Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Chloe looked the way Meryl Streep's skeleton would look if you made it smile and walk around the party being extra nice to everybody.In general, I believe Christmas movies suck. I will not, for instance, be reviewing the US hit movie, SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE. For all I know, it's a Christmas classic. But then, even as a young kid, Christmas movies always made me spew and brought out my meanest Bah-Humbug! spirit. This might be why I get such a kick out of movies like BAD SANTA and TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS - both movies that forego the saccharine gloopy Christmas goodness that infects the usual fare.

TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was originally released back in the early 1990s and has now been re-released in a new 3-D version. It's an absolutely cracking film and while there isn't much use made of the 3-D (unlike, say, MONSTER HOUSE) the kids I took to see this got a kick out of wearing the 3-D glasses anyhoo. So cutting to the chase, what we really have is a re-release of the original film, and even on those terms, it's well worth seeing.

The movie is a musical scored and largely sung by long-time Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman. It tells a sweetly ghoulish tale of an attenuated skeleton called Jack who lives in Halloween town. Every Halloween, Jack (Chris "Prince Humperdinck" Sarandon) and his vampires, witches, corpses and beasties keep the rest of the world entertained with tricks and mischief. But Jack is frustrated with the monotony of it all and wanders away from home. He stumbles upon Christmastown - a place he never knew existed! Dazzled at the lovely warm feeling he returns to Halloweentown convinced he can do a better job than Santa. So, with all best intentions, Jack and his friends set about making presents to deliver to all the kids but the presents can't help but turn out scary. The normal world of humans is scared silly and Christmas is cancelled until Jack saves the day. He may not be able to supplant Santa but he does at least get a beautiful re-animated Corpse Bride voiced by Catherine O'Hara.

The movie is astoundingly beautifully designed and is rendered in a technically impressive mix of stop-motion and cell animation with very very few CGI add-ins. For film geeks, it's great to see some fantastic double exposure special-effects, To that end, it has a more tactile "real" feel that most new CGI animated films. Like WALLACE AND GROMIT: CURSE OF THE WERE RABBIT, the movie benefits from having been lit and photographed as much like a live-action film as possible. What that means is that instead of having a super-bright Disney-like cartoon, NIGHTMARE looks more like a forties film-noir or THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER(!). Halloweentown is morbidly drawn in a near black-and-white palette and filmed largely in shadow. Even in Christmas-town, which has a Dr Seuss feel - the colours are rich and dark and warm rather than day-glo bright.

Because of the series of ghoulish (though largely well-meaning characters) and the brooding photographic style, NIGHTMARE is one of those kids films, like MONSTER HOUSE, that is not for the faint-hearted kid. For instance, there's a scene where the evil Oogie Boogie's body disintegrates into a mass of creepy crawlies. You need to make a judgement about whether your kid will handle that. But to my mind, the director handles it just right - giving us a few quick frights before moving on to the love story or the funnier characters.

A lot of movies get tagged as "instant classics" but I reckon NIGHTMARE is one of the few to whom this description actually applies. It's a great family Christmas movie - providing adults with a richly imagined world rather than cheap pop-cultural gags - and treating kids with more respect that, say, your average Santa movie. Two enthusiastic thumbs-up!

TIM BURTON's THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was originally released in the early 1990s. It's available on DVD but is also on re-release in the UK in 3D format.


  1. I agree that Nightmare is a classic. I've been a fan since the beginning (and actually hate to admit that Corpse Bride didn't come close to being this good) but I was disappointed that Disney decided my coner of Canada wasn't big enough for the 3D release. Still hoping that we may see it for Christmas but I'm not holding my breath.

  2. I haven't seen Nightmare or Corpse Bride.

  3. I think there are more "questionables" in NBX than Oogie falling apart... when Sally jumps happily out of her window, several stories down? Jack's sleigh being a coffin that he pops out of?

    I saw the movie when it first came out (I was 8) and I really liked it. You don't notice a lot of those little things until you can really understand them, and even then you appreciate it because the movie isn't about morbidity, it's about community comradery, friendship, and picking up and doing better next time.

    I hardly think it's anything to shield kids from.

  4. I love Tim Burton's work! The three children that ride in the bathtub are the best!