The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Details At A Glance

Category Fantasy Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1993 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 73:04 minutes Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Henry Selick

Warner Home Video
Starring Chris Sarandon
Catherine O'Hara
William Hickey
Glenn Shadix
Ken Page
Danny Elfman
RRP $34.95 Music Danny Elfman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Tim Burton is a god. Okay, I got that out of the way really quickly, just to let you know that in my very humble opinion this man is a genius. Whilst he is 'only' the producer, writer and production designer of this gem, there is no doubting his influence on the whole project.

    And what an intriguing story he wrote! On the face of it, an exquisitely different Christmas story, but with a lot of depth if you wish to delve. Set in Halloweentown, where the social highlight of the year is the annual Halloween event, masterminded by the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon). Only problem is that Jack is getting a little jaded by the whole Halloween thing and seeks something more. During an excursion into the woods to seek answers to his feelings, he discovers the doors to all the major holidays, and gets sucked into the Christmas door. Jack finds himself in a happy, colourful place so different from Halloweentown that so affects him that he determines to bring the joys of Christmastown to his fellow citizens - a decidedly odd lot of characters (although you have to love the two faced mayor (Glenn Shadix)). Naturally enough, the ghoulish characters of Halloweentown have a little trouble coming to grips with Christmas, resulting in some slight problems. These problems are manifested in Jack taking Santa's place for the Christmas Eve delivery run, after Santa (Ed Ivory) is kidnapped. Naturally the recipients of Jack's deliveries are not impressed, and eventually he is shot down to prevent further deliveries. Meantime, the only reasonably sane (Santa's description) inhabitant of Halloweentown, Sally (Catherine O'Hara), has attempted to rescue Santa but failed. Jack sees the error of his ways and rescues Santa in time to save Christmas.

    Just as his later Mar's Attacks! was a homage to B-grade science fiction films, this is pretty much Tim Burton's homage to all those great Christmas stories, albeit with a very different twist. It is also a supreme homage to the art of stop-motion animation, which has to some extent fallen out of use due to advances in computer animation. Whilst the blurb on the DVD cover does get a little carried away - I am quite sure Ray Harryhausen would have something to say about "through innovative artistry of stop-motion animation" - there is no doubt that this demonstrates how good stop-motion animation can be. Watching this again on DVD after years feasting on a VHS tape, it is amazing how well done the animation is. And even more staggering is that this was done on such tiny sets. Some years ago I had the good fortune to visit Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando and they had on display some of the sets used in the film, and they just blew me away for size and detail. DVD also brings out the use of the special effects very well, and it is easy to see why this earned on Oscar nomination in 1993 for best visual effects.

Transfer Quality


    After a couple of minutes of watching this I realised that I was really seeing the film for the first time - the old VHS tape simply failed to bring the intricate detail in the film out, even though it was a fine tape.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. Note that the packaging is slightly inaccurate in stating a 1.66:1 ratio.

    The transfer is generally very sharp throughout, with a beautiful clarity to it that really brings out the detail in the miniature sets. There was only the odd moment of lack of sharpness, which did not in my view detract from the film.

    Whilst the colours are deliberately muted and drab in Halloweentown scenes, they are nonetheless very vibrant and give at times astonishing depth to the transfer. The scenes in Christmastown are on the other hand quite bright and vibrant and provide a great contrast between the two places and their essential characteristics. There was no hint of oversaturation in the colours at all.

    There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts nor any video artefacts, apart from the very smallest of hints of telecine wobble at around the 30:00 mark. Whether this is a transfer problem or a master problem I do not know, but I would suspect the latter (one would presume that one of the inherent problems of stop-motion animation is slight camera movement between shots). Film artefacts were present, most notably earlier in the film, but these were not at all distracting from the film.


    In a nice bit of consistency, Buena Vista have given us an audio transfer to match the video transfer.

    There are three audio tracks on the DVD, all Dolby Digital 5.1 efforts: the default English, French and Italian. Naturally I listened to the English default, although I dabbled with the Italian track, which is not as vibrant a sound.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to understand throughout.

    If you want to worry about audio sync in an animated film, then why bother with animated films?

    Well, Danny Elfman came up with a suitably ghoulish score here, plus some songs, in his usual style and a damned fine effort it is too: this contributes so much to the film, with some especially memorable tunes that get the old foot tapping along unconsciously. This copped a Grammy nomination in 1993 for best musical album for children: it did not win but the nomination was highly deserved. I doubt the film would have been half as effective without the Danny Elfman score.

    Then you have some very fine use of the surround channels in the remastered soundtrack, with some lovely detail especially through the rear channels when required. Whilst most of the action is through the front channels, the imaginatively restrained use of the rear channels really added to the enjoyment. The resultant sound picture is very convincing indeed.

    The bass channel did not get an awful lot of action, but was effectively used where necessary in crashes and so on.


    And here we come to the supreme disappointment ..... absolutely nothing. The opportunities here for featurettes on how the stop-motion animation, miniature sets and visual effects were created is staggering, especially given the paucity in length of the film. That the opportunities were not taken is very disappointing indeed.


    Reasonably well themed to the film, if a little more garish than the film, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     Even though there is the paucity of extras, the 16x9 enhancement means that this is a Region 4 winner.


    The Nightmare Before Christmas is, in my view, one of the best animated films around and, despite the high price for such a shortish film and no extras, is a DVD that I would recommend to all.

    The video transfer is very good.

    The audio transfer is very good.

    Extras ... no, no, no, no!

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
22nd October 1999

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL