The Nightmare Before Christmas
directed by Henry Selick
(Touchstone, 1993)

Anyone who has seen Batman, Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice knows that Tim Burton is a little weird. And if you haven't seen any of those movies, you'll get that idea from this one.

Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King, the leader and chief spook of Halloween Town, where the townsfolk -- witches, vampires, ghosts and monsters -- spend all year preparing for their special night. But Jack has grown bored with Halloween and wants something more in his life -- something to which he cannot put a name.

Not long after his most recent successful Halloween, he is wandering in the woods surrounding Halloween Town when he finds a set of magical trees. In each tree is a door. One is shaped like a pastel-colored egg. Another is shaped like a turkey. Yet another is shaped like a shamrock. But the one that draws his attention is the one shaped like a brightly decorated pine tree. Inside, he is drawn into Christmas Town, where he sees elves, snow and wonders such as he has never before imagined. This, Jack is certain, is what he has been searching for.

Determined to have this holiday for himself, Jack decides that instead of Halloween next year, his folks are going to celebrate Christmas and relieve Santa of that burden! As you might imagine, the results are more than a little frightening, with children being attacked by their Christmas presents while other gifts eat the family Christmas tree.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is not a live action movie with tons of special effects, nor is it a cartoon. Instead, it's stop-motion animation with tons of special effects. However, the animation is very smooth, bringing Jack and the other characters to life without the herky-jerky movement associated with Ray Harryhausen monsters.

The movie is really a musical, which was something of a surprise. The music and lyrics were composed by Danny Elfman, who also provides the singing voice of Jack Skellington and has collaborated with Tim Burton before, most notably on Beetlejuice and Batman. A quick listener will recognize his musical style right away. The songs aren't bad and they're certainly more singable than the tunes in The Muppets Christmas Carol.

This movie has been billed as a family classic, but I disagree. Despite the clever animation and songs, I think that young children might find it frightening -- particularly scenes of Santa being terrorized and tortured by the horrid Oogie Boogie. Older children would probably enjoy the antics of Jack and his friends, or at least like the gross-out effect, but I would hardly call this a family movie.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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