s narration presents the Grinch as an outright Scroogian villain up until the near end of the story, Pharrell William’s version of the text gives us a Grinch who’s relatable and misunderstood. A character abandoned as an infant and left alone in a cold world that merrily carried on around him while he suffered in solitude. William’s narration is less about the traditional black-and-white depiction of the character and more about explaining the narrative plight of an unlikely protagonist.
William doesn’t use his narration not to tell us that the Grinch is despicable but to comment on why he is the way that he is. What drives him, what is he working through – what is his story? 2018’s version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas isn’t about how the Grinch stole Christmas, but why the Grinch stole Christmas.
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