About The Production
In Search of the Grinch No one, it's fair to say, was better equipped to adapt
The Grinch into a 3D animated film than Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri. Not
only had he successfully adapted two other Seuss books into feature films -
2008's Horton Hears a Who! and 2012's The Lorax - but his company, Illumination,
has dominated the world of animation for more than a decade with sweet and
subversive characters and unexpected stories, including The Secret Life of Pets,
Sing, and most notably Gru and his Minions in the Despicable Me franchise, which
has grossed more than $3.7 billion worldwide.
Meledandri can trace his
attraction to delightfully flawed characters back to the Grinch. "From a very
early age I found myself attracted to characters that had a wicked side to them,
especially characters that you enjoyed watching be wicked, but I also like
seeing their redemption," Meledandri says. "In a lot of Illumination films,
there's definitely a recurring theme of characters who have a real edge or a
bite to them. So How The Grinch Stole Christmas! was formative for me. I grew up
in a household where Dr. Seuss books were plentiful."
But it was the famed CBS TV special - which first began airing in 1966 and was
directed by Chuck Jones, starring the voice of Boris Karloff - that had the
biggest impact on Meledandri. "That Chuck Jones special was one of the clear
signs each year that Christmas was coming," he says. "It became a Christmas
tradition in my household."
Meledandri later extended that tradition to his own family when he became a
parent. "Stories like The Grinch, you share them with your child, but you
actually enjoy them yourself because of that subversive side, that rebellious
side. It never grows old. There's something about that humor that I find
satisfying, no matter how many times I've read it before, no matter how many
times I've seen the character."
The decision to make The Grinch into a feature film seemed an organic one, both
for Meledandri and for Geisel's widow, Audrey. "Audrey Geisel has been the
executive producer not only on The Grinch but on the prior two films that we
made," Meledandri says. "The decision to adapt The Grinch was made in concert
with Audrey. We talked about all the other possibilities, and felt like this was
the best story, and the best time, for our third collaboration."
So when it came to adapt Geisel's 69-page book - essentially a one-act play -
into a three-act structure for a feature-length film, Meledandri, along with his
fellow producer Janet Healy and their creative team, decided to delve deeper
into character - and into the character of the Grinch in particular - while also
remaining loyal to the narrative and emotional intent of the book. "When we set
out to expand Grinch, we made it an absolute mandate for ourselves that we
respected what we believe is the core intention of the work," he says. "We bring
classic elements within the work to life in ways that we hope are fresh, but
above all we tried to put ourselves into Theodor Geisel's mind, and we tried to
look for the storytelling that's between the pages."
At the emotional center of that intention was a question they decided to
explore: How did the Grinch become the way he his? "That became very organic, to
our minds," Meledandri says. "At the core of this story is a character who was
emotionally wounded as a child. He has placed himself on a quest to eliminate
the joy of others because he himself has been left out of feeling that joy. And
while that's not a part of the original text, it was, to my mind, an underlying
intention of Theodor Geisel's. The manifestation of that emotional pain is a
character who has gone into seclusion, who has given up on the society around
him. And it takes the most innocent and optimistic character imaginable - in
this case, Cindy-Lou Who - to reengage him to life, to an openness to connecting
with other characters, to believing in good."
So they began an earnest psychological journey into the potential causes for how
a character would become self-isolating and resistant - or hostile - to the joy
of others. "The most important thing was to identify the emotional injury,"
Meledandri says. "Most of us carry around emotional suffering from our
childhood, and often, that suffering lead to coping mechanisms."
"Now, our coping mechanisms may not be as extreme as putting ourselves into
exile to protect ourselves from being hurt again, but growth means being able to
eventually transcend those coping mechanisms so that you can open yourself up to
all of the expansive experiences that life has to offer, one of which, at its
core, is connecting with others. That's the trajectory of the Grinch, and what
we discovered in the telling of the story: We find him as a child, convey an
emotional wound, watch him react to that, connect that reaction to who we meet
as an adult, and give the audience an understanding of how he got that way. It
makes the Grinch relatable.
We have a depth of insight into why he is that way. And it opens up an
opportunity for us to heal him through the course of the story."
Just as important, however, was that the other characters in the film know
nothing of the Grinch's past. Because this is a story of forgiveness and
redemption, the Whos need to ultimately forgive the Grinch not because they
understand his emotional pain, but for a much more generous reason.
"They forgive him, basically, because he asks for it," Meledandri says. "They
don't have to have a deep explanation of how he became this to feel like he's
earned their forgiveness."
The result, Meledandri says, is a film with a message that touches the heart and
resonates long after people leave the theater. "As I've watched the film as
we've been making it, I really love this hopeful feeling that the movie leaves
you with. And getting to this place means that the character has transcended
many of the things that have held him back: this desire to protect himself from
feeling hurt, from being rejected. He actually wrecks this wall of meanness that
he's erected." Central to Illumination's goal was to protect the indelible
elements of the story while making a six-decade-old story relevant to our
"One of our early challenges was looking at the story through the
eyes of a modern world," Meledandri says. "On the one hand, we wanted the
storytelling to remain timeless. But Geisel was always aware of his own modern
society. It wasn't as if he was stuck in some historic period that he never
deviated from. As the culture evolved, so did the visual references in his work.
So we've tried to strike this balance between making the themes modern and
relevant and touching on aspects of contemporary life without compromising the
classic nature of the settings."
Whoville, for starters, got a major upgrade, evolving from a sleepy hamlet into
a fully realized, modern, three-dimensional small city, complete with its own
Who Foods grocery store, buses and other automated transport (and with Whos
running to catch them). Shops and businesses of all types operate amid the magic
and mania of the holiday season. Lights blaze and dazzle like never before.
Carolers have become aggressive acapella groups. The Whos now have real jobs and
sometimes struggle to make ends meet, including single mom Donna Who, who's
raising her twin toddlers and her daughter Cindy-Lou, while working long hours,
including night shifts.
But amid all the bustle, Meledandri and team were determined to keep their ears
trained on the story's emotional heartbeat, which, in many ways, is even more
relevant today than it was 60 years ago. "I believe we're living in times with
more present challenges than at any time in my lifetime, challenges that could
easily make you cynical or give you a sense of hopelessness," Meledandri says.
"Yet the key to facing these challenges is to somehow remain optimistic,
connected, and to seek out and embrace joy. That happens when you really embrace
those around you. I am drawn to telling stories that empower you to be hopeful
in spite of what your immediate circumstances may be. So, the film will, I hope,
connect with audiences and somehow encourage those feelings inside of
That hope is echoed by his fellow producer, Janet Healy. "I hope that people
feel inspired and hopeful when they see this film," she says. "I think it speaks
strongly to us all about the importance of our families, of communities, of
inclusion, and of embracing the diversity amongst us. With acts of compassion
and kindness we can vastly improve the lives of others, and we can change our
world for the better. The message that forgiveness has redemptive power and that
generosity is transformative resonates not just for the holiday season, but for
us all, all year round."
For the directing team, Meledandri and Healy chose two directors, Scott Mosier
and Yarrow Cheney, who are both making their animated-feature directing debuts.
"That's quite usual for us at Illumination, where we've been able to give a lot
of directors their first opportunity," Meledandri says.
Cheney had worked with Illumination since the studio was founded, starting as a
production designer on the studio's first film, Despicable Me. He then went on
to be a co-director on The Secret Life of Pets, and also directed one of the
studio's famed short films, Puppy. "He has an incredible visual imagination,
which is fully evident throughout the film," Meledandri says. "It's not just his
design sense, but his gift for how visual storytelling can work in concert with
Mosier, by contrast, comes from the live-action world, having worked with Kevin
Smith's View Askew on films such as Clerks and Chasing Amy. "Scott had a brief
animation trial-by-fire when they turned Clerks into an animated series at
Disney," Meledandri says. "I think that exposure to animation always intrigued
As a longtime producer, he's really been a filmmaker. He's an editor in his own
right, and a wonderful storyteller, and had some experience producing animation
before he came to us. I thought he could be a wonderful match with Yarrow, and
they really have complimented one another."
For Mosier and Cheney, The Grinch proved to be a dream job, on multiple levels.
"To watch this character of the Grinch find joy and togetherness and family, all
these things he rejected, that's a very powerful story," Cheney says. "And then
you wrap that in Christmas and snow and all of the joy of Whoville, the design
of this whole world, and it comes together in this just magical package. I love
Christmas, so spending years making a Christmas movie was, for me, just a
pleasure. It has been a joy to work on."
Mosier found that the process gave him a renewed appreciation for Seuss's
original creation. "The world is just so amazing - not just the world of The
Grinch but the world of Seuss: the rhyming and the strange creatures and the
invented words and all of that," Mosier says. "So to have an opportunity to
build our world out of all that material, and to be able to immerse myself in
that ... it was something I couldn't pass up."
It's that collaborative team spirit, Healy says, that makes the years of hard
work on a film like The Grinch so deeply satisfying. "It takes a community of so
many top creatives and technical wizards to bring these movies to the screen,"
she says. "Every work day we see the astonishing results of the talents of
hundreds of people on the crew who make the performances and the images more
than we could ever imagine. Each artist adds something uniquely special and the
cumulative effect is a gift to behold, unfolding before our eyes every day
throughout the production."
"We also make these films for ourselves, as well as for children and adults in
countries all over the world," she says. "We see the images thousands of times,
over and over, and even after so many viewings we still laugh at the jokes, we
are moved by the performances, and we are astonished by images. It is fabulous
to work on these films with so many great artists involved, and is a huge
privilege every day to have a job that makes films that make kids smile as they
fondly remember the imaginary worlds we all created."
"When we set out to choose an actor to voice the Grinch, we felt like the bar
was very high," Meledandri says. "We wanted to cast someone who we felt would
give the film immediate credibility; someone who, the minute an audience heard
who we had cast, would reflect the ambition and substance of the film. We didn't
know if Benedict Cumberbatch would be interested in the role, but once we
started to listen to his voice while looking at images of the Grinch, we
realized he would absolutely give us a distinctive version of the Grinch, a
version that had a lot of humanity but could also find the comedic, wicked
Cumberbatch's Grinch is more mischievous than cruel, more cranky than merely
mean. His motivation in stealing Christmas isn't to punish the Whos, but to
simply make all the Christmas madness stop so that he doesn't have to deal with
it. And he's struggling with his own issues. He's beleaguered and bothered by
all the holiday chaos. Case in point, he's forced to descend into Whoville
because he runs out of food. He had stocked up enough to get him through
Christmas, but the stress of the holidays have lead to him emotionally eating,
so his cupboards are bare. And unlike in the 1966 TV special, his relationship
with his dog, Max, is less like a master-servant dynamic and more like a loyal
friendship, albeit one with a major power imbalance. (This new Grinch also is
far better groomed and has a better dental plan.)
"The character has always been perceived by those around him as somewhat of an
outlaw," Meledandri says. "But one of my favorite parts of our telling of this
story - and its embodied in the original imagery that Theodor Geisel drew - was
the notion that this character is in self-elected exile, living in opposition to
those around him, wanting to steal their most joyous time of year, but by the
end of the story there's clearly forgiveness, and there's redemption for the
character. Those two elements - forgiveness and redemption -are such important
parts of our societal cultures, but we sometimes lose touch with them."
Cumberbatch was drawn to the role for two major reasons. The first, he says, was
that Illumination was making the movie. "Their stable is filled to the rafters
with fantastic films, and the movies are witty, smart, moving, and there's
them," he says. "With this film, they had great reverence for the original book,
which I did, too. And they're just great to collaborate with."
The second reason was the filmmakers' decision to dive into the Grinch's
backstory and psychological makeup. "It was important to me that we told the
story of someone who had a reason for his behavior, before his conversion,"
Cumberbatch says. "Once you understand why Christmas is painful for him, you
kind of root for him a little." Plus, he says, playing the Grinch was often just
great fun. "I think everyone gets a vicarious thrill out of how the Grinch
behaves, the curmudgeon-liness of the guy," he says. "He's funny, and hopefully
that is what's going to be memorable about this Grinch. He's very witty and he's
self-aware. His heart may be two sizes too small, but there's a very strong
beating heart to this film."
Meledandri says that he and directors Mosier and Cheney couldn't have been
happier with Cumberbatch's performance, or with his collaborative spirit. "He
has been just a tremendous creative partner to Scott and Yarrow, and myself,"
Meledandri says. "We've been thrilled to be the beneficiary of his enormous
The Grinch's loyal canine companion doesn't speak a word, but his devotion to
the Grinch allows the audience to see the goodness in the character, too. "The
relationship between Grinch and Max is the number one relationship in the
movie," Mosier says. "When the Grinch's heart grows three sizes at the end of
the film, Max is the one character who has known that was always there inside
And in this new version, he's far more than just a pet. "Max is the Grinch's
best friend," Benedict Cumberbatch says. "Max is all things to the Grinch. He is
a barista, a manservant, a sleigh puller, friend, consoler, companion, guard
dog, kind-of-indifferent drum player. He's a remarkably adept dog. If only there
were more Max's in the world I'm sure some of our problems would be solved. But
he's an extraordinary character and, like most animals, will probably steal the
show. He's very lovable, and his loyalty to the Grinch is sort of heartbreaking.
He's so loyal to this miserly, green guy. It pays great dividends by the end,
but it's a long road for Max."
Max is also, in some ways, a surrogate for the audience. "Through the
course of the film, even though we get the sense that Max might not share all of
the Grinch's attitudes, he loves the Grinch so much that he's willing to go
along with him
at any cost," Meledandri says. "One of the sweetest moments of the movie is when
Max discovers, very late in the film, that the Grinch has gotten him a Christmas
present. Scott and Yarrow have managed to capture Max as a character- giving him
qualities that are wise and slightly anthropomorphized - while never breaking
the reality of Max being a dog. As an audience, you're always seeing him as the
dog that he is."
In both the original book and the TV special, Cindy-Lou Who is a tiny toddler,
"no more than two," whose interaction with a Santa-Claus-disguised Grinch
revolves only around questioning him about why Santa is taking their Christmas
tree in the middle of the night. In this new version, she's a little older, and
she's on a mission to trap Santa to ask him to help her over-worked, over-tired
mother. "We wanted to find a character who was the antitheses of the Grinch,"
Meledandri says. "Someone who was incredibly helpful and embodied the optimism
that childhood allows us to have. She's a very positive character, but there's a
certain wisdom to her as well. We talked a lot about why her path was going to
cross with Santa's - or the-Grinch-as-Santa - and giving her a sense of mission
and intention. Her determination puts these two characters on paths that we know
are going to collide."
That collision ultimately becomes the catalyst for the Grinch's change (and
growth) of heart. "She starts the whole process of the Grinch's transformation,"
Cumberbatch says. "She's this very excited girl who kind of represents
everything that Christmas should be about: thinking about other people, being
generous and kind. And it sorts of melts the Grinch. She's not thinking about
what presents she wants for herself, and that really stuns him. It's the first
piece in the puzzle that helps him discover the real reasons Christmas is being
"Cindy-Lou is the light," Mosier says. "She sees the good in everybody, and she
wants more than anything to help her mother. She wants nothing for herself. That
selflessness, that love, shatters what the Grinch believes to be true about the
Whos, Christmas - everything really."
For the role, the directors cast child actor Cameron Seely, who had played PT
Barnum's daughter Helen in The Greatest Showman. "When you set out to cast a
child you have two choices," Meledandri says. "You either cast a child or you
somebody much older who's able to give you a voice that sounds like a child.
It's generally our preference to see if we can cast a child, but you're dealing
with a much greater unknown, and it involves a wide search. So when our team
found Cameron, Scott immediately responded to her vocal audition, then spent
time working with her. From the minute he started to work with her, he saw her
potential, and boy, was he right. She performed like a pro with fifteen years of
experience, and she's not even ten years old."
The Narrator serves a crucial role in The Grinch, not only helping establish the
tone of the storytelling, but also creating essential context around the story
itself. He is the doorway that allows the audience into the hearts and minds of
the characters, and into the Grinch's thoughts and feelings, in particular. When
the filmmakers began thinking who could best fill that role, one person
immediately rose to the top of the list. Pharrell Williams had written the
score, themes and songs for the studio's 2010 hit Despicable Me - his first
collaboration with the studio - and had gone on to work on every film in the
franchise, including writing his Oscar-nominated smash "Happy" for Despicable
"The bond between Pharrell and Illumination began with Despicable Me but has
grown into a dynamic partnership," Meledandri says. "His work played a critical
role in helping to define Despicable Me's distinctive personality, and our
collective goal is to continue to explore creative expression that is new to us
both. We have now expanded the collaboration to include the exploration of
stories to produce together. This has been an organic process, given our shared
sensibilities and mutual respect."
Meledandri asked Williams to perform the narration for The Grinch - a role made
famous by Boris Karloff in the TV special- not only because he was the clear
right choice, but also because Meledandri suspected it would open a new creative
avenue between the artist and Illumination. "Pharrell's narration provides a
soulful center for the film," Meledandri says. "While he is using his natural
voice for the role, I know there are countless character voices inside his head,
waiting to come out for future films. Pharrell is a trusted advisor and a friend
to Illumination and we anticipate many more collaborations in our future."
Williams says the idea to have him narrate the film is due entirely to
Meledandri's insight and foresight, and to the strength of their partnership.
"Chris continues to see things in me that I don't even know are there," Williams
says. "It was his idea for me to narrate the film. I never dreamt that I would
do anything like that. In fact, I would never look at myself objectively enough
to say that I could do that, but I feel like that's what happens with friends,
people who really know you; they know your potential. It's awesome to
collaborate to work with a respected peer."
Although he had never narrated a film before, Williams says, he felt secure in
the process because of the experienced filmmakers guiding him through it. "I was
directed to tap into different parts of my emotions without consciously editing
myself," he says. "I was just allowing those pure emotions to come out, which is
something I never really do because I'm a producer, and I'm always in control.
But I find that my best stuff comes from when I'm not in control. It brings out
the best versions of me. Chris was smart enough to see that. I'm so grateful for
this experience. I grew up watching The Grinch on TV every Christmas. As a kid,
growing up on 1021 Atlantis Drive, I never dreamt that one day that would be my
voice, as the narrator of this new version."
Nobody loves Christmas as much as the Grinch's nearest neighbor, Bricklebaum.
"He's just so irritating," Cumberbatch jokes. "No, in all honesty, he's
indefatigable joy. Bricklebaum is this very ebullient, joyous, and irrepressible
sort of personification of the Christmas spirit. He's the polar opposite of the
Grinch, and he presents this obstacle to the Grinch's isolation and solitude,
which becomes really irksome to the Grinch."
To find an actor who could capture Bricklebaum's buoyant spirit, the filmmakers
turned to Saturday Night Live star Kenan Thompson. "I have loved what Kenan
Thompson has done on SNL for years, and I think he has an incredibly distinctive
and funny voice," Meledandri says. "He is so able to embody comedy vocally. A
lot of comedic actors are visually dependent in how they communicate comedy, and
Kenan's comedy is so strong in his voice. He's just terrific."
For Thompson, the role allowed him to tap his inner joy buzzer. "They showed me
a picture of Bricklebaum and that's all it took," Thompson says. "He's such a
big, jolly, bubbly, bouncy, burly mountain guy! One glance at that big fuzzy
beard and I knew exactly what he sounded like. Plus, it's not every day you get
the chance to become a new Seuss character, so to me it was a no-brainer."
Donna Who is the harried but heartfelt working single mother of three children -
Cindy-Lou and twins Buster and Bean. Try as she might, she can't seem to get
ahead and, although she tries to hide the stress, her daughter can see the toll
it all is taking on her. Donna is a new kind of mother in animation -imperfect,
anchored in the truth of our modern age, and a character who represents the
reality of many of the parents sitting in the audience. Finding an actor who
could play her with authenticity and grace was paramount. Donna's dialogue can
easily come off as too sappy in the hands of the wrong actor. Fortunately, the
filmmakers found the right one. "We were lucky enough to convince Rashida Jones
to do the role," Meledandri says. "Rashida just can do no wrong. It's impossible
for her to give anything but a good line reading on any line you throw her way.
She just makes everything she does better, and it was a joy to have her involved
in this movie."
"Fred is one of the most unexpected new characters we introduce in the film,"
Meledandri says. And one of the new characters likely to become every kid's
favorite plush toy. A rather portly reindeer, he crosses paths with the Grinch
early in the planning stage to steal Christmas. The Grinch attempts to capture a
reindeer to pull his sleigh on Christmas Eve, but just as a he approaches a
large herd, a screaming goat scares them all away. All of them, that is, except
Fred, who's found a patch of grass that he's devouring.
Like Max, Fred never speaks, but he quickly becomes a sweet comic foil to all
the Grinch's grumpiness. "Fred really takes this little family of two - Grinch
and Max - and turns it into a family of three," Meledandri says. "He's so
well-meaning and he wins you - and the Grinch - over with humor and emotion. We
get this incredible discovery about Fred late in the film, which means he can't
help the Grinch out on
Christmas Eve, but they've created a bond that is so strong that just when we
least expect it, Fred is there to help the Grinch at a critical point." Also,
he's a really good snuggler.
Groopert, Izzy, Ozzy and Axl
Groopert, Izzy, Ozzy and Axl are Cindy-Lou's kid squad, whom she enlists to help
her execute her plan to trap Santa. "Cindy-Lou's gang is that group of friends
you had when you were a kid that you could always call on when you needed to get
something done, no questions asked," Mosier says. Groopert is the ring-leader
who helps orchestrate Cindy-Lou's daring mission. "Groopert is Cindy-Lou's very
best friend and becomes a co-conspirator in her effort to meet Santa Claus,"
Meledandri says. He's also got a distinguishing trait that's sure to delight
animation fans worldwide. "One of my favorite things about Groopert," Meledandri
adds, "is that he's got just the greatest head of red hair I've ever seen in any
Izzy, the smallest kid, swaddled in earmuffs and a too-big scarf, "is the brains
of the group," Mosier says. "She is organized and down to business. She is the
one that keeps the group on task to get things done." Goggle-wearing Ozzy, "is
the wisecracking kid," Mosier says. "Always with a candy-cane in his mouth even
when it isn't Christmas. He is always in trouble so has no fear as far as
jumping into one of Cindy-Lou's missions." And Axl, tall and lanky, is laid-back
by comparison. "He takes some convincing," Mosier says. "But once convinced he
is all in. He is also the tallest by a long shot so has to do all the work that
is two feet off the ground."
For the small, but critical role of the mayor of Whoville, the filmmakers needed
an actor with an instantly recognizable voice - and a voice that could convey
maturity, warmth, and gravitas. "It wasn't a large role," Mosier says, "but in a
few key scenes the character needs to speak for the whole town and represent
Whoville." It didn't take terribly long before they landed on a certain
Tony-winning legend, who had also starred in classic family films for multiple
generations, including 1971's Bedknobs and Broomsticks and 1991's Beauty and the
Beast. "We were sitting around and somebody brought up Angela Lansbury," Mosier
says. "Immediately, we
were all said, 'That's amazing. That's perfect.' I mean, who could be better to
really bring that character to life?"
The Screaming Goat
It doesn't have a single line, and has less screen time than almost any other
character, but a wild goat with a particularly horrific bleat provides one of
the film's biggest laughs. As the Grinch is on the hunt for a reindeer to trap
and use to pull his sleigh on Christmas Eve, his plan is thwarted when, without
warning, a screaming goat alerts the reindeer to the Grinch's presence.
"We already had a version of the scene with Grinch heading out to find a
reindeer, and we all felt that it was missing something," Mosier says. "My
memory is we were all having lunch and someone played a goat-screaming video off
the Internet. It was intercut with a Taylor Swift song, and we all couldn't stop
laughing." Suddenly, they hit on an idea, and put the sound into the scene, just
to see what would happen. "It played great," he says. "So much that we decided
to end the whole movie with it!"
For the finished movie, of course, the filmmakers asked Skywalker Sound to
create a unique screaming-goat sound - one that, incredibly, is even more
unnerving (and funnier) than one from an actual goat. Just don't ask how they
did it. "Well," Mosier says, "that's a Skywalker secret."
Philosophy and Overview
After two previous Seuss adaptations, Meledandri and his team have become expert
in adapting Geisel's artistic style into three-dimensional, computer-generated
animation, but The Grinch is their most ambitious undertaking yet. "The
challenges of bringing these books into a dimensional CG world are significant,"
Meledandri says. "We aim to do that while respecting the underlying artistic
style of Ted Geisel. You see that in each of our films by the absence of
straight lines. Everywhere we can replace a straight line with a curve, we do,
because these are motifs from Geisel's work. On an adaptation like The Grinch,
it's invaluable to have somebody like Yarrow as one of our directors. He's a
true student of Geisel's work and starts
the entire process with studying every image in the book. Those images gave us
the starting point for this interpretation, which evolved from there."
Their ambition was big. Whoville houses, which are line-drawings on a flat page
in the book, needed to become teetering, swerving immersive spaces, and new
characters had to look like they belonged in the same world as the characters
audiences already knew. "A great deal of time goes into studying the characters
and then finding a translation of those characters so that they feel like
they're living and breathing, but also like they are of those designs,"
Meledandri says. "It's a long process. In many ways more complicated than
starting without anything, because you don't have absolute freedom. But Yarrow
is brilliant at this form of interpretation. He was a key part of how we made
The Lorax, and I couldn't envision how a film like this could be made without
his artistic insight."
Of all the impressive design achievements in The Grinch, the re-interpretation
of Whoville is one of the most spectacular. "In the book, Whoville is about five
houses," Mosier says. "We realized we had an opportunity to interpret and expand
Whoville, to create a three-dimensional world that the camera can move through,
to transport audiences to another place."
Over the course of their design discussions, the filmmakers articulated a
precise and vivid vision. "We talked about imagining Whoville as the most
idyllic village, a happy holiday mountain community, a place accessible and
familiar to us, but one also uniquely special to the Whos, a bit other worldly
and different," Healy says. "Everything on the screen has the Dr. Seuss design
elements incorporated. We studied all of his books and all of his drawings to
make sure we captured his visual language for the characters, props and
They drew inspiration from the natural world for colors and textures - e.g.
snow, ice, caves and mountains - and embraced a warm, saturated, bright, happy
palette. "The Whos are welcoming and warm," Cheney says. "So their town needed
to reflect this in the shapes and textures of their homes, shops, vehicles and
holiday sweaters. It was also important that the design of Whoville be in direct
contrast to the Grinch's icy cave on the very angular and lonely Mt. Crumpit."
Whoville is now a bustling, twinkling mini-metropolis, packed with vibrant color
and visual splendor, and it forms the foundation for a fully realized vision of
for its citizens. "The Whos themselves inspired the design of the city," Cheney
says. "The Whos love to sing together, eat together and commute together in
bobsleds and triple-decker buses. These are neighborly people who gather every
year on the town square to put their homemade ornaments on one gigantic
Christmas tree. Our hope is that everyone will wish they could spend their
Christmas in Whoville, too."
Mosier, Cheney and their animation team created an entire 3D computer model of
Whoville to ensure that the design followed the same internal logic of a
real-world city-planning effort. "We know every location - where Cindy-Lou's
house is compared to the town square, compared to the entrance to the city and
the location of Who Foods Market," Cheney says. "If you wanted to, you could
actually build a real-life Whoville and it would make sense as a town."
In an early scene, the town wakes to a bright, clear day. Shops open. People
greet each other. Watching it, European audiences may notice that all of it
feels sweetly familiar. "A huge inspiration for Whoville came from my
neighborhood in Paris," Cheney says. "My wife and I lived near the bottom of a
road named rue Mouffetard. We spent most mornings grabbing coffee at different
cafĂ©s on the square or along the hill. We'd watch as the fountain turned on,
neighbors walked their dogs, parents dropped their kids at school and shops
almost unfolded open onto the cobblestoned street. The air was filled with the
smell of fresh bread and music from street musicians. It seemed so magical to
us. And it had that sense of depth and community that seemed perfect for
"Even though our Whoville is stylized, we wanted it to feel real. We want it to
feel like you can almost reach into this world and touch that furry sweater,
smell the hot chocolate and waffles, and feel the crunch of the snow beneath
The impact is nothing short of wondrous. "I think we have made a gorgeous film
that celebrates all the special magic and mystery of the holiday season," Healy
says. "I loved the idea of making a Christmas film that could capture the pure
joy I had lying under the Christmas tree as a child, watching the colored lights
twinkle and the ornaments sparkle. We knew we could capture that unique visual
richness with our talented team and our well-honed tools."
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