Directed by Henry Selick
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 76 minutes
Audio: Dolby True HD 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Review Date: August 22, 2008
Imagine the amount of effort for Tim Burton to get his The Nightmare Before Christmas project greenlit in the years before its release in 1993. 2-D animation had just begun its renaissance with The Little Mermaid in 1989, but stop motion animation in movies at the time simply wasn’t “in” and never really had been apart from Ray Harryhausen’s effects and George Pal’s Puppetoons. (You could see lots of it on television but somewhat crudely executed.) And, of course, all of this predates the CGI animated feature debut of Toy Story by a few years. Still, this inventive, impressive creation was truly unlike anything else being done at the time, and its uniqueness still keeps it fresh and appealing more than a decade after its initial release. With Tim Burton as its creator, it would have to be a bit kooky and different; The Nightmare Before Christmas is certainly all of that in the best sense of those words.
Burton’s original story poem and the screenplay developed from it with the help of Caroline Thompson concerns Pumpkin King Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), the leader of Halloween Town. Jack enjoys his annual successes in making his holiday a scary, memorable one, but he’s begun to tire a bit of the same old thing every year. He stumbles on the entryway to Christmas Town and is simply dazzled by the bright allure and jolly fairyland atmosphere of the place. He’s so charmed by this fun holiday that he’s not a part of that he determines that he could replace this “Sandy Claws” (Ed Ivory) and for a change bring his own kind of Christmas cheer to the world. Obviously, neither he nor his hometown friends know what would be appropriate for this new holiday, but he’s willing to try, and his town's population agrees to help him.
The basic story of the film is right there, but Thompson has included a love interest for Jack, Sally (Catherine O'Hara) who has her own subplot of trying to escape from her mad scientist creator (William Hickey), and some evil triplets Lock, Shock and Barrel (Paul Reubens, Catherine O’Hara, Danny Elfman) who love to cause trouble and pay homage to the district’s reigning devil Oogie Boogie (Ken Page). All of these colorful characters “flesh out” (not quite the right word for these bizarre creations but it’ll suffice) the story and give this Nightmare a spiky, fun identity.
Like other Disney animated features of the period, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a musical. Composer/lyricist Danny Elfman has fashioned a Kurt Weill-like idiom for his music, songs heavy with recitative and with dissonant chords emblematic of these doleful characters of Halloween Town. Yet, the music is still easily accessible especially on repeated listening, and the tunes fit in the required love songs, character numbers, and production numbers that make for wonderfully entertaining sequences, Tops, of course, is Ken Page’s soulful “Oogie Boogie” number which he wails for all it’s worth. Sally and Jack each have their own interior monolog songs which are both sung beautifully (Elfman provides the singing voice of Jack).
The animation is truly spectacular with the visual motif almost resembling some 19th century wood carved etchings. Director Selick keeps that camera swirling up, down, and around never allowing the stop motion animated nature of the picture to ever begin to seem blockish or rooted. And there are so many delightful touches to be seen and savored: Jack attempting to cut out paper snowflakes only to end up with spider designs, the numerous surprises the families get when opening their Christmas presents, a doorbell pull that’s a spider on a string which emits a scream, Sally sewing herself back together when she rips apart. In the wrong hands, it could all be ghoulish and off-putting. Here, it’s a wonderland of sweetly freakish delights.
The 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is represented faithfully in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Since stop motion animation is done in three dimensions, the high definition nature of this transfer gives the image a dimensionality that is quite astonishing. Obviously, the image is pristine, and the amount of detail in stone, wood, and fabric is palpably realistic with textures so sharp that you feel you could touch them. There isn’t a hint of shimmer in the pinstripes of Jack’s suit, and blacks are impossibly deep adding to that great feeling of depth throughout (Jack’s lonely meandering through the cemetery to the edge of the forest singing his song “Jack‘s Lament” is simply breathtaking). The fluorescent colors of the Oogie Boogie sequences are visual eye candy. Even when smoke and fog enter the picture, the transfer handles it without a hiccup. This is reference quality stuff. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio mix makes full use of every one of those channels in a soundtrack that is almost never at rest. You can hear individual instrumentation in the orchestrations for the songs clearly in separate channels, and sounds are constantly placed in channels to give a wide range to the soundfield. Hearing voices echoing from channel to channel, and, for example, fired missiles zooming through the room is constantly thrilling. There are nice bass effects in the LFE channel, but they aren’t overdone. Again, for an animated film of this vintage, this is a reference quality creation.
Creator-writer-producer Tim Burton, director Henry Selick, and composer Danny Elfman have had comments edited together to create a very enjoyable audio commentary. Though it’s sometimes hard to tell their voices apart, the information imparted is consistently entertaining and enlightening, and this is a most welcome new feature on this release.
“Jack’s Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour” offers a 1080i tour of the theme park’s Haunted Mansion spiffed up with allusions to The Nightmare Before Christmas. You can choose to turn on a pop-up trivia track that gives additional information as you go on the guided tour. This lasts 7 ¼ minutes.
Tim Burton’s original poem narrated by Christopher Lee finds the film’s creator in Dr. Seuss mode writing the poem which formed the foundation of the movie. It has been illustrated and partially animated with art based on Burton’s original concept sketches and is altogether a terrific bonus feature. It lasts 11 ½ minutes and is in full 1080p.
Frankenweenie is given a new introduction by director Tim Burton discussing the in-production stop action animation version of the tale. The original 30-minute black and white short is presented in 480i
Vincent, another short film of Tim Burton’s in a sort of combination tribute to Vincent Price and a rough idea of what his Nightmare movie will eventually resemble, is also presented here in a 6-minute 480i transfer.
“The Making of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a 24 ¾-minute behind-the-scenes look at the three years of labor needed to craft this unique animated feature. It’s presented in 480i.
A series of concept art, rough animation, and character tests covering various facets of Halloween Town, Christmas Town, and the real world are presented in vignettes ranging from one to three minutes. All are in 480i
3 deleted storyboards (which run 3 minutes) and 4 deleted scenes (which run 5 minutes) are presented in 480i.
A storyboard to film comparison is offered in 480i and runs 3 ¾ minutes.
A poster gallery is available as are the theatrical teaser trailer (1 ¾ minutes) and the theatrical trailer (1 ½ minutes). All are in 480i.
The disc offers 1080p previews of the upcoming Sleeping Beauty, Wall-E, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, among others.
The disc package offers a digital copy of the film coined “DisneyFile” by Buena Vista. There are instructions inside for installing it to Mac and PC devices.
Creatively rich and lots of fun, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas finally gets a home video version worthy of its brilliance. Blu-ray brings out the best in this wonderful entertainment, one that I can heartily recommend.