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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/26/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/26/2008

You hear a lot of filmmakers spouting a lot of malarkey about "art for art's sake", but I'd be willing to bet that, if pressed, these same people would admit that they do expect a certain expectation from the audience. They may want viewers to love the movie, or find it controversial. Or, the honest ones will say that they simply want to make something entertaining. But, does anyone ever expect their movie to become a cultural touchstone? And not just that, but a touchstone for a certain group? I don't know if anyone involved with The Nightmare Before Christmas expected or wanted the movie to become a movie worshipped by goth kids, but that's what happened. So, before we launch into a discussion about how Hot Topic may not exist if it weren't for Jack Skellington, let's look at this film on its 15th anniversary.

The Nightmare Before Christmas opens in Halloweentown, the place where Halloween is created. The citizens of Halloweentown spend their entire year preparing for their big day, and Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, singing voice by Danny Elfman) is their leader. However, after years of doing nothing but thinking of ways to make Halloween scarier, Jack wants a change in his life. While wandering through the forest with his dog, Zero, Jack discovers a series of doors which bear odd decorations. Jack opens the one with a Christmas tree and falls through. He finds himself in Christmastown and he's fascinated by it. He returns to Halloweentown and tells the townsfolk that he wants to take over Christmas and that he wants everyone to help him. So, Jack asks the vampire, mummies, and werewolves of Halloweentown to assist him in creating their own Christmas. Despite the fact that Sally (voiced by Catherine O'Hara) warns Jack that his plan will be a disaster, Jack wants to go though with it. How can a skeleton who only knows how to scare people bring all of the children of the world a merry Christmas?

The Nightmare Before Christmas is an important film for several reasons. This was the fist feature-length film to be done with stop-motion animation. In the early 90s, this art-form, which was very familiar to older audiences, was virtually dead. (And it's yet to be revived, save for 1996's James and the Giant Peach, also directed by Selick.) Despite the fact that this was a very old-fashioned style of animation, it gave the film a new and fresh look, and the quasi-3-D look (which would be turn to full 3-D over a decade later) made the film look different from anything else.

Another important main factor with The Nightmare Before Christmas is the tone of the movie. According to legend, Disney was uncomfortable with the film's tone, so they released it under their Touchstone Entertainment banner. (Ironically, the Teaser Trailer on the DVD has the Disney logo.) The movie features ostensibly scary creatures, such as devils, vampires, mummies, witches, and ghouls. And while Tim Burton has never seemed to show a true grasp of mainstream entertainment -- and that's what makes his work stand out -- he did understand that children inherently like gross and scary things (especially young boys). The monsters in the movie are never truly scary and they are presented as sympathetic, or more often, mundane. The movie presents monsters as slightly skewed, but normal citizens of Halloweentown. (It's like an extension of The Addams Family idea.)

And then we have the fact that The Nightmare Before Christmas is a musical. Burton's regular composer Danny Elfman has crafted songs, and lent his own voice to Jack, which really bring the film to life. Obviously, the film could have eschewed the music, but the songs (save for "Sally's Song", which is such a dirge) are very entertaining and do a great job of conveying the character's thoughts and emotions.

The movie is very different and entertaining, but it's not perfect. Although I'm a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, I must point out it's foibles. The main problem with the movie is the Oogie Boogie character, who adds nothing to the movie. The Oogie Boogie scene feels very tacked on and the last thing that this movie needed was a villain. The fact that Jack is going up against great odds is story enough. My other problem with the movie is that when Jack finds the doors which lead to the other holidays, he simply enters the circle. Shouldn't he have emerged from the Halloween door?

Those minor problems aside, The Nightmare Before Christmas is certainly a classic. The animation still looks great and the songs, especially "What's This?" encourage sing-alongs. And, again, Jack Skellington has become the hero of a generation. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The Nightmare Before Christmas scares up a DVD courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. This is the third time that the film has come to DVD and this new disc does feature one very important improvement. The film is letterboxed at 1.66:1 and finally, the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The picture has a great crispness, really showing the detail in the figure. This transfer has revealed some shimmering and stuttering in the animation. The colors look great and the darkness of Halloweentown is never too dark. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. (The DTS track from the previous release is dropped here, which is odd, as there should be room for it.) The sound is very good, as there are prominent stereo and surround effects. These effects show good speaker separation. There is some subwoofer effects here, but they are mild compared to the other sounds.

The Nightmare Before Christmas Collector's Edition DVD contains a variety of extras, most of which were on the last release. We do begin with a new AUDIO COMMENTARY from Producer Tim Burton, Director Henry Selick, and Composer Danny Elfman, all of which were recorded separately and edited together. Despite the fact that the trio are actually discussing the movie amongst themselves, we do get some good info here about the making of the film. Burton and Selick talk about the production, while Elfman discusses the music and his performance. Burton's best line is "I couldn't draw Disney eyes." "What's This? Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour" (7 minutes) offers a look at how The Haunted Mansion ride at the Disney Theme Parks is decorated with characters from the movie at certains times of the year. This can be viewed with a "Trivia Track" which provides even more information. "Tim Buron's Original Poem Narrated by Christopher Lee" (12 minutes) features an intro by Burton, and features illustrations based on Burton's original sketches. This is nicely animated and Lee's voice is perfect. Tim Burton's short film "Frankenweenie" (30 minutes) is presented here in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This entertaining film features an intro by Burton where he mentions that a new, stop-motion version of the story is being made. Also included is Burton's stop-motion short "Vincent" (6 minutes). We get three "Deleted Storyboards" which show drawings of scenes which weren't animated. In addition, there are four "Deleted Animated Sequences", including the infamous scene involving Tim Burton's head. "The Making of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" (24 minutes) is from 1993 (see how much younger Burton looks!) and examines nearly every facet of the movie from the design to the songs to the animation. "The Worlds of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" is divided into three sections, "Halloweentown", "Christmastown" and "The Real World", and contains animation test, character designs, and concept art. We get a "Storyboard-to-Film Comparison" for the "Town Meeting" scene. There is a gallery of "Poster Art". Finally, we have the "Teaser Trailer" and the "Theatrical Trailer"

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has also released The Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.66:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The clarity of the image allows us to see minute items in the animation, such as subtle shifts in the size of Sally's pupils in one shot. The image doesn't show any softness (which did plague the DVD) and the detail is top-notch. The colors of Christmastown look great, as do the shades of black and grey in Halloweentown. This transfer truly allows us to see every groove and notch in the puppets and sets. The Disc has a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The bitrate here is the highest that I've seen for a Dolby TrueHD track and this one delivers. The music sounds fantastic and the tunes fill the speakers and move the subwoofer. The stereo effects are very good, but the surround effects are outstanding and really add to the film. Hats off to Disney for giving this film the audio attention it deserves.

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long