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Because Chuck Got It Right, Dammit

When I saw the email from the good folks at the Cartoon Art Museum, I knew I had to talk about it. After, a story about why I had to talk about it.

Mark your calendars for a celebration with the Chuck Jones Gallery special guests and the Cartoon Art Museum as we ring in the holidays with a spotlight of original artwork from How the Grinch Stole Christmas showcased as part of our Treasury of Animation exhibition.

The Grinch, and not that Cumberbatch-associated abomination that somebody felt the need to make. When will people learn that the 26 minute original, starring Boris Karloff, June Foray, and Thurl Ravenscroft is definitive, and needs no reinterpretation? Particularly not a 90 minute long 3D animated version, but at least it’s got to be better than the previous abomination.

Ahem. It’ll be a week from Saturday, 1 December, at 6:00pm for US$8 advance/US$10 at the door, with CAM members free with RSVP. You’ll get to marvel at original artwork until 9:00pm, and I’ll wager there will be at least some cocoa and cookies (although probably not Who-pudding or roast beast). But there is one piece of artwork that won’t be there. It’s at the top of this post, or more accurately, a photo of it is at the top of this post.

Because it — the original it — hangs on my wall.

I mentioned a story, and here it is — at least, the short verion. When I got this piece from Chuck Jones’s gallery in Santa Fe more than 20 years ago, the gallery director told me about a previous customer who knew he wanted a Grinch cel, but wasn’t sure which one. He went flipping through the entire collection, skipping over such highly sought-after cels as full-body Grinches and horned Grinches¹. Suddenly, he stopped, pointing to one of the cels of the Grinch and Max on top of Mount Crumpit, and said That one².

She wondered about the choice — it’s a distant shot of the Grinch and Max, the sled is really the focal point, but wrapped it up. Finally she asked about his choice. He explained (and this is thirdhand, so don’t take this as a direct quote) I’m an aerospace engineer and I love this scene. If we assume the Grinch is about human sized — five and half, six feet — then those clumps of snow are falling correctly. They’re accelerating downwards at 32 feet per second squared. Chuck Jones didn’t have to get that detail right but he did, and it’s always stuck with me.

For all the lumpy, stretchable, rubber-limbed implausibility of Grinches and Maxes, for all the ways that the laws of physics were stretched to the breaking point throughout the story, Chuck Jones knew that at the moment of tension he had to make it feel intuitively correct and let us spend all our brain cycles on the danger and not have even a single fleeting nanosecond of whatever the physical world equivalent of the uncanny valley is.

That’s why there no need for any of the reimaginings or reboots. That’s why I’ll never admit that the Grinch has ever been portrayed by anything other than a single book and a cartoon from 1966. That’s why, if you’re in the Bay Area Saturday next, you should drop in and let us know how it feels to have your heart grow three sizes.

Spam of the day:


Unless Danny Trejo is playing Roxanne, I ain’t interested. And screw you, PR shop, for having no unsubscribe link in your email, that’s why you end up in spam folder.

¹ Me, I knew I wanted a Grinch-and-Max. Even in the 90s, damn few of those were still available.

² Not necessarily this exact cel, but one very similar to it, as we will shortly see.

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