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|Kevin Krock, editor|
It's the thinnest of books, and a bare wisp of a story. But somehow each Christmas season, Dr. Seuss' retelling of the Scrooge saga gets me every time. Done for television on what was literally a dime back in 1966 by Chuck Jones at MGM, and perfectly voiced by Boris Karloff with the title song sung by Thurl Ravenscroft (not only Tony the Tiger's voice but also a famous Disneyland one too) this title has now seen three incarnations on DVD - the latest of which shipped this month, and is reviewed here. We've also included a review of the latest version of the soundtrack album at the end - for the Grinch completest.
In all the video versions, both MGM in the past and now Warners, they've also included Horton Hears a Who - a follow-up TV special made in 1970. This is a nice extra, and helps bring the disc's running time up to about an hour. Priced low (most dealers offer this title at about $15) it's a solid buy.
With the big budget Jim Carrey movie version hitting theaters this winter Warner / Turner (who owns the rights now to the specials) decided to pull out all the stops in getting this new edition out in time for the movie release. Besides "enhancing" the video for this issue, they've also done a very mild stereo remix (re- channeled it seems, as they were working from mono elements).
Bonus features new to this edition include - recent interviews with Thurl Ravenscroft and composer Albert Hague, an older and rather bizarre Turner TV special hosted by the late Phil Hartman, and a commentary by old guard animator Phil Roman and voice talent June Foray (Cindy Lou Who here, but most famous probably for voicing Rocky the Squirrel.) You can also jump right to the songs now via a special menu.
As already mentioned, the two previous editions of this disc both had the bonus, Horton Hears a Who program. But the packaging on this new version almost buries that it's also included on this disc. From the older editions we also get the Chuck Jones pencil tests.
The Phil Hartman hosted Turner TV special is really truly awful - it shows what can happen when a director is either not there, or cannot provide a firm hand to the actor to guide their performance. Hartman means well, but his way over the top antics are really painful to watch. He's not helped either by quite a bit of padding done by the writers to try and get what is very thin material stretched out to the 30 minutes the special had to extend to. I guess they forgot somewhere at Turner that the "making of" shouldn't be as long as the actual product itself.
On the other hand, the new interviews with voice talent Ravenscroft and composer Hague are very well done - even taking into account that some material is repeated from the Hartman hosted show. Sadly in these new interviews you can now hear why Ravenscroft decided to retire recently from his voice work - hopefully he's in good shape and will be around for a long time. Hague is familiar to many people as an actor in the TV show "Fame" (the music professor) and he's quick with his stories and pleasant to watch. It's quite noticeable that animator Chuck Jones did not have a new interview done - (for whatever reason) but he is represented rather well on the older special.
The audio commentary is interesting in that each of the two participants, Phil Roman and June Foray are seemingly only interested in what they alone do. They may not always mesh with their reminisces, but you do get a lot of info here not on any of the other forums provided on either the DVD or CD.
Oddly enough, none of the material from the 16 page CD booklet that comes with the soundtrack (reviewed below) made it onto the DVD release. Some of this would have been a nice addition (even if it is music focused) - as there is a new interview with Chuck Jones, and a complete lyric listing.
The Video, Audio and Interface...
For a 1966 TV tightly budgeted production they did what they could - but understand you will not be getting the level of quality you would see in a current DVD top- of- the- line release. I ran this disc right after I had played the new Toy Story box set and really had to adjust both my eyes and ears a bit there. What's important to keep in mind is the story and performance - after a few moments the animation and voice work do their magic and will make you forget this shows' more humble origins.
This title (as I mentioned above) had two previous incarnations, first on MGM, then an almost identical re-issue of the title on Warner Home Video (as the rights had reverted to them) with minor adjustments to include their logos and title cards. Both of those discs looked a bit washed out, and the increased resolution of DVD showed the handmade nature of the show. (Literally you could see cells whip by on the more solid color backgrounds - which in 1966 was impossible to see on TVs of that era.)
This new edition doesn't appear to address many of those types of artifacts (and frankly they should probably avoid it) - instead they seemed focused on pumping up the color quite a bit. Is either edition better than the others in respect to the hues involved? Who knows... the color pallet for these two shorts are quite off-beat, the better to make them uniquely Seuss - so we may never really know the answer to that.
Keep in mind all the "digital enhancement" touted on the packaging has been lavished only upon the Grinch part of the program, the Horton film is pretty much the same on all editions. Animated in 1970, Horton's tale looks a bit better on this disc - although it has more repeats of the actual animation itself done through the program (to save even more on the budget).
Sound-wise, on both you get rather compressed sound - typical for TV recordings / productions of that time. The new stereo mix on Grinch is very conservative, mostly because there really isn't much that can be done here. Horton remains in mono.
The disc menus and interface are simple - although some poor choices were made as to colors chosen to denote what selection you've made with your DVD buttons. This is a problem on a lot of discs though, so we shouldn't single this one title out for any special wrath.
The simple trivia quiz is one that you, or more probably a child may try once, and then you just forget about it. They did add a menu that lets you go right to the songs - but it's buried down a bit in the hierarchy making it less useful.
The Final DVD Evaluation...
This is a nice title to own - I only wish Paramount had done the same kind of thing with their Charlie Brown Christmas on DVD. (We'll have a review soon of that one.) The bonus features are thoughtful, you get Horton Hears a Who, and the quality is about as good as can be extracted from the source material. Thanks to the folks at Warner Home Video for getting this one about as right as they could.
The CD Soundtrack
Rhino last year released a rather wonderful CD soundtrack package that includes the music and narration of both of the specials (Grinch and Horton) - and also features a 16 page lavishly illustrated booklet with it in a special package (which of course perfectly matches the DVD - how thoughtful). Of note here is a new interview with animator Chuck Jones, and you finally get all the lyrics to the songs, which can finally help settle some arguments over what exactly may have been sung (Fah who foraze, Dah who doraze, Welcome Christmas!)
They've done something rather unique in the presentation of the musical material too - they present the soundtrack first as it was heard on the shows, with the Karloff (or in the case of Horton, Hans Conried) narration, then as a bonus they have included a few isolated music tracks for much of this material at the end of each show. This is especially nice since it's the first time you can hear much of the music alone without that voiceover.
Sound quality is as good as can be had - and this year the CD goes from full line pricing to mid-line - which means you can pick it up for about ten dollars at most retailers. Nice.
By the way, there is another version of the Grinch TV soundtrack still out on Polygram - it has a plain white cover and features the original book art - and it has none of the extra features or packaging offered with the Rhino edition. Keep a sharp eye as to which one you really do want while making your purchase.
If this story is as special to you, as it is to me, you'll probably want to own both the DVD and CD. Warner / Rhino should consider a specially priced gift set for next season on this one - heck, they've already packaged them almost identically as it is.
• "Songs in the Key of Grinch" -
Interviews with composer Albert Hague and vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft
• Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Isolated Music Tracks:
Horton Hears a Who
Isolated Music Tracks:
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