By Henry Herx
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Leave the little ones at home if you decide to spend the money to see the rereleased — this time in 3-D — “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (Touchstone).
Though this exercise in the macabre uses some brilliantly facile puppet animation and its art design is stunning, the result is best described as a minor-league fantasy for holiday-burnout adults and jaded adolescents.
The story is set in Halloweentown, where Jack Skellington (voice of Chris Sarandon), its skeletal king of spooky revels, comes up with the novel idea of kidnapping Santa Claus and taking his place on Christmas Eve. The poor guy means well as he sets off in a coffin pulled by reindeer skeletons.
But his idea of Christmas cheer creates only fear in homes where he leaves bundles of scary toys made in Halloweentown. With panic spreading from town to town, the military intervene by shooting down the flying coffin. Jack returns home sadder but wiser in time to free Santa for his accustomed annual rounds.
The center of producer Tim Burton’s story is the dark world of Halloweentown’s hobgoblins and monsters. Most of the movie’s energy seems to have gone into detailing the place’s grotesque characters and gruesome doings.
Though there is some ghoulish humor, the movie’s tone is more playful than nasty in attempting to satirize such seasonal icons as the red-nosed Rudolph. There are some very forgettable songs, and Jack’s wistful love interest — a spunky maiden stitched together by a mad doctor — doesn’t work at all.
In the end, however, the narrative proves more tiresome than imaginative as it tries to stretch out a thin concept that probably would have worked better as a short cartoon. But it is Halloweentown’s assault on children’s bright expectations of St. Nick’s annual visit that makes this essentially a grown-up’s fantasy.
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Herx is a retired director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
Because of considerable menace and threatening atmosphere, the USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.