Thursday, December 18, 2014

How the Grinch Stole...Utah?

 "Every Who Down in Who-ville Liked Christmas a lot... But the Grinch, Who lived just north of Who-ville, Did NOT!" - Dr. Seuss1 

Children everywhere know and love Dr. Suess' classic story How the Grinch Stole Christmas! It is beloved for its catchy rhymes, its whimsical spirit, and most of all for its message on the true spirit of Christmas. So when Hollywood came out with a feature-length movie based on this beloved book, it became an instant hit, grossing over $345 million worldwide.2 Ron Howard directed the movie with Brian Grazer producing, and Jim Carrey portrayed the iconic title character.
But since the original story was only storybook length, the people behind the movie had to expand on the original tale quite a bit. One of the most important challenges they faced was fleshing out the town of Whoville and making the Who society come to life. It is not hard to imagine that the filmmakers must have relied on outside sources for inspiration as they created the Whoville world. Ron Howard probably drew on real-life people and places to create his holiday feature. So what if Whoville was based on a place that's not so far away? What if it was based on...say...Utah? 

Sound crazy? Maybe not. Lest you think I'm crazier than a Fuddnuddler on a Floozlephone, allow me to make my case. Here is my evidence that Hollywood's Whoville was modeled after Happy Valley...

The Setting 

Both the Whos and the Utahns live in the shadow of a mountain range where snow is plentiful. Not only do the Whos share Utah's mountain topography, but it seems their populace has some similar pastimes. The movie opens with two young Who guys and two Who girls going up the mountain on what looks suspiciously like a double-date. Sure, they end up getting scared silly by the Grinch once they reach the top, but subtract the Grinch lair and write a "Y" on the side of Mt. Crumpit and this is a scene straight out of Provo. 

The People

The Whos make for great comedy because of their over-the-top cheerfulness. Every one of them is peppy and full of cheer. They're energetic, off-beat, and happy as a rule. Sound like anyone we know? Plus, despite their zany clothes and hairstyles, they all seem to look alike. They may not have the same noses, but the Mormon and Who societies share some striking similarities.

The Book

This one's the kicker. While other similarities between Whos and Mormons may seem superficial, this one should have the most dubious onlooker raising an eyebrow. The Whos of the movie have something the Whos of the book never had. It's their sacred Who-text, a volume of Who-ish proverbs called...that's right...the Book of Who! Think about it! The Whos get their Who-ishness from studying a book that shares their name. This looks an awful lot like the Book of Mormon, does it not? How many other groups in the world do you know that have an eponymous book like this? There are only two groups I know who have a "Book of" themselves and that's the Mormons and the Whos. It's hard to believe this is just a coincidence.

The Filmmakers

All this might seem like a narcissistic attempt to put our faith at the center of a story that has nothing to do with Utah life. After all, the filmmakers probably couldn't care less about Mormonism, right? Actually, filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are not as ignorant about Mormonism as you may think. They were certainly exposed to Utah life while shooting the movie. The sledding scene near the end of the film was shot in Solitude ski resort, just thirty miles outside of Salt Lake City!3  Howard and Grazer are also no strangers to the subject of religion. Ron Howard directed both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, two films dealing with intrigue inside the Catholic church.4 Brian Grazer produced both those films, as well as a soon-to-be-released documentary about Warren Jeffs and the FLDS church.5 Howard also attended the Broadway premiere of the musical The Book of Mormon.6 In 2011 it was announced that Howard and Grazer would team up again to make a feature film called Under the Banner of Heaven, a story about a couple of murderers who belonged to an extremist Mormon offshoot group in the '80s.7 That film has yet to materialize (thankfully), but it's pretty clear that the guys who made The Grinch are not unfamiliar with Mormonism nor are they disinterested in it. 

The Outsider

If you've seen the movie, you know the Grinch doesn't fit in with the Whos. He once lived among them and lived a Who-life, but he had a bad experience and now lives outside their community. But around the middle of the film the Whos decide it's time to reach out to the Grinch. So what do they do? They invite him to an activity! In true Mormon style, the Whos welcome the Grinch down from his cave for a night of games and plenty of "refreshments." It's like the Grinch is a less-active attending the Who-version of a ward activity. Unfortunately, this activity doesn't end well and the Grinch isn't around to stack chairs at the end. But don't worry. He reunites with the Whos in the end and all's well.

So, am I positive that Whoville is based on Utah? Not really. But there is definitely an argument to be made, and there's some pretty compelling evidence to back it up. We'll likely never know if we Mormons were actually the inspiration for the Whos, but it's fun to draw the parallels nonetheless. If nothing else, maybe watching the movie from this perspective will teach us to be a little kinder to the green and hairy among us. We don't want any less-actives sneaking in and stealing our presents, after all. 

What do you think? Am I off my rocker or is this the gospel truth? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!


1. Seuss, Dr. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. New York: Random House, 1985. 1-2.

2. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Box Office Mojo." How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) - Box Office Mojo. Accessed December 18, 2014.

3. Hicken, Jackie. "50 Things You Might Not Know about 15 of Your Favorite Christmas Movies | Deseret News." Accessed December 18, 2014.

4. "Ron Howard." IMDb. Accessed December 18, 2014.

5. "Brian Grazer." IMDb. Accessed December 18, 2014.

6. " 'The Book of Mormon' Premiere: 'South Park,' 'Avenue Q' Masterminds Collide." Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2011. Accessed December 18, 2014.

7. Lond, Harley W. "Ron Howard Finds Faith 'Under the Banner of Heaven'" The Moviefone Blog. July 20, 2011. Accessed December 18, 2014.

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