Day 1: The Nightmare Before Christmas


"The Nightmare Before Christmas" diorama (Zap2it, Tamara Brooks)

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  • The Nightmare Before Christmas



    Cast: The voices of Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey.

    Director: Henry Selick.

    Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes.

    Industry rating: PG for some scary images.
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Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas -- Tim Burton's vision, Henry Selick's 1993 movie -- is a masterpiece. A work of grand visual wit, clever songs, funny gags and genuine pathos, it is perhaps the greatest stop-motion animated film ever, a painstaking style of model animation that computers have all but completely done away with.

And though it has a home in many a DVD library, Disney has seen to it that it has a higher status within the culture, transferring the original film to 3D and re-issuing it every Halloween as a new holiday tradition -- a fright-night reminder that Christmas is coming, Jack Skellington's efforts be darned.

Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, a skeletal ghoul who fits right in among the mad scientists, corpses and things that go bump in the night. He has a ghost dog, Zero, and plenty of friends and neighbors. There's a girl, a pieced-together cadaver, Sally (voiced by Catherine O'Hara), who pines for Jack and poisons her creator ( William Hickey, perfectly cast as a Dr. Frankenstein-Meets-Dr. Strangelove).

But Jack is too self-absorbed to notice Sally. Because even though he (voiced by Chris Sarandon) is beloved at home, he's bored with yelling "Boo." When he stumbles across Christmas Town, he thinks he's found a cure for his pumpkin-carving blues. Jack will take the place of "Sandy Claws" and deliver Halloween Town toys to all the boys and girls the world over. What, kids don't want spiders in their stockings?

If you're thinking "Bad idea," you don't know the half of it. Start with the trio of evil little Munchkins, Lock, Shock and Barrel, Jack sends to get the jolly fat Santa out of the way.

"Kidnap the Sandy Claws," they sing, for this is a musical. "Beat him with a stick. Lock him up for 90 years, see what makes him tick."

Danny Elfman did the music and sings Jack Skellington's songs as well. The tunes are cute if mostly forgettable. The story, based on a poem Burton wrote, is simple, owing more to classic horror movies of the 1930s than classic fairy tales.

It's the look of the film that sticks with you, the scary-cute stop-motion puppets, the gray on black backgrounds, and the fully realized world of holiday "towns," each existing to serve the needs of its "king," be he the Pumpkin King, Santa or the Easter Bunny.

The addition of 3D doesn't add a lot to this -- the odd ghost, Jack-O-lantern or other object jumps off the screen (and mostly in the credits). It does add the illusion of depth of field and make the characters pop out a little more. If you have it at home, the cinematic experience is not novel enough to warrant the premium 3D ticket price for funny 3D glasses.

But Disney was right about this much -- Nightmare is good enough to deserve to become a holiday tradition. Head to the theater, or pick it up on DVD. If you have kids, there are worse things they could find under a tree than Jack Skellington.