Blu-ray Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas (Collector’s Edition)

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Pumpkin King Jack Skellington is bored with Halloween, tired of delivering the same old scares each and every year. After inadvertently discovering a doorway to Christmastown, the good-natured skeletal ruler decides to give Santa Claus and his elves a bit of a break and take over the holiday himself, positive he can do a better job bring happiness and joy to the children of the world than the jolly man in red ever could. Things unfortunately do not go as planned. Jack discovers the true meaning of Christmas, but doing it so late he puts the entire holiday in mortal jeopardy.

I’ve always had a great fondness for The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton’s yuletide fable of ghoulish delights and sinisterly merry songs. Directed by stop-motion maestro Henry Selick and with a score by frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, the film is one-of-kind family entertainment that both tickles my funny bone and brings an emotional warmth to my heart all at the very same time. I admit, it isn’t exactly as perfect as its most ardent admirers would have you believe. The plotting is extremely simplistic, especially during the meandering midsection, and some of the humor goes more than a bit beyond the all-ages category Walt Disney Pictures usually signifies. But that’s Burton’s trademark, always has been (and probably always will be).

Tim Burton’s films push the boundaries of what many parents would consider “acceptable,” and for true Burton fans, like myself, this is one trait we’ve always admired. The problem is, in this case at least, there is an incomplete oddness to some of The Nightmare Before Christmas that just doesn’t work. No matter how much you want to extol the virtues of the artwork, animation, characterizations and songs this is one problem almost impossible to dismiss. Thankfully the plusses totally outweigh the minuses.

Selick is an artist of the first degree, his compositions almost painterly in both feel and execution. While references to past Burton flicks abound (including Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, Batman and the short film Vincent), this picture’s director does a fantastic job of making both the characters and their world uniquely his own. The story ideas and the gothic designs may be Burton’s but the execution is all Selick’s. The film’s heart and soul doesn’t show an ounce of the usual cynicism typically found in virtually all of Burton’s other works, namely Mars Attacks! and Ed Wood come to mind.

Director inspiration and artistic design aside, the music is the film’s chief asset, and it is probably the number one reason it stands the test of time. Elfman crafts songs so witty and eccentric they put even some of his iconic Oingo Boingo classics to shame. Boogie’s Song has to be my own personal favorite, while the opening “This Is Halloween” is just so undeniably catchy I dare you to give it a listen and not have it ringing around in your noggin for hours after.

The extras offered on this Blu-ray are incredible. Starting with a wonderful audio commentary with Burton, Selick and Elfman, there is so much included with this disc I almost don’t know where to begin. My favorite adds have to be the uncut version of Burton’s delightful Frankenweenie (of which the director is going to be making a feature-length version in 2009) and his animated short Vincent, both of which are arguably two of the most imaginative and striking original works of the director’s entire career.

Other extras include a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a Blu-ray exclusive introduction from Burton, a tour of Jack’s Hollywood Mansion Disneyland attraction, a few unfinished deleted scenes, storyboard-to-film comparisons, the original theatrical trailers and a poster gallery. There is also a recording of Burton’s original poem read by Christopher Lee that’s undeniably fun to listen to, the actor relishing each and every syllable as if they were written by Shakespeare himself.

Disappointingly, as strong as all of this additional material is I didn’t notice one single mention as to why Patrick Stewart’s original introduction is no longer part of the film. It’s a small thing, true, but for whatever reason it’s absence really annoys me and I can’t help but wish that it could have been returned for this Blu-ray release.

Nitpicks aside, even without the former Captain Picard’s iconic vocals The Nightmare Before Christmas is one movie I return to again and again each and every year. The film is a bona fide delight, and even with the flaws in regards to pacing this is one animated stop-motion freaky-deaky holiday delight that’s certainly more treat than trick.

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