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Still shot from the movie: The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skellington (voice of Chris Sarandon), king of Halloween Town, is tired of scaring up frights on his own holiday. What he wants is something with more warmth, so he decides to borrow a few ideas from the Jolly Old Elf. However, his attempts to imitate Christmas end up with a ghoulish touch, so his celebration plans are meet with a chilly reception.

Overall Grade: C
Violence: C
Sexual Content: A-
Language: A-
Drugs/Alcohol: C
Release Date: 28 Oct 1993
Run Time: 76
MPAA Rating: PG

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In-Depth Review

In the land of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington (voice of Chris Sarandon) is king. Returning from the frivolities of All Hallows' Eve, he is hailed by his fellows because of his abilities to solicit screams and scare up frights. However, the hero's welcome feels hollow for the fleshless character.

Sympathizing with his plight is a rag doll named Sally (voice of Catherine O'Hara). The hand-sewn creation of the abusive Dr. Finkelstein (voice of William Hickey), she too senses an emptiness in her oppressed life. Yet while Sally tries to fill the void with romantic notions about Mr. Skellington, Jack looks for his answers elsewhere.

Wandering aimlessly one night, the long-legged bone rack accidentally stumbles into Christmas Town. Although he doesn't understand the culture, he feels something special in the winter wonderland. Returning to his own realm with trappings in tow, he dissects the trinkets hoping to find the secret. When that fails, he decides to imitate the holiday assuming the spirit of the season will follow suit. He also hatches a plan to ensure Santa (voice of Edward Ivory) won't get in his way.

Enlisting the cooperation of his neighbors, he soon has the whole community making presents, building reindeer and constructing a sleigh. While the locals do their best, they can't help putting a Halloween spin on their handiwork, hence the gifts are ghoulish, the animals mere skeletons and the sled a revamped coffin. Ignoring these shortcomings, Jack dresses like the jolly old elf, and sets out on his midnight ride.

Critically acclaimed, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is the epitome of trick-or-treat with its mix of amazing stop-frame animation and macabre images. His creative world is populated by grotesque creatures, trimmed with a hocus pocus collection of vampires, bats and spiders, littered with bare-boned figures and dismembered body parts, threatened by an evil Oogie Boogie Man, (voice of Ken Page), and decorated with depictions of female victimization, torture and poisoning.

Despite all its craftsmanship, many viewers (especially young children) will likely only see the frightening depictions and the unforgivably cruel treatment of Santa Claus. Families who hold Christmas as a sacred religious occasion may also be horrified by the devilish intrusion on their revered holiday.

Just as Jack Skellington's masquerade fails to provide the warmth and joy he is so jealously seeking, the movie never manages to capture or unmask the magic of the season either. Without this illusive ingredient, the film's mere accomplishment is to put a chilly, nightmare touch on yuletide celebrations.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

All things Halloween (including ghoulish creatures, grotesque monsters, and frightening figures) are used to create the setting in this stop-frame animation. Besides the usual ghosts and graveyards, expect portrayals of living skeletons, exposed internal organs and brains, as well as a sackcloth boogieman whose decaying inners are being devoured by wriggling worms. Ongoing slapstick violence accompanies the story line, but occasionally the intent becomes more vicious and characters are threatened with torture, gunshots, cannon fire, flames and fast-moving mechanical blades. A rag doll is constantly sewing back on her dismembered arms and legs. A male character represses a woman in his care, forces her to labor and locks her in her room. In retaliation, she poisons his food. A woman seductively shows her leg to lure a man. Terms of deity are used as expletives.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

What do you think is the magic ingredient that gives Christmas it’s warmth and joy?

In what ways does the character of the town mayor allow the moviemakers to poke fun at political figures? Why do you think they created him with two faces—one on the front and back of his head? What other satirical points do they make?

Video alternatives

In Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) another jealous creature tries to capture Christmas, and in so doing manages to catch the spirit of the season. Tim Burton creates a similar graveyard setting for a second stop-motion movie, The Corpse Bride.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: The Nightmare Before Christmas; 20th Anniversary Edition

Release Date: 10 September 2013

The Nightmare Before Christmas releases to home video (3D/Blu-ray Combo) in a 20th Anniversary Edition

Home Video Notes: The Nightmare Before Christmas (3D)

Release Date: 30 August 2011

The Nightmare Before Christmas releases in a Three-Disc Combo (Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy) on August 30, 2011. This Tim Burton animation comes with the following:

- Tim Burton Movie Introduction

- "What’s This?" Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour

- Frankenweenie Short Film (uncut version) with Introduction by Tim Burton

- Vincent Short Film

- Tim Burton’s Original Poem Narrated by Christopher Lee

- Audio Commentary by Tim Burton, Director Henry Selick and Music Designer Danny Elfman

- Behind the Scenes Making of the Movie

- The Worlds of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

- Deleted Scenes

DVD Notes: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector’s Edition

Release Date: 26 August 2008

De-Boo-ing on Blu-ray, and releasing again on DVD, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Collector’s Edition comes with two discs and fancy packaging. Besides the digitally restored and re-mastered movie, fans of the film will find an audio commentary with Tim Burton, Henry Selick, and Danny Elfman, a recitation of Tim Burton’s original poem by Christopher Lee, deleted scenes and test footage. A making-of documentary and the featurette Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour flesh out this tale of Jack Skellington. Also included are two bonus shorts made by Tim Burton when he was a filmmaker novice, Vincent and Frankenweenie (an uncut version with an exclusive introduction). Audio tracks are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound (English, French and Spanish), with subtitles in French and Spanish.

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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