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The Genius Who Stole Christmas

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Materialistic capitalism brought us this fate. Since department stores install their Christmas decorations and wares before their Halloween candy sells out, a movie fusing the two disparate holidays was our karma. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer meets Beetlejuice.

The movie's main attraction is the astonishingly painstaking stop-motion animation. Each unique puppet was posed and lighted by director Henry Selick as if it were a living person. For each of the 24 frames composing one movie second, the puppets' poses were laboriously shifted and photographed. The hundred-person production crew spent two years cranking out only a minute's worth of film a week.

The technique, unfortunately, sparkles brighter than the plot about Christmas being stolen by a well-intentioned ghoul. Jack Skellington, a skeleton and de facto visionary leader of Halloweentown, is a misunderstood genius isolated from the masses (producer Tim Burton's typical quasi-hero). Jack accidentally travels from Halloweentown, where a gaggle of gremlins and ghosts prepare Halloween for the real world, to Christmastown, where the familiar Santa and his elves prepare for Yuletide. Jack, tired of the same old Halloween tricks, yearns for new adventures as a fiendishly delightful replacement for the kidnapped "Sandy Claws." As in many children's stories, the protagonist wants to be someone he is not--with disastrous consequences. On Christmas Eve Jack visits houses, leaving presents of shrunken heads and other malevolent gifts, until the military blows his sled from the sky. Finally realizing his mistake, Jack battles the Boogie Man to rescue Santa and Christmas from oblivion.

The story is weakened by being filmed as a musical. The story's pace halts whenever the characters launch into yet another insipid song. Musicals work only if the songs either advance the story line or are entertaining in themselves, and neither is true here.

In spite of its flaws Nightmare is required viewing for movie buffs. It is a children's fantasy with never-ending visual surprises that will keep adults entertained as well.

Copyright 1993 Mark D. Stucky.
Published originally in Integra, November 1993.

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