Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas was a mammoth project, the Cleopatra of stop-motion animation, and its re-release is a Halloween treat.
The 1993 animated film was Burton's baby, his dream project that got made after the oddball director wowed the studios with the financially successful Beetlejuice, Batman and Edward Scissorhands.
Delicate beauty Nightmare, directed by Henry Selick, uses painstaking stop-motion animation that took three years to film. It tells the story of Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, who's bored by his life in Halloween Town. When he stumbles into Christmas Town, he decides to bring its cheer to his scary stomping grounds and take over the Christmas holiday for himself. This means kidnapping Santa Claus so he can reign supreme instead.
Not having seen the film since its release seven years ago, I'd forgotten its delicate beauty and charm. One marvels at the laborious techniques that kept 120 animators and designers working furiously on 20 individual sound stages in a 40,000-square-foot studio in San Francisco. A week's worth of work would add up to an average of 60 seconds of finished animation. One minute.
You have to love Burton's childlike gluttony, his fantasy of combining the joys of Halloween and Christmas into a single day. His and Selick's enthusiasm is reflected in the score and 10 original songs by Danny Elfman, who also sings Jack's part. Elfman's Broadway-calibre voice is capable of selling every number, and there's not a bland, sunny, Disneyesque one among them.
This is a great kids' film that doesn't bore adults. Let's hope the upcoming and much-hyped The Grinch That Stole Christmas -- which served as the inspiration for Nightmare Before Christmas -- does as well.
TIM BURTON'S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, directed by Henry Selick, written by Caroline Thompson, score and songs by Danny Elfman, produced by Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi, with the voices of Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey and Paul Reubens. A Burton/Di Novi production. A Touchstone Pictures release. 76 minutes. Opens Friday (October 27). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 84. Rating: NNNN