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THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Directed by Henry Selick; written by Caroline Thompson; produced by Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi for Touchstone. Stop-Action Animation. Rated PG.


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The Nightmare Before Christmas is a wildly imaginative visual delight. Unfortunately, the story isn't half as well-done as the truly incredible animated effects. Visually stunning, but narratively stunted, it's tantalizing, but ultimately disappointing.

The story starts out with all the infectious energy of a vigorously spinning top. But then it begins to wander aimlessly around its basic idea, losing steam and purpose, and finally, after wiggling wildly all over the place, just peters out.

I don't have any trouble with the basic premise of the movie. In fact, it's clever and actually quite charming. You see, each holiday is worked on for a whole year, every year, by the residents of a particular little town. Nightmare focuses on Halloweentown, a creepy but cheerful place whose major creative talent is Jack, the Pumpkin King.

As you might imagine, preparing the same sorts of tricks, frights and scary extravaganzas year in and year out is bound to get boring. So, after discovering the town where Christmas is produced, he falls in love with the snow, the good cheer, the decorations, everything. And determines to take over that holiday, too.

The movie's funniest bits involve Halloweentown creatures (most of them are incredibly gross, but clever, creations) imitating Christmas elves, filling stockings, making toys, etc. Needless to say, their gifts don't go over very well when they're opened Christmas morning.

If you just want to watch first-class animation, you won't find anything wrong with Nightmare Before Christmas. The moviemakers' fertile imagination has gone completely hogwild here, and the characters, backdrops and action need to be seen to be believed.

Most of the music is good, too—yes, in spite of appearances, this is, in a way, a fairly conventional musical. It is unfortunate that the audience segment who will most enjoy the exuberantly gross visual effects (say, 9-12-year-old boys) will probably be somewhat dismayed by the amount of music it contains.

All in all, Nightmare's still worth seeing, especially if you're into animation and/or fantasy. But not enough care was taken in the narrative area to make it the really super movie that it could have been.

November 10, 1993

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