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The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Few directors have translated box-office fortune into quirky personal projects with the regularity or artistic success of Tim Burton, whose work on the Batman franchise helped pave the way for a film about a young man with scissors for hands, a biopic about the worst director of all time, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, a perversely charming holiday fairy tale featuring an ennui-afflicted, tuxedo-clad skeleton. Originally released in 1993, and now receiving a seasonal re-release, Nightmare marks almost as much of an advance for stop-motion animation as Pixar's Toy Story did for computer animation. Directed by Henry Selick from a story and characters created by Burton and a screenplay by Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands), it's a marvelously imaginative, visually striking film relating the adventures of the good-hearted Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon and sung by Danny Elfman), the hero of Halloween Town. Following another successful Halloween, he begins to question his role, his doubts sharpened by a chance trip to the land of Christmas. With little thought about upsetting the natural order, Skellington soon enlists Halloween Town's benevolent ghouls in an ill-starred attempt to take over Christmas. Equally rich and winning, Nightmare does have two readily apparent flaws. Though Elfman is an inspired film composer and a solid songwriter (as his work with Oingo Boingo proved), no one will mistake the serviceable but unmemorable Elfman-penned songs for lost Cole Porter tunes. And, even at a mere 75 minutes, Nightmare occasionally seems short on story. What it offers instead—morbid whimsy, a winning sweetness, and an abundance of imagination—makes those flaws easy to overlook. Deftly crafted enough to make a skeleton dissecting a teddy bear or the sight of children terrorized by an evil toy duck seem cute, Nightmare taps directly into Burton's unique sensibility, bringing it to life with highly memorable results.