About The Production (Cont'd)
The Grand Heist
Gadgets, Gizmos and More
The first things Grinch fans will notice is the transformation of the Grinch's
lonely, dank cave into a multi-level lair packed with hi-tech gadgets and
gizmos. "Caves, by definition, can be dark, close, wet and a bit scary to most
of us," Healy says. "So it was a challenge to find a way to incorporate the
beauty of caves, with their lovely bands of undulating color and often
mysterious lighting. We strove for roomy organic spaces that open into one
another, with big inviting rooms, part-earth and part-fabricated, where the
Grinch and Max can build an interesting comfortable life together in solitude,
homemaking and inventing whimsical contraptions."
Because he's been isolated for so long, the Grinch has come up with ingenious
ways to simplify his life. He has a full-body blow dryer, for instance, that
turns him into an instant green fuzz-ball, and he's come up with some creative
ways to make Max a full-service dog. "Just the way he makes a cup of coffee is
the most elaborate coffee maker you've ever seen, with all of these steps and
stages and chambers," Meledandri says. "It's something Max does for him every
morning - brings the Grinch his breakfast" with the aid of a dumbwaiter and a
helmet tray. "It's clearly a contraption that the Grinch has built."
The filmmakers decided to apply that same design aesthetic to the Grinch's
scheme to steal Christmas - and crank it up to 11. "When we started to work on
the story, we realized that while we knew that the Grinch steals Christmas, we
didn't really know how he manages to do it," Meledandri says. "We felt like that
was a great opportunity, and we began to approach stealing Christmas like this
And to steal Christmas, the Grinch would have to pull out all the stops. He
fashions a helicopter-drone contraption for Max, which sends the dog zooming at
top speed through the streets of Whoville on a reconnaissance mission. And the
heist itself is something to behold. "The film has this almost-magical sequence
where it's Christmas Eve and the Grinch is finally ready to embark, and we watch
him manage to get through every house in this town in a matter of hours,"
Meledandri says. As part of his dastardly duties, he deploys towering accordion
stilts, and a massive candy cane that serves multiple amazing functions.
"One of the things we did very deliberately was make Whoville so big that it
seemed an impossible place to steal Christmas from in just one night," Cheney
says. "The impossible nature of that task demands that the Grinch be creative.
How is he
going to pull off this impossible heist? With a customized sleigh, Max's
multi-purpose antler and a giant Swiss Army Knife candy cane. That candy cane is
a net-launcher, a mini helicopter, a flashlight, a grappling hook, and it has
tiny peppermint wheels for decelerating down chimneys."
All of which results in a jaw-dropping sequence of ingenuity and mechanical
splendor. "There's all of this mechanized activity, and it's done with all sorts
of almost Rube Goldberg-esque devices," Meledandri says. "It's thrilling to
Writing The Grinch required screenwriters Tommy Swerdlow and Michael LeSieur to
seamlessly integrate Geisel's original language with new narration and dialogue.
Swerdlow had worked, years earlier, with Meledandri on the film Cool Runnings,
and Meledandri knew that he was as deft with poetry as he was with prose. "We
went to Tommy when we were looking for a new Seussian rhyme, because Tommy is a
wonderful poet," Meledandri says. "And he started just helping us with the
rhyming narration and then ultimately that transitioned into working
side-by-side with all of us on the script over a number of years."
LeSieur had been instrumental in figuring out the structure and direction of the
story. "Michael came in early and over about eighteen months helped us do all
the initial excavation, really defining the foundation of the movie," Meledandri
says. "These films happen over a number of years and the team that joins
together over that time to realize the movie is like an evolving, living
Invaluable to that team is Meledandri's long-time producing partner, Healy.
"Making one of these movies is such a massive undertaking and I've been blessed
with the most incredible partner in Janet Healy," Meledandri says. "She plays
such a critical role in virtually every facet of the film making. And we were
fortunate to be joined on this film by a new collaborator, Latifa Ouaou, who has
become one of our team of executive producers, and who came in and focused on
the Grinch and brought a wonderful sense of storytelling and great comedic
timing. She has made just a rich, rich contribution to the film and will be
going on to work with us on many more movies."
Healy, who is based in Paris, says that she and Meledandri have created an ideal
working partnership over their 12 years and eight films together. "We
communicate pretty much daily between Los Angeles and Paris, so we now have a
great shorthand between us," Healy says. "We also have huge respect for our
complimentary talents, and share similar tastes and a deep love of movies: we
love making films and we love seeing films." Together, they have approximately
80 years of combined experience, which allows them to quickly identify and be
attentive to critical decisions. "We have developed a very precise way of
pushing the material on a weekly basis into and through the production pipeline,
and we always know where we are in terms of resources so we can gage what parts
can continue to iterate for improvement," she says. "We both are quite
relentless and we want to make our films the very best they can be, given the
always-present constraints of time and money. It is hugely satisfying to bring
the Illumination films to global audiences, no matter their ages. I can
truthfully say working with Chris is an enormous privilege, a wonderful
adventure and a complete joy for me every day."
Danny Elfman's long and storied career as a composer has covered an impossibly
vast range of musical styles and films - from Bettlejuice to Batman, Scrooged to
Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas to Spider-Man, but the stars
had never aligned for him to work on an Illumination film until now. "The music
is truly the third leg of storytelling, along with the script and the visuals,
and for The Grinch we envisioned a really immersive musical landscape,"
Meledandri says. "Danny is someone I've talked to about collaborating with for
probably twenty years, and we just never have had the opportunity to do so. And
for The Grinch, I just couldn't think of anybody better whose music could be
evocative in a way that could support both the fanciful part of this world, but
also touch on the emotion and also support and drive comedy." Plus, much like
with the script, the music had to meld perfectly with the style of "Welcome
Christmas" from the TV special, plus a new version of "You're A Mean One, Mr.
Grinch," and a new original song, "I Am The Grinch," both by Tyler, The Creator.
It was an epic task, in other words, and Elfman was the first and only choice.
"He is simply extraordinary as a musician, and we have had a tremendous time
working with him," Meledandri says. "My secret hope is that one day we could
have a Hollywood Bowl viewing of the film with a live orchestra playing Danny's
music. It's that good."
Elfman says that he'd long wanted to work with Illumination, and with The
Grinch, it seemed like the ideal time and project. "On so many levels it seemed
right that this is the movie we should be doing together," Elfman says. "I met
with Chris, and I just had a good feeling about Illumination and their vision
for the film. Also, on a personal front, it has been 25 years since I did the
score for The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was inspired by the story of the
Grinch, and by the rhythms and rhymes of Dr. Seuss, and so that felt kind of
perfect to me: like two sides of a circle being joined by the same source."
In fact, Elfman had a close connection to Dr. Seuss. He had met years earlier
with Theodor Geisel, before Geisel's death in 1991, to discuss a musical version
of the Seuss book Oh, The Places You'll Go. "We never got to do it, sadly, but I
do feel a kind of kinship to Dr. Seuss and his work," Elfman says. "I grew up on
it; it's what my mother read to me at bedtime, and it was part of my
For the score, Elfman knew that the filmmakers, including directors Mosier and
Cheney, with whom he worked closely, wanted the music to connect with both a new
version of the song, "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and the classic song sung
by the Whos on Christmas morning, "Welcome Christmas." From that starting point,
Elfman says, "I started inventing ways to pull 'Welcome Christmas' into the
score, sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes in a more obvious one. I ended up
dropping into it maybe half a dozen times, which I really enjoyed."
Elfman's favorite parts of the score to write were for new scenes created for
the film, which detail the Grinch's childhood, which wasn't a happy one. "Those
scenes with his memories, that's when I felt I got to really open up and write
narratively in a way that I really enjoy," Elfman says. "That's the kind of work
that really gets my excitement up." He pauses and laughs. "You know, something
"You're A Mean One"
The filmmakers knew they didn't want to change the iconic Who Christmas song,
"Welcome Christmas," but for the other memorable song from the TV special,
"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," they wanted to shake things up a bit for a new
generation. "We wanted to find an expression of it that was a throwback to the
roots of that song, but create a new version that we could really own,"
Meledandri says. (Fun fact: the original song was performed not by Boris
Karloff, as many believe, but
by voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft, who is best known as the voice of Tony the
Tiger in the Kellogg's Frosted Flakes commercials.)
So with their vision to modernize the song, Meledandri and team approached famed
musician, artist and record producer Tyler, The Creator. "Tyler, The Creator, is
an artist I really love and he's such a perfect collaborator for Illumination,"
Meledandri says. "He's incredibly visual, and he's really interested in so many
of the things that we love here, like character, color. He has the most
unbelievable sense of color, shape and silhouette, and melody."
Elfman was impressed. "I thought, 'Wow, that's kind of an interesting choice,'"
he says. He would later work with Tyler to coordinate the film's musical themes
and pacing with Tyler's song. "I met with Tyler and thought, 'Oh, yeah, this is
going to work," Elfman says. "When he presented his song, I thought of all kinds
of ways I could do the arrangement that would make it work well with the film."
Directors Mosier and Cheney, and executive producer Ouaou all shared Meledandri
and Elfman's enthusiasm, especially because this was new territory for the
musician. "He really was going into terrain that he hadn't been in before,"
Meledandri says. The result, "You're a Mean One," is sure to make the song
relevant - and deeply cool - to a whole new generation. "I'm the first new song
in the movie," Tyler says. "That's hot."
"I Am the Grinch"
The original plan was that Tyler would write just a new version of "You're a
Mean One," for the film, but then he got inspired and wrote an entirely new
song, "I Am The Grinch," which plays over the film's end credits. "The plan was
one song, but I ended up giving them more and they seemed to like it," Tyler
says. "I hope the songs fit into the movie really well."
They do. "He's an incredibly creative guy," says Elfman, who was the first to
hear the new track. "I went into his studio to work with him on some other
Grinch stuff, and he said, 'Oh, I just wrote this this morning,' and he played
me that song. I said, "Jesus, you did this this morning? This is great."
Illumination, founded by Academy Award nominee Chris Meledandri in 2007, is
one of the entertainment industry's leading producers of event-animated films.
The company's franchises include three of the top-eight animated films of all
time, and its iconic, beloved brands-infused with memorable and distinct characters,
global appeal and cultural relevance-have grossed more than $5.8 billion
Illumination was recently honored by Fast Company as one of the world's most
Illumination, which has an exclusive financing and distribution partnership with
Universal Pictures, has garnered an extraordinary number of franchise successes
for a studio just over a decade old. As the creator of the hugely successful
world of Despicable Me, which was recently crowned the top-grossing box-office
animated franchise globally, Illumination has evolved the Despicable Me series
to include Minions, the third-highest-grossing animated film of all time and the
most profitable film in Universal's history, as well as the Academy Award-
nominated Despicable Me 2 and summer 2017's Despicable Me 3, which made more
than $1 billion at the global box office
In 2016 alone, Illumination launched two original properties that captivated
audiences worldwide. That year, The Secret Life of Pets achieved the best
opening for an original movie, animated or otherwise, in U.S. history. Likewise,
the critically lauded holiday favorite Sing premiered to a standing ovation at
the Toronto International Film Festival before becoming a global smash.
Founded 11 years ago with the mission of putting a smile on the face of every
member of the audience, no matter their age, Illumination continues to imagine
both original stories, as well as unexpected adaptations of beloved pre-existing
works. By infusing joy and discovery into every property, the studio allows
audiences to connect their experiences with each property to the Illumination
With successful mobile games, consumer products and social/digital media,
Illumination's franchises-populated with characters that are as comedic as they
are heartfelt and authentic-translate far beyond the theater. "Despicable Me:
Minion Rush" has now become the fifth-most popular app game ever, while
Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios
Hollywood, has been joined by Universal Studios Japan - where the Minions are
the No. 1 licensed character - with its wildly popular Minion Park.
Illumination's upcoming films-featuring creative contributors from an
unparalleled collection of writers, artists, voice talent and musicians- include
The Secret Life of Pets 2 in June 2019, Minions 2 in July 2020, and Sing 2 in
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS!
A BRIEF HISTORY
Theodor Seuss Geisel, who published under the name Dr. Seuss, first created the
Grinch for "The Hoobub and The Grinch," a 32-line illustrated poem that debuted
in Redbook magazine in May 1955. In that poem, the Grinch is a con man who
persuades The Hoobub, who's happily drowsing in the sun, to trade the sun for a
piece of green string.
By that point in 1955, Geisel, at 51, had written, with his then-wife Helen, the
1947 Oscar-winning documentary, Design for Death, about the history of Japan
that lead to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, had become a successful illustrator
for magazines and had published fifteen books, including And to Think That I Saw
It on Mulberry Street, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, and Horton Hears a
Who! But his most productive years, resulting in the most acclaimed work of his
career, were still ahead of him.
In early 1957 he had just completed The Cat in the Hat, and had begun work on
what became How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Geisel's inspiration for the
character had come from a surprising place that previous Christmas: himself. "I
was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed
a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror," he later told Redbook. "It was
Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover
something about Christmas that obviously I'd lost."
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! tells the story of a grumpy misanthrope who
lives in a cave on Mt. Crumpet with his dog, Max. He generally avoids the people
of Whoville in the valley below, but every year their massive Christmas
celebrations, where all the "noise, noise, noise, noise," especially their
singing, drives him to distraction. He decides to steal Christmas, and, posing
as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, he strips the town of every toy, trinket, tree
and trace of tinsel. But, as he teeters with his towering sleigh above Whoville
on Christmas morning, he hears not the sound of crying, but the sound of
singing. His realization that Christmas means more than just presents and
decorations makes his heart grow "three sizes that day," and he trumpets his way
back into town to return all their presents and holiday trappings and to join
Geisel wrote the book quickly, in a matter of weeks. According to the 1995
biography, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel, by Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan, Geisel said
it was the easiest book of his career to write, but he struggled with how to end
it in a way that felt universal and secular. "I got hung up getting the Grinch
out of the mess," Geisel said. "I got into a situation where I sounded like a
second-rate preacher. Finally, in desperation, without making any statement
whatever, I showed the Grinch and the Whos together at the table, and made a pun
of the Grinch carving the 'roast beast.' I had gone through thousands of
religious choices, and then after three months it came out like that." Published
by Random House in 1957, the same year as The Cat and the Hat, Grinch was the
first Seuss book with a seeming villain as its protagonist, and it became an
instant critical darling. "Even if you prefer Dr. Seuss in a purely antic mood,
you must admit that if there's a moral to be pointed out, no one can do it more
gaily," The New York Times wrote in its review. "The reader is swept along by
the ebullient rhymes and the weirdly zany pictures until he is limp with relief
when the Grinch reforms and, like the latter, mellow with good feelings." Kirkus
Review declared the Grinch character, "easily the best Christmas-cad since
Scrooge." Almost a decade later, the book was adapted into a TV special directed
by Chuck Jones, starring the voice of Boris Karloff as both the Grinch and The
Narrator. For the special, Geisel himself wrote the lyrics to the now iconic
Christmas song, "Welcome Christmas," and the classic, "You're A Mean One, Mr.
Grinch." The special first aired on CBS on December 18, 1966, and would go on to
be broadcast on the network each December for the next 22 years, embedding How
Grinch Stole Christmas! into the national consciousness. In 2004, TV Guide
ranked it at the top of its list of the 10 Best Family Holiday Specials. Over
the years, it would become an annual viewing event for generations of families,
a joyous new holiday tradition that also served as a poignant reminder of the
true meaning of the Christmas season: love, forgiveness and kindness.
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