Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas

on October 29, 1993 by BOXOFFICE Staff
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   While "Nightmare Before Christmas" is proof positive that Tim Burton is a filmmaker who qualifies as what the French critics used to call an auteur, it may also be an indication of the limits of his vision. Like "Edward Scissorhands," "Beetlejuice" and even Burton's take on the comic book characters in "Batman Returns," "Nightmare" is about the alienation of the outsider, the geeky misfit, the offbeat skeleton at the feast of normalcy. In "Nightmare," this perennial Burton archetype takes the form of Jack Skellington, the "Pumpkin King" who rules over Halloween but has grown tired of the macabre trappings of that scarifying holiday. At just the point where he's ready for a change, Jack stumbles against the passageway that leads to Christmastown, where a far different holiday holds sway. Jack decides he'll give Santa a vacation this year; it's the clash between his desire to participate in the spirit of a joyous holiday and his inability to understand its symbolism that is the central comedic predicament of the film.

   Though Burton didn't direct this film, his fingerprints are all over it, and it reflects both his directorial strengths and weaknesses. As has been widely reported, this nightmare is a stunning visual achievement, a carefully designed tabletop animation world that (like Burton's live-action films) looks like an Edward Gorey artbook come to life. But the story, such as it is, lacks the buoyancy of its whimsical central premise and is built mostly around the idea that juxtaposing adolescent gross-out humor with the artificial sentiment of a standard Christmas movie represents a daring vision. The gags are redundant, and Jack is something less than a compelling protagonist, saddled as he is with the lion's share of Danny Elfman's tuneless, meandering songs. "Nightmare" gets and "A" for visual effort, but falls short as a total viewing experience because of Burton's historical inability to tell a good story. It's like a beautifully wrapped Christmas present that, when you open it, turns out to be nothing more than an empty box. Voiced by Chris Sarandon and Catherine O'Hara. Directed by Henry Selick. Written by Caroline Thompson. Produced by Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi. A Buena Vista release. Animated. Rated PG for cartoon violence and macabre comedic situatio

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