Combustible Celluloid
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With: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, Ed Ivory, Susan McBride, Debi Durst, Gregory Proops
Written by: Tim Burton, Michael McDowell, Caroline Thompson
Directed by: Henry Selick
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 76
Date: 10/09/1993

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Holiday Mixer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When The Nightmare Before Christmas was originally released, many people gave Tim Burton credit for the whole thing. Certainly, he provided the images for the film, as well as the original story and the name recognition above the title, but, as we now know, the man who made it all happen was San Francisco's Henry Selick.

Selick began with the animated shorts Seepage (1981) and the very bizarre Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions (1990). He followed his triumph with The Nightmare Before Christmas with the underrated claymation James and the Giant Peach (1996). The re-release of The Nightmare Before Christmas comes in just before Selick hits with his next feature film, Monkeybone, (starring Brendan Fraser and Bridget Fonda) to be released sometime in 2001.

The Nightmare Before Christmas brings us to Halloween Town, where Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon and sung by Danny Elfman) is in charge of the Halloween festivities. Getting tired of the usual witches and pumpkins, he accidentally discovers Christmas Town. He ransacks Christmas Town for ideas for his next celebration. Unfortunately, his antics have upset the routine of none other than Santa Claus himself (known in Halloween Town as "Sandy Claws"). Catherine O'Hara co-stars as the voice of Sally, Jack's true love.

This idea allows Burton and Selick to play with all of the old images related to both Halloween and Christmas. Kids now wake up on Christmas morning to find shrunken heads and giant snakes. It's an inspired idea that allows for all kinds of wickedness and invention, and the filmmakers take it to the limit. But the movie's tone is lighthearted, kept buoyant by Elfman's songs and holiday cheer. It's the perfect movie for both holidays.

Disney's original DVD has gone out of print and has been replaced by an even more spectacular, 2008 three-disc set, including a digital copy (available on both Mac and PC). There's a brand-new commentary track by Tim Burton, director Henry Selick and Danny Elfman. Other extras include a featurette on the Disneyland "Haunted Mansion" ride, re-done with Nightmare Before Christmas imagery, Tim Burton's original poem read by Christopher Lee, and a making-of featurette.

Disc Two includes Burton's short films Frankenweenie (1984) and Vincent (1982). The box claims that Frankenweenie is an "uncut" version, though it appears to be exactly the same length as the one on the old disc. There's also deleted scenes (both finished and storyboarded), and other featurettes (some from the old DVD). Best of all is the box, which has a 3-D Jack Skellington head nestled in the cover. All in all, this is a keeper, good for viewing at both Halloween and Christmas.

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