Disney has pulled off quite a coup by reissuing Tim Burton’s darkly enchanting 1983 fantasy just several short weeks before the premiere of the lavish live-action version of “How the Grinch stole Christmas,” with which it shares more than a few elements. Looking great and sounding glorious on the big screen, Burton’s perversely lovable creation sets a high bar indeed for Jim Carrey and Ron Howard, and though one could always watch it on DVD or video on a television set, the effect in a real theatre is simply magical.
Of course, the story of Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Holloweentown who, in an effort to add something new to his “life,” seizes Santa Claus and takes over Christmas (with decidedly ghoulish results), will be a trifle too spooky for the toddler set, but older kids and adults should find it entrancing, even if the spell weakens somewhat in the laat half-hour when villain Oogie Boogie takes center stage; he’s the least interesting concoction to be found here. Otherwise even the edges of the frames are consistently filled with wondrous creations, the backgrounds are astonishingly lovely, and the jokes charmingly weird. (The montage of kids reacting to the horrifying gifts left them by Jack remains a delight.) This time around, especially savor the excellence of Danny Elfman’s music and lyrics, which have a Lloyd Webber sound but greater melodic variety that the stage composer usually provides; and listen to Elfman’s ethereal voice in the sung part of Jack’s role, too. And while you’re watching, think about the fact that through this flick, largely done with superb stop-motion but also including lots of digital effects, Burton really paved the way for the explosion of non-conventional animation efforts which have graced theatres in the seven intervening years.
Light, amusingly macabre, droll, looking and sounding freshly-minted and coming across the finish line at a spiffy 75 minutes, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” remains a marvelous holiday treat with more luscious tricks up its sleeve than almost any brand-new picture has to offer.