Toon Talk: Nightmare Before Christmas Collector's Edition
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by Kirby C. Holt
The Nightmare Before Christmas
2-Disc Collector's Edition
MPAA Rating: PG
Halloween Tricks and Christmas Treats
Fifteen years ago, Disney didn’t know what to do with Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. An offbeat stop motion animated film about a bunch of ghouls that take over the holiest of Christian holidays looked and sounded like no other Disney film before it. Nervous about equating this dark, PG-rated fantasy with their recently revitalized animated fairy tales (but still eager to collaborate with Tim Burton, fresh off a little movie called Batman), the studio released it under their Touchstone banner, hedging their bets with minimal promotion and merchandise at the time.
Nightmare Before Christmas (or NBC, as it would soon become known) opened in 1993 to mostly favorable reviews and decent box office. It would even be nominated for an Academy Award (for Visual Effects, the only animated film to be so recognized) and a Golden Globe (for Danny Elfman’s Original Score). But although it was initially no blockbuster in comparison to the previous year’s Aladdin or the following year’s The Lion King, NBC would go on to become something entirely new for Disney: a cult classic.
Following its successful release on home video, NBC continued to grow in popularity due to its unique visual style, unforgettable music and underdog characters that were far from the cuddly likes of Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. More and more merchandise was successfully released, from comic books and clothing to collectible figures and video games, until it was obvious that NBC had evolved into an unexpected, late blooming hit. Developing a life of its own, the film gained a devoted following among not only animation fans of all ages, but also with the so-called “goth” crowd, misfit teenagers who embraced the film’s macabre sensibilities and unusual characters.
Wisely capitalizing on this new-found popularity, Disney used the film as inspiration for its annual “Haunted Mansion Holiday” attraction at Disneyland (more on that later) and even re-released it to theaters several times. The last two years, NBC could not only be seen in Disney Digital 3-D, but now as an official “Disney movie”, with the original Touchstone banner removed from all prints and replaced with the Disney brand. There have even been rumors of a Broadway stage adaptation. This brings us to its latest home video release, now available in several versions.
Not only is NBC one of the first catalog animation titles to be released on Disney Blu-Ray, it is also the very first to offer a digital copy (dubbed a “Disney File”). This allows owners of the DVD to legally download the entire movie at no extra cost to their portable entertainment devices, so that you can enjoy the adventures of the Halloweentown gang on the go. Hardcore NBC fans can also splurge on the “ultimate” gift set, which comes with a hand-sculpted bust of our hero, Jack Skellington, complete with voice chip and optional “Sandy Claws” hat and beard.
The focus of this review will be on the standard DVD version, the 2-disc Collector’s Edition, a misnomer of sorts, as the “Disney File” digital copy is included on a separate third disc. (The Blu-Ray edition is identical, save for a disposable introduction by Tim Burton.) In addition to the “Disney Fast Play” option, disc 1 features the complete film and four bonus features, three of which are brand new. Audio and visual qualities have been improved upon over the previous Special Edition DVD, making for the best possible viewing experience to date.
A note on the film itself: I have always enjoyed NBC precisely because it is so different from anything else Disney has ever done (or any other animation house, for that matter). In what other movie could you see the hero remove his head to accent a soliloquy, or where Santa Claus is seen so gleefully tortured? From its highly original look to its bizarre but endearing characters to Danny Elfman’s sublime score, even to its cock-eyed happy ending, the subversiveness of Nightmare Before Christmas is delightfully infectious.
The three main creators of NBC -- producer/writer Tim Burton, director Henry Selick and composer Danny Elfman -- share their enthusiasm for the project on the set’s new audio commentary (even if each were recorded separately). Supplanting Selick’s more technical commentary from the Special Edition, this one offers several fresh insights into the making of the film, such as: