Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is an ingenious and inspired fable that cleverly mixes Halloween and Christmas for an eerily unexpected holiday celebration. The film brilliantly combinesstop-motion animation with three-dimensional sets and superb graphics to create a stunningly original movie experience. With a Grammy® nominated soundtrack by Oscar® nominee Danny Elfman (Corpse Bride, “The Simpsons”), Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is a modern holiday classic.
Bored with his perennial role as Halloween Town's frightening Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington wanders off and discovers the cheerful village of Christmas Town. Determined to shake things up in Halloween Town, he enlists the help of some mischievous trick-or-treaters to kidnap Santa Claus and takes over the job of delivering gifts to the children of the world himself. When his plan goes awry, Jack attempts to restore Santa to his rightful place. But first, he must rescue St. Nick from the clutches of the evil Oogie Boogie!
"Boys and girls of every age
Wouldn't you like to see something strange?"
As he's fond of recounting, Tim Burton got his start in the movie business at Disney, but the job didn't stick. Working as an uncredited third-string animator on movies like 'The Fox and the Hound' just wasn't what he wanted to do with his career. During his time there, he'd written a holiday poem, a macabre twist on Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" featuring a Halloween skeleton who kidnaps Santa and makes a horrible mess of Christmas, and pitched it as a traditionally animated project, perhaps a short for TV. The studio thought that it would be too scary for kids and passed. Fast forward a few years, and his breakout success with 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure', 'Beetlejuice', and of course 'Batman' had everyone in Hollywood wanting to work with Tim Burton. The House of Mouse came calling, and suddenly that holiday picture that it wouldn't touch earlier was a go, reimagined as an ambitious stop-motion animated feature film.
As is no doubt familiar by now to anyone with children, 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' recounts the tale of spindly Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, whose unrivaled success as the master of spooky delights hasn't filled the void in his life. He tires of the same tricking and treating year after year, and wants something more, but doesn't know exactly what. The unexpected discovery of a portal to neighboring Christmas Town fires up his imagination. Meaning well but not really thinking through the consequences, Jack hatches a plan to take over the Christmas celebration, giving the current guy in charge (a big red fella by the name of "Sandy Claws") a little vacation. Little does he realize it, but Jack's ideas of gift giving and holiday mirth don't exactly mesh with the recognized spirit of Christmas.
In its completed form, 'Nightmare' plays like a demented Rankin & Bass holiday special, by way of a German Expressionist silent film, a classic Universal horror picture and a Hollywood musical. The movie is a giddy mix of pop culture influences, and yet clearly, unmistakably Tim Burton through and through. Although technically directed by animator Henry Selick (later of 'James and the Giant Peach' and 'Coraline'), Burton created the characters, wrote the story treatment, and designed just about everything in the picture. Pretty much the only thing he didn't do was actually manipulate the puppets frame by frame. The visual and thematic sensibilities are all his. The story of a misunderstood loner searching for meaning and acceptance in his life is a familiar concern from many, if not all of Burton's films, from 'Pee-Wee' to 'Edward Scissorhands' and beyond.
The intricate stop-motion animation is a wondrous thing to behold. The camera restlessly swoops through the twisted Gothic sets and past all manner of colorful creatures that go bump in the night. The characters of this fairy tale, no matter how bizarre or even grotesquely designed, are entirely endearing: vampires that carry little umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, an oaf with an axe stuck in his skull, a (literally) two-faced politician bemoaning, "I'm only an elected official here; I can't make decisions by myself!" The humor is clever and easily appreciated by both children and adults. The songs by frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman are soaringly operatic and infectiously catchy. The story delivers a valuable moral lesson without ever turning preachy.
The film runs a brisk 76 minutes (only 72 without credits) and feels a little rushed in places. Jack's emotional development is perhaps a little too conveniently expedited, and there's an unexplained plot hole as far as how he knew that Santa was being held captive by villain Oogie Boogie. The traditional Disney romance between Jack and rag doll Sally feels shoehorned in, as though mandated by the studio. In fact, to be honest about it, the movie is just a little bit sexist. The only major female character is given nothing to do but pine for her boyfriend the entire picture. But that's the jaded critic in me talking. 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' is a movie made for children, and frankly it's wonderful.
Released under the Touchstone banner because Disney CEO Michael Eisner deemed it "too dark for kids" and didn't want it to bear the Walt Disney Pictures logo, 'Nightmare' opened in the Fall of 1993 to tremendous critical acclaim. The movie didn't have the box office power of Disney's 'The Lion King' or 'Aladdin', but performed quite well and has gone on to become a holiday classic that just happens to bridge two holidays, making for a great treat to watch at both Halloween and Christmas every year.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (a division of Buena Vista Home Entertainment) previously released the standard 2D version of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' on Blu-ray almost exactly three years ago. I have to say that I'm a little perplexed about why the studio seems fixated on releasing this movie about Halloween and Christmas on Blu-ray in August, but this is the second time that's happened.
This new re-release marks the first time that the 3D conversion for the film has been released on video. The 3-disc edition contains a Blu-ray 3D disc (3D version only), a separate 2D Blu-ray disc, and a third disc with both a DVD and Digital Copy. They all come packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a cardboard slipcover that has lenticular artwork.
As with the last edition, the film has been fully rebranded from Touchtone to the Walt Disney label, both on the packaging and on the discs. Even the movie's opening credits have been changed from "Touchstone Pictures Presents" to "Walt Disney Pictures Presents."
Although the 3D disc loads straight to the menu, the 2D disc launches several obnoxious promos and trailers upon startup. The selection of trailers has been refreshed since the last release, at the very least.
When it was originally made in 1993, 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' was not a 3D production. The film was photographed in standard 2D format. However, for a theatrical re-release in 2006, Disney had the film digitally converted into 3D. This was in fact the first such attempt at a 2D-to-3D conversion for an entire feature film, and the studio obviously put a lot of attention and care into the process (more so than many of today's quickie 3D conversions). The results were so successful and popular that, for a few years, Disney made an annual tradition of re-releasing the 3D version to theaters around the holidays.
In addition to the obvious dimensionalization of the picture, the 3D version of the film features a few more (mostly minor) changes. The movie has new end credits to reflect the work done on the 3D version. Some twinkling stars and floating art cards have been added to the background behind and around the text, presumably to show off the 3D effect some more. During the early scene where Oogie Boogie's shadow over the moon transforms into a flock of bats, the wires holding up the bats (which were always previously visible) have been digitally erased. It's possible that other digital tweaks may have been made as well, but that's the only one that stood out to me.
The 1080p/MVC transfer on the Blu-ray 3D disc has been altered to a full-screen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which is slightly cropped on the top and bottom in comparison to the pillarboxed 1.66:1 transfer of the 2D version. Purists may find this objectionable, but for all practical purposes, the new framing doesn't harm the composition noticeably. Although composed for 1.66:1, the photography was also protected for possible matting down to 1.85:1 in theaters.
The 3D conversion was very carefully and tastefully done. The 3D quality is pretty subtle for the most part. The majority of scenes have only moderate depth, and I didn't notice any pop-out effects that leap forward from the screen. Certain sequences that you might expect to really show off the 3D, such as the opening where the camera swoops through Halloween Town, are strangely some of the flattest of all. Static scenes tend to exhibit the most depth. Poor 3D conversions sometimes exhibit a warping effect that looks like a flat 2D image has merely been stretched and wrapped around a 3D object. I saw nothing like that here.
At its best, the 3D edition adds a palpable sense of layering to the image, such that you feel like you could step into the picture and interact with the environment. At its worst, the 3D is unobtrusive and hardly noticeable. Nonetheless, I was left with a feeling that the 3D was rarely needed. After finishing the movie, I went back and re-watched parts of the 2D edition, and found myself equally engaged by it and wrapped up in the story, if not more so. A nagging in the back of my mind keeps telling me that the conversion of old movies like this is a lot like the colorization of black & white films. I have no problem with modern 3D conversions like Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland', so long as the movie was designed and intended for 3D all along. But 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' was never designed for 3D. This is a revision.
In any case, other attributes of the film's picture quality (colors, detail, etc.) are comparable to the previous 2D Blu-ray release, which looked pretty great. You can read that review for all the details. This is a different transfer, though. The aspect ratio has been changed, and other small differences exist. A few scenes, such as Sally's song around the 53-minute mark, are slightly grainier in the 3D transfer than in the 2D version. But these don't amount to much, and the overall impression is the same (aside from the 3D). Our star rating scores for 3D discs must take into consideration both the traditional picture quality attributes plus the 3D quality. For that reason, I'm knocking the composite score down half a point, primarily because the 3D effect is so modest.
The 2D disc in the set features the same 1.66:1 transfer as was previously issued on Blu-ray. The digital compression seems to have been re-encoded, presumably to accommodate some new trailers before the menu, but the results are visibly indistinguishable.
The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack on the 3D disc is identical to that on the original Blu-ray. In one authoring change for the better, both Blu-ray discs in the new set have been programmed to default to the TrueHD track, rather than the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 backup track, as was the case with the last edition. Since everything here sounds the same as before, I'll just repeat what I said in the last review.
The soundtrack is broad, expansive and directional, filling the entire soundstage with music and discrete effects from every direction. Dialogue and song vocals are crisp and clear. In a musical like this, I listen for the sort of fidelity where you can pick out every instrument in the score. I didn't necessarily get that experience here, but the track is pleasingly warm and spacious regardless. The music strums out a few bass notes now and again, but low-end activity never hits the deep registers. If not quite the finest audio available on Blu-ray, 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' is extremely satisfying.
The Blu-ray 3D disc in the set has no bonus features at all. The standard 2D disc in the set carries over everything from the previous release.
Also included are some trailers for unrelated Disney titles.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are no exclusive features on this Blu-ray. In my earlier review, I had listed the introduction by Tim Burton in this section. However, since that feature has been recycled from the previous Blu-ray, I've moved it up to the main Supplements section.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The Special Edition DVD from 2000 had an audio commentary by Henry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik. Some of Selick's remarks were incorporated into the new group commentary, but many were not, and Kozachik was dropped entirely.
Back in the day, Disney released a deluxe Laserdisc box set for 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' that included some additional material that's never been seen again, such as a longer version of the "Making of" documentary (it ran 43 min.), some animated commercial bumpers and a short film that Selick made for MTV, and an even more extensive collection of still galleries. The Laserdisc also came packaged with a lovely hardcover book titled "Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas: The Film, The Art, The Vision." The book shouldn't be too difficult to acquire separately, but it sure won't fit in this tiny Blu-ray case.
Disney's last Blu-ray edition of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' from three years ago seemed pretty definitive for the time. This new re-release has everything that set had, plus 3D. The 3D conversion is tastefully done, if far from the most dynamic example you'll find on Blu-ray. While most fans of the film can content themselves with the previous Blu-ray, those who are 3D capable may find it worth their time to give this one a try.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.