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ClassicTV

‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is 50 Years Old Today—And It’s Still Great

Chuck Jones’ animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! turns 50 years old today, having first premiered on CBS on December 18, 1966.

Though the MGM project was based on a popular children’s book by Dr. Seuss, it was Jones who led the push to make it happen. After convincing Dr. Seuss that he could create an animated adaptation, Jones created color presentation boards and shopped them around to corporate sponsors. Jones made over 20 presentations, including to companies like Kellogg’s and Nestle, but wasn’t able to convince anyone to fund the expensive project. Finally, an organization called the Foundation for Commercial Banks (“of all people,” Jones said) agreed to sponsor the special.

The generous budget resulted in fuller animation and higher production values than most other tv animation of the period. When How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was finished, CBS paid $315,000 for the rights to air it twice, in 1966 and 1967. It was a significant sum for the period. An article that ran in Variety in October 1966 was titled, “The Grinch—It Not Only Stole Xmas But Picked CBS’ Pocket for $315,000,” and the trade publication speculated it was one of the most expensive half-hours of television ever made. (By contrast, A Charlie Brown Christmas, which had come out the year before cost under $100,000 to make.)

The half-hour special, though well received by some critics, also generated a number of lukewarm reviews. The criticisms hardly mattered—the special garnered 38 million viewers in its debut showing, and went on to become a perennial network classic.

Below, Phil Roman, an animator on the special, talks about some of the elements that he feels made the special unique:

What follows is a selection of pre-production and production artwork from the film, followed by some stills from iconic moments.

Grinch practice drawing by Chuck Jones.
Grinch practice drawing by Chuck Jones.
Grinch cel.
Early character design by Chuck Jones and color model cel test.
Early character design by Chuck Jones and color model cel test.
Animation drawing.
Animation drawing.
Grinch cel. Grinch cel.
Grinch practice drawing by Chuck Jones.
Grinch practice drawing by Chuck Jones.
Grinch model sheet by Chuck Jones.
Grinch model sheet by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Irv Spector.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Story drawing by Chuck Jones.
Cindy Lou Who design by Chuck Jones.
Cindy Lou Who design by Chuck Jones.
Max design by Chuck Jones.
Max design by Chuck Jones.
Layout drawing.
Layout drawing.
Layout drawing (artist unknown).
Layout drawing (artist unknown).
Background painting (artist unknown).
Background painting (artist unknown).
Rough layout and color suggestions by Maurice Noble.
Rough layout and color suggestions by Maurice Noble.
Layout concepts by Maurice Noble.
Layout concepts by Maurice Noble.
Layout concepts by Maurice Noble.
Layout concepts by Maurice Noble.
Design concepts by Maurice Noble.
Design concepts by Maurice Noble.
Condolence letter that Chuck Jones wrote to the wife of Boris Karloff, narrator and voice of the Grinch, in 1969.
Condolence letter that Chuck Jones wrote to the wife of Boris Karloff, narrator and voice of the Grinch, in 1969.
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" still.
  • Timothy McKenzie

    Oh yes….Chuck Jones’ Grinch…definitely my most favorite Christmas special!

  • Jack Newman

    One thing I found weird about the special is how it looks like the grinch is stealing Christmas during the daytime.

    • I guess I wanted to think it was a classy way of shooting “day for night” in animation!

  • GW

    I like the animation but I’m not as keen on the special as a whole. I’m a bit of a grouch myself. I feel that the whole story is just a simplistic diatribe against those who don’t like Christmas. I can see Christmas as being both a materialistic nuisance and a celebration of higher importance. To be fair, I don’t care for the book for the same reason, but the special has annoying songs to add to it. I prefer the Ron Howard version in spite of some unfunny gags in that movie. Perhaps it’s because in some ways it’s a mockery of the original.

  • Mike

    Totally agree. One of the only CG works that has really resonated with the JOY of pliable animation to me is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. To a varying extent Sony’s other work (Hotel Transylvania, Angry Birds, POPEYE if they ever let Genndy make it…) gives off that vibe to me too. They’re a beacon in a sea of hyper-proficient sterile American CG.

  • Landon Kemp

    I love this special. The combined talents of Dr. Seuss, Chuck Jones, Maurice Noble, and Boris Karloff make for a special that’s easily a million times better than all that Rankin/Bass tripe.

    • Combined with Rudolph and Charlie Brown, all three specials complete what I call the Trinity of Christmas Specials!