As with Tim Burton’s prior protagonists Pee-Wee, Beetlejuice, and Batman, Jack Skellington, the misguided hero of 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (which receives an IMAX 3-D re-release this month), is a creature whose idiosyncratic personality consigns him to being something of an outsider in his own creepy-crawly community. The Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, Skellington rules his native soil of monsters and mutants with a despondency wrought from boredom—until, that is, a morose midnight stroll leads him to Christmas Town, where his heart is set ablaze by the merry sights and sounds of the Yuletide season. Determined to have his minions supervise Christmas rather than Halloween this year, Skellington comes to learn the foolishness of striving to be what one is not, a mistake never made by director Henry Selick’s unique stop-motion animated horror fantasia, which is narratively slight but never less than aesthetically inspired. Based on a Burton story full of his trademark ghoulishness and mordant wit, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a veritable bounty of visual delights, its distinctive character models (often giant rotund bodies with slender appendages and tiny hands and feet), environments (both the gray, oblique angle-infested Halloweentown and warm, cheery Christmas Town) and animation style (graceful in a slightly unreal way) giving the film an eccentric haunted-house beauty. The tall, twiggy Skellington’s stilt-like spider movements lend the many choreographed sequences an eerie elegance, and Selick’s knack for cluttering his frame with gags is impressive, never more so than during the Pumpkin King’s Christmas Eve impersonation of Santa, who’s been kidnapped and left to the devices of burlap sack ghost Oogie Boogie, and his delivery of sinister toys to innocent boys and girls. Yet whereas the film is a marvel to look at, it’s unfortunately not much in the song or story department, as Danny Elfman’s musical numbers are—save for the opening’s boisterous “This Is Halloween”—generally banal and unmemorable, and the plot, despite only having to fill out a paltry 76 minutes, ultimately as emaciated and insubstantial as its leading bags of bones.
Having not seen the previous DVD editions of The Nightmare Before Christmas, I can't say how this new 2-Disc Collector's Edition compares in the image and sound department, but Disney claims that the film has been digitally restored and remastered with state-of-the-art technology. Danny Elfman's musical numbers pop, as do the children's screams when they discover the horrors left for them under their Christmas trees by Jack Skellington. The surround work is nice, with doors and floorboards creaking appropriately. On the image front, the filmmakers' detailed stop-motion animation isn't lost here. Blacks are rich and deep, which is a good thing considering that most of the scenes that take place in Halloween Land are relatively dark; the colors in Christmas Land are bright and saturated. "Deeper, darker and more brilliant than ever," indeed.
Many of the same extras available on the 2000 Special Edition are repeated on this 2-Disc Collector's Edition, including two Tim Burton shorts from the '80s (Frankenweenie-with a new intro by the director, who mentions that a feature-length stop-motion film version is currently in production-and Vincent, about a seven-year-old boy who wants to be like Vincent Price, who narrates the film), deleted storyboards and scenes, and character designs and animation tests with director commentary. A new feature, "What's This? Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour," is a bizarre and pointless tour of the Disney ride that reveals lots of blacklights and cotton snow and is quite possibly the most boring DVD extra I've ever had to sit through-three times. There are two different versions of the seven-minute tour (one with narration and one with narration accompanied by useless bits of pop-up trivia) as well as a longer version intercut with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. It's a total waste of disc space. More valuable is the previously available "Behind-the-Scenes Making Of," an in-depth look at the creation of the film that even delves into the psychology of the animators (and Burton's ever-growing mop), and an animated reading of the original poem by Burton that served as the impetus for the film, narrated by Christopher Lee and featuring an introduction by Burton. Also new: a spliced-together commentary by Burton, director Henry Selick and Danny Elfman, storyboard-to-film comparisons, posters and trailers for the film, and lots of shilling for other Disney products. The Collector's Edition includes a digital copy of the film on a third disc.
Leave it to Disney to bring a film back to life over and over again just to make a buck. Fortunately, Nightmare Before Christmas is good enough to withstand all of the reanimation.