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CHRISTMAS & HALLOWEEN: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

From the Oct. 22, 1993, Deseret News

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS — Animated feature; voices of Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara; rated PG (comic violence, scary themes).

Tim Burton is warped, there's no getting around it. Who else but twisted Tim would think of blending Christmas and Halloween in one movie?

And though the ad campaign for "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is selling the film as a children's picture, this is very much in "Beetlejuice" territory . . . albeit in a weird, animated way. (Small children, beware.)

The first question you may want to ask after seeing those ads is about the style of the puppet animation here. Yes, initially the set design looks somewhat cluttered, and yes, the characters are very odd and take some getting used to. But it's a surprisingly quick adjustment; you do get used to them and accept this world quite easily.

And what a world it is.

According to Burton's boundless imagination, there are cloistered communities for each holiday — Easter Town, Thanksgiving Town, Christmas Town, Halloween Town, etc.

The film focuses largely on Halloween Town, where spindly Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, organizes the annual Halloween festivities.

And it begins with a song that pretty much sums up what this Halloween land is all about — creatures under the bed, monsters under the stairs and other ooky, spooky, scary stuff. It is Oct. 31, and Jack and friends put on quite a show, then congratulate each other on another Halloween night well done.

But Jack feels let down, as if his life is missing something. And as he wanders farther into the forest than he's ever gone before, he stumbles upon doorways that lead to other holiday worlds. The one he opens is to Christmas Town, where he experiences the joy and happiness of Christmas, which is quite different than what he's used to.

Naturally, Jack can't wait to share the experience with his friends and neighbors back home. But they can't quite seem to get the hang of it. And, as the film progresses, we see that Jack doesn't really have the hang of it, either.

So, it is inevitable that when Jack's arrogance gets the better of him and he decides to replace Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, he will be a harbinger of horror instead of a jolly old gift-giving elf. Sure enough, as children get out of bed and open their presents, they are confronted with shrunken heads, slithering snakes and the like.

Meanwhile, Jack's accomplices kidnap poor old Kris Kringle and take him to the town's one truly evil character, Oogie Boogie. And it isn't until Santa is in real jeopardy that Jack sees the error of his ways and attempts to rescue Santa and make amends for his misdeeds.

However twisted, the basis for all this is one terrific idea, and it's told very well, with sophisticated, computer-enhanced stop-motion animation and 10 delightful songs that drive the story, courtesy of Burton's longtime music collaborator Danny Elfman, who also sings two of the film's roles.

As the warbling voice of Jack, the lead character, Elfman reveals a surprisingly adept acting ability (not to mention a gorgeous voice). (Chris Sarandon provides Jack's speaking voice.) Also very good is Catherine O'Hara as the rag doll that loves Jack, a sort of Raggedy Ann and "Bride of Frankenstein" blend.

Still, as good as the story is, there is no question that the screenplay, by Caroline Thompson ("Edward Scissorhands," "The Addams Family") and Michael McDowell ("Beetlejuice"), could use a boost. The film sags here and there and the romance barely gets off the ground.

But Burton, Elfman and director Henry Selick, whose camera movements are more inventive than most live-action pictures, have certainly created one of the most surprisingly unique films to come along in many a full moon.

And while parents may want to steer very young children in another direction, everyone else will likely find much to enjoy here.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is rated PG for comic violence and scary themes.