The playfully macabre humor of Tim Burton is deftly brought to life through the old-school magic of stop-motion animation by director Henry Selick in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon) is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, a childlike ghoul who is growing bored of providing frights to kids once a year. Then he stumbles upon the joy of Christmas Town and decides to fill Santa’s shoes with his own twisted (but endearingly well-meaning) take on gift giving. That his plan involves kidnapping the jolly old fellow is just the first sign that, though it inspires a feeling of joy he’s never felt before, Jack doesn’t quite get the Christmas spirit.
This is very much a Tim Burton world; he provides the original story and sketches and guides it as producer. It is, however, Caroline Thompson who turns Burton’s story into a playful screenplay and Henry Selick who brings those fanciful sketches to life as fully realized characters in a wondrous world.
The mischievous little helpers of Santa Skellington aren’t evil, they just have an innocently devilish sense of fun. It makes it less a nightmare than a macabre holiday prank. Selick walks that fine line between comedy and horror while maintaining the sense of wonder instilled by the pumpkin-headed Halloween king.
Danny Elfman pens the ten original songs and provides Jack’s singing voice and Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, and Paul Reubens stand out in the voice cast.
It earned an Oscar nomination for visual effects.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas [Blu-ray]
The Nightmare Before Christmas [DVD]
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector’s Edition [DVD]
The Blu-ray and DVD special editions also feature commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboards, and two of Burton’s earlier short films: Vincent (1982), an imaginative B&W stop-motion fantasy of a Poe-obsessed child (narrated by Vincent Price), and the uncut version of his original live action short film Frankenweenie (1984), Burton’s affectionate tribute to the original monster movie classic with a family dog resurrected from the dead (with bolts in his neck!) and the suburban neighbors roused like angry horror movie peasants.