One of the greatest Christmas films of the 21st century is two decades old this week. Ron Howard’s enjoyably grotesque adaptation of the Dr Seuss story How the Grinch Stole Christmas was released way back in November 2000, earning an impressive $345m (£263m) at the global box office despite a selection of rather middling critical reviews.
Jim Carrey wore some very impressive make-up to portray the green-skinned, furry terror of Whoville, who seeks to ruin Christmas by stealing all of its material elements — presents, decorations, etc. Naturally, the whole thing resolves in a slushy moment of realisation that Christmas is more about feelings than things, but this is a considerably darker festive tale than many aimed at family crowds.
Twenty years after Carrey first delivered his facial gymnastics and slapstick pratfalls, here are some things you might not know about the movie, however many Christmases have been improved by a journey to the top of Mount Crumpit.
It has an Oscar
It might come as something of a surprise to learn that The Grinch had a presence at the Oscars in early 2001, but it certainly did. Rick Baker and Gail Ryan won the award for best makeup and hairstyling — then just known as best makeup — while the movie was also nominated for best art direction and best costume design.
Baker, of course, is best known for being one of the foremost purveyors of transformative horror make-up artistry. In fact, he won the first ever competitive Oscar for best makeup in recognition of his work on the lupine transformation in An American Werewolf in London. He has now won the award a record seven times, including of course for The Grinch.
Jim Carrey received torture training to endure the make-up
In a 2014 interview on The Graham Norton Show, Jim Carrey claimed the make-up and prosthetics application process for The Grinch took eight and a half hours on the first day and that he wore it around 100 times during the course of principal photography. He said the whole process was akin to being “buried alive” and that he almost quit the movie, until they brought in an expert in dealing with torture whose job was to teach CIA operatives how to endure interrogation.
Carrey says that the advice was enough to get him through it, along with constantly reminding himself that he was doing it for the kids.
Carrey almost drove an Oscar winner out of Hollywood
Carrey certainly had a bad time with the make-up, but the guy applying it bore the brunt of the actor’s frustration. That man was Kazu Hiro — then known by his birth name Kazuhiro Tsuji — and he entered therapy after the shoot.
After a decade of sporadic work, he left the film industry altogether. He told Vulture in 2017 that Carrey was “mean to everybody” and would disappear for hours at a time. Hiro went away for a week until Carrey vowed to change, which he eventually did. Perhaps the torture training helped.
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Hiro ultimately returned to the film industry in order to transform Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill for his Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour. In recognition of his work on that movie, Hiro won an Oscar of his own, which was followed by another one earlier this year for transforming Charlize Theron into Fox News presenter Megyn Kelly in Bombshell.
Jack Nicholson almost went green
As with any blockbuster movie, there were many big names in the mix to take on the lead role in The Grinch. In this case, it was practically a contractual necessity. One of the conditions laid out by Dr Seuss’s widow, Audrey Geisel, for passing on the film rights was that “any actor submitted for the Grinch must be of comparable stature to Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman”.
Bruce Almighty director Tom Shadyac was in the mix to helm the movie, with Nicholson discussed for the lead role. John Hughes and the Farrelly Brothers also pitched for the project, which was then set up at 20th Century Fox. Ultimately, Universal shelled out $9m (£6.9m) for the distribution rights and attached Carrey, with Ron Howard behind the camera. Maybe they were just working their way down the actor list.
Cindy Lou is now a rocker
One of the prerequisites of making a classic Christmas film is to have an adorable child at the centre of it all, whether it’s Miracle on 34th Street — both versions — or Home Alone. That was certainly something The Grinch had, in the shape of Cindy Lou Who — just about the only resident of Whoville who could think beyond commercialism and shiny things. The character was played by seven-year-old Taylor Momsen, who had been acting professionally since the age of three.
Momsen’s acting career continued sporadically after The Grinch but, in 2009, she was signed to a record label as the lead singer of rock band The Pretty Reckless. The band has achieved solid success, scoring two top 40 singles in the UK — most famously 2010’s Make Me Wanna Die — and two albums in the UK top 10. Their fourth album Death by Rock and Roll is due in 2021.
The set had horror heritage
Much of The Grinch was filmed on the backlot at Universal Studios, which doubled for the winter wonderland of Whoville. The set was constructed within touching distance of the iconic Bates Motel set from the movie Psycho. Presumably there was a lot of fear about using the shower during the production.
Dr Seuss's widow vetoed a Cat in the Hat Easter egg
As we mentioned earlier in the casting discussion, Audrey Geisel was a key figure in the creative process for The Grinch. Her tight control over her husband’s legacy meant she had veto power over a lot of what happened in the film.
She objected to a handful of rude jokes and sexual innuendos in the script, which had been penned by Who Framed Roger Rabbit duo Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. “There were too many bathroom jokes,” she told Newsweek. “That’s not the Seuss world, not at all.”
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Among the less lavatorial moments that were axed was a gag about a family of Whos without a Christmas tree, called the “Who-steins” when the Grinch spots a menorah. There was also supposed to be a “stuffed trophy of the Cat in the Hat” on the wall of the Grinch’s cave. Seemingly, Geisel took exception to this early attempt at an SCU — a Seuss Cinematic Universe.
Max shares a voice with another iconic dog
The Grinch’s only real companion is his dog, Max. The canine companion doesn’t speak, but his barks and noises were provided by prolific voice actor Frank Welker. As well as various animals over the years, Welker is most famous for being the original voice of Fred in the Scooby-Doo movies and TV shows — a role he has mostly held on to since the 1960s — and has, in recent years, taken on the role of Scooby himself.
In a nice touch, Welker also provided the voice of Max in the 2018 animated version of The Grinch, in an uncredited cameo.
Some of the Whos are famous faces
The people of Whoville are a colourful bunch, with all of them wearing facial prosthetics to create their memorable appearance. Littered among the many faces are a handful of performers you will be familiar with, showing up in blink and you’ll miss them cameos. Mini-Me actor Verne Troyer is a member of the Whoville band, while Deep Roy — who played the Oompa Loompas in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — is briefly glimpsed as a clerk in the town’s post office.
Bryce Dallas Howard has a cameo
Another notable cameo among the residents of Whoville is Bryce Dallas Howard, credited rather brilliantly as “Surprised Who”. Bryce is the daughter of director Ron Howard and had previously made cameos in his movies Parenthood and Apollo 13 as a teenager. The director himself makes an uncredited appearance as a townsperson in Whoville.
Bryce Dallas Howard has, of course, gone on to a glittering career as an actor in the subsequent years — including in the Jurassic World franchise — and has made the jump to directing with several short films, the documentary Dads and an action-packed episode of The Mandalorian.
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