Skip to main content

Is it filled with a pox?

The Nightmare Before Christmas
(1994)

(SPOILERS) The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the steadily dwindling number of Tim Burton films – yes, I know it’s really directed by Henry Selick, but it’s Burton’s story and sensibility, and he’s always taken all the credit, probably quite rudely – that are upheld as unalloyed classics. And yet, I’ve never felt all that partial to it. Like Edward Scissorhands, also scripted by Caroline Thompson, it’s a tonally one-note affair: fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t actually go that far.

Pauline Kael complained of Edward Scissorhands that “Beetlejuice would have spit in this movie’s eye” and there are visuals in The Nightmare Before Christmas that come straight from Burton’s mock-hellish afterlife there. But the grotesquery is curiously static, bolted down by the stop motion rather than unleashed as per Aardman fare, the results as formal as Danny Elfman’s over-enunciated and under-lyrical tunes.

The conceit, wisely for an animated movie, is in miniature, so that, on getting a whiff of Christmas Town, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, only manages to go so far in serving himself up as a faux-Santa. Tragically, in his blithe twistedness, he can’t distinguish nice gifts from nasty ones. Because, to him, they’re the opposite way round (it may be Brad Pitt’s nightmare, but Burton’s yuletide fantasy is to get a severed head in a box).

Jack isn’t so much a Grinch as a misguided goth, who only needs to come to terms with his patchouli-stained status in life and not strive for something beyond his abilities. At least, that’s one reading. The positive is that Jack doesn’t nurse sour grapes about his failure and quickly makes amends, while rekindling his sense of purpose in life – scaring kids – and finding love with a typically scarred, patchwork Burton heroine (Catherine O’Hara’s Sally).

Jack’s townsfolk still live in a miserably grey, overcast, funereal realm, even with the sprinkling of snow Santa brings, but they like it that way, just as Burton does in his black-draped, sepulchral home. I’m not sure they’re missing out that much, however. It isn’t as if Christmas Town isn’t still slightly sinister, along with Santa himself. This is Burton’s vision, so no one looks wholly wholesome. Mostly, I have a feeling that Burton in full animated mode is an unnecessary doubling down, and so becomes too much (also Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie). In contrast, the best in this stop-motion style, Selick’s Coraline, has the luxury of a textured Neill Gaiman story as its basis.

Burton pushes through all manner of dark Disney nasties here, which is obviously to his credit, from the varied sadism of Doctor Finklestein (William Hickey), who has created Sally as his vassal, to the tortures of Oogie Boogie (Ken Page). The design work impresses, of course, and there are witticisms and asides throughout. The mistaken capture of the Easter Bunny and the funereal dirge version of Jingle Bells particularly amuse. But there’s no real charm, no facets to the characters or verve to the execution. Generally, I admire the craft of The Nightmare Before Christmas much more than the content.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
(SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bonds in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball, but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again, despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.