Though only a modest box-office success when it was first released in 1993, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas has enjoyed a huge cult following in the last decade, particularly with the goth crowd. With each passing year, the film's popularity only seems to grow, turning a perversely lovable holiday tale into a cultural phenomenon and merchandising juggernaut.
When Disney rereleased the film in 2000 for I-Max audiences, a flood of movie tie-ins hit the market and the deluge hasn't stopped since. Figurines, ornaments and play sets line the shelves of stores. Images of Jack Skellington adorn everything from T-shirts to flesh there's a special gallery dedicated to Nightmare tattoos on the body art Web site bmezine.com.
Disney has turned a modest initial investment (the film's budget was just $18 million) into a major cash cow. Hoping to squeeze out a few more box-office dollars and prolong the licensing revenue stream, Nightmare has been re-re-released for Halloween with a Digital 3D makeover.
All cynicism aside, the results are astounding. Disney's trademark process brings a sumptuous sense of depth to the film without sacrificing visual clarity. Director Henry Selick packed every frame of Nightmare with weird jokes, spectacular backgrounds, and wondrously macabre characters, and the 3D effects only heighten the experience.
It's surprising how fresh and original his stop-motion horror fantasia feels after 13 years, particularly in this era of computer-generated animation. Sure, the story is as thin as Jack's twiggy legs and Danny Elfman's tunes are hit-or-miss, but the film's spirit, tone and visuals never cease to delight.
For the uninitiated, Nightmare is the story of Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town. Bored by his duties and desperate to experience something new, he decides to kidnap Santa Claus and take over Christmas. Putting his ghoulish minions to work, he ends up ruining the very holiday he tried to improve. A sort of Grinch Who Stole Christmas in reverse, Jack's misadventures teach him the value of remaining true to who he is.
Though directing duties fell to animator Selick, Tim Burton's fingerprints are all over the film. From its gothic production design to its creepy-crawly character models to the mordant storyline (it was taken from a poem Burton wrote), Nightmare is clearly the director's brainchild. It's a delightfully immersive world and his vision is well served by Disney's digital remastering. Cinematic treats like I-Max and digital 3D may be just what the multiplexes need to bring back audiences lost to online services like Netflix.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].