Sunday, October 26, 2008


Written by Tim Burton, Michael McDowell and Caroline Thompson
Words and Music by Danny Elfman
Directed by Henry Selick
Voices by Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Sarandon and Paul Reubens

I’ve never been able to pin down what exactly is the target audience for TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It’s a holiday tale seemingly too dark to be a Christmas classic and too warm to be a Halloween fright. It’s animated so that eliminates a good chunk of close-minded adults yet it’s far too scary for younger kids (unless you consider Santa Claus being tortured to be good wholesome fun). It’s a musical too so there go all the adolescents outside of the drama club. That doesn’t leave many but those who do count themselves as part of this film’s loyal following know how lucky they are. Sure, it’s an altogether bizarre amalgamation of two seemingly opposite holidays but it is also incredibly clever, darkly romantic and one of the most underrated and satisfying musicals of our time.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS originated in Burton’s mind in the early 80’s, while he was working at Disney. Not so surprisingly, the dark story was not the kind of film Disney was looking to make at the time and so it was left behind. Burton left Disney behind as well but went back years later to get his original concept drawings that would become the cast of countless cookey characters that have, since its original 1993 bow, spawned an incredibly successful merchandising line. The first and foremost of these characters is Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king who presides over Halloween Town. The citizens and denizens of Halloween Town aren’t bad people, er, creatures. No, rather they are simply carrying out what they were born to do – bring chills and thrills to the boys and girls of the world on the last day of October. Only after more years than he can count, Jack feels like something now is missing. His emptiness is only exacerbated by a fateful visit to Christmas Town. Jack is overtaken by this indescribable warmth and joy that exudes throughout this place that he’s never known before and suddenly, the world is full of possibilities again.

Walt Disney has been toying with us for years. The film has only been allowed out of that pesky vault once a year, finding what seemed like a new home in 3D theatres in time for Halloween. Finally, the mouse house has let Jack and friends back into our homes in a 2-disc special edition. “Special” would be putting it mildly. Not only is the film impeccably restored but the extras feel so rare that you truly feel as if you are being treated to a genuinely thorough backstage look at this artistic triumph. Deleted and extended scenes are raw and unfinished, giving them a silent film era look. Actor, Christopher Lee reads Burton’s original poem that the film is based on against illustrations inspired by Burton’s original concept art. Even the teaser trailer is interesting in a time capsule fashion and how often can you say that? It only goes deeper from there. The “Making of” is broken down into each part of production and we are introduced to the delicate intricacies of stop-motion animation. Hundreds of puppets, meticulously detailed sets and unique camera mechanics are only three incredibly fascinating parts of this immense three-year long project. And still, I am only skimming the surface here of what other options are included in this package. Burton’s short film’s VINCENT (the story of an impossibly melodramatic seven-year-old boy descending into the madness of his mind) and FRANKENWEENIE (a mad scientist boy brings his dead pooch back from the dead in this precursor to EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and homage to Frankenstein) are a particularly extraordinary inclusion. And finally, a brand new commentary track was recorded with Burton as well as the two other unsung heroes – director, Henry Selick and composer and lyricist, Danny Elfman (who also contributes Jack’s singing voice). They have plenty to say but oddly, they’re all saying it at different times, having recorded their commentaries seperately. Despite not recording together, they are all on the same page when it comes to their genuine appreciate and pride for this project.

There is not enough space here for me to convey just how unique THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS is. Burton, Selick and Elfman, along with the hundreds of other animators and contributors, drew inspiration from such Christmas classics as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, turned them inside out and somehow managed to come up with a contemporary version that will remain now forever listed amongst these original classics as a masterpiece all its own. Suffice it to say, it needs to be seen and if you find yourself loving it, then this collector’s edition is a must have.


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