Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Nightmare before Christmas (Henry Selick)

Yes, I rented this in May, but it's always checked out at Christmastime, and for some reason or other, I had never seen it before. A lot of people think Tim Burton directed this movie. He didn't, though the full title is "Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas." Burton came up with the story idea when he was an animator at Disney, but was turned down when he pitched it to the studio. Years later, Burton had enough clout to get the movie made his way, but he turned over the reins to animator/director Selick, and the script was written by Michael McDowell and Caroline Thompson. Burton was a co-producer and supervised the shooting to make sure it turned out the way he wanted it, but he gets too much credit for a film that owes its success to a number of people behind the scenes, although it's still very much a Tim Burton film in sensibility, humor, and appearance and wouldn't have happened without him. The movie is visually spectacular, each frame crammed full of details that will surely reward repeat viewings, bringing to mind such disparate reference points as Tim Burton's live-action films, Jim Henson's Muppets, those stop-motion cartoons of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Frosty the Snowman" the networks used to show at Christmas, German expressionism, and eastern European cartoons from the early days of film. The songs are all good, too.
A couple of minor quibbles: The message of the film seems to be that people should just stick with what they know and not try to move out of their rut or their misguided ambitions will wreak havoc on the world. Is that something kids need to hear? Come on, their ambitions will be destroyed once they're adults, anyway. Why not give them a little false hope when they can use it most. Also, the film's one true villain, Oogie Boogie, sings a blues/jazz/swing song spelling out his vile evilness. This was a great scene, possibly my favorite, and a great song, but I can't help but notice how in most movies involving singing and terrible villains, the villain's musical number is almost always derived from an African-American style. I'm sure it's unintentional, and I can't think of any other specific examples off the top of my head, but it just sort of jumped out at me. Time to go wash the PC off myself.

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