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Director: Henry Selick
Release Date: October 29, 1993
Rating: ★★★

Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is an impressive film. Combining replacement techniques with puppets with complex armatures, computer-controlled camera movements, and a bit of drawn animation, Burton’s team takes the art of stop-motion to new heights.

Moreover, the film is surprisingly elaborate, and uses nineteen stages, 230 sets, sixty characters, and hundreds of puppets to tell its story. The opening scene alone is a tour-de-force of mind-blowing images, with too much happening to register it all.

The result is a stop motion film with the highest production values thus far, and simply bursting with stunning visuals. Together with Aardman’s ‘The Wrong Trousers’ from the same year the feature easily sets new standards for stop-motion.

So why don’t I give this film a five-star rating? The main reason is the songs. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ was made at a time when American animation film practically equaled musical, but even so in this film soundtrack composer Elfman takes the musical idea to the max. There are no less than eleven songs within the 68 minutes the feature lasts, taking a staggering 43% of the screen time.

But Elfman is no Alan Menken, and all his songs are terribly meandering and forgettable, slowing down the action, with characters halting to express their emotions, like in a Baroque opera.

Low point arguably is Sally’s song, which could have been a moving expression of feelings, but turns out to be an all too short and completely aimless bit of music, lasting only 96 seconds. If one compares Elfman’s absent song-craft to the strong melodies of Menken’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) or ‘Aladdin’ (1992), it becomes clear that Elfman’s efforts don’t add to the story, but drag it down, to a point that one screams to be freed from the omnipresent singing.

The film is typical Burton with its friendly take on horror, and Burton’s head animator Henry Selick rightly calls the film’s overall style a mix of “German expressionism and Dr. Seuss”. Selick and his team manage to make Burton’s pen and ink drawings come to life in believable puppets, despite the often very long limbs and unsteady balance of some of the characters.

With this animation effort Selick turned out to be a strong new voice in the animation field, and after ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ he continued to impress, first with ‘James and the Giant Peach’ (1996), then with ‘Coraline’ (2009), although his feature ‘Monkeybone’ (2001) was much less of a success.

Burton’s story is based on an original idea, but is not worked out too well. The idea of Holiday lands is a good one, but how does one return from Christmas land to Halloween land? And there is a focus problem: ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ follows two main characters, Jack Skellington and Sally, without choosing one as its principal character.

Jack is a bit of a problematical character anyhow: he’s king of his land, but remarkably bored, and he’s willing to take a huge risk to fill his own feelings of emptiness. Moreover, his selfish plans means a year without Halloween, not to mention the disastrous Christmas he makes. Jack does develop during the film, but his remorse and recovery come too quickly to be entirely convincing.

In the end, it’s Sally who turns out to be the most interesting character of the two: when we first watch her, she literally falls apart. She’s controlled and hold back by her maker, the possessive Dr. Finkelstein, and naturally very shy, but during the movie she becomes bolder and more venturous.

The film’s villain, The Bogeyman, is scary, but his role in Burton’s universe is obscure: why is he the only nightmarish character that is genuinely scary and unfriendly? I have no idea. A nice touch are the Cab Calloway influences on this character. He even literally quotes Calloway when saying “I’m doing the best I can” like Calloway did in the Betty Boop cartoon ‘The Old Man from the Mountain’ (1933).

The film’s story flaws would certainly be forgivable, given the film’s stunning visuals, if it were not for the songs. The biggest problem of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ remains its unappealing soundtrack, reducing an otherwise fantastic film into a hardly tolerable one. An immense pity, for one remains wondering what the film could have been if it had not been the obligate and ugly musical it turned out to be.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 3, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Hallowe'en Party © ParamountBetty Boop invites a cold scarecrow to her Halloween party.

The scarecrow helps Betty with the preparations, decorating the walls with “witch paint” and “cat paint”. The party itself is very merry until a bullying gorilla arrives. When Betty pulls out the lights, however, suddenly some scary ghosts appear, and together with the painted witches they beat the gorilla out of the house.

‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ is an uneven, all too loosely composed and a little boring cartoon. It is noteworthy, however, for its most inspired score, which makes a clever use of Betty Boop’s theme song. When Betty’s answering door, one can see her panties from behind.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 22
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Morning Noon and Night
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Parade of the Wooden Soldiers

‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ is available on the DVD ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 1’, and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Chuck Jones
Release date: February 25, 1956
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Witch Hazel
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Broom-stick Bunny © Warner Brothers‘Broomstick Bunny’ was the second of three Bugs Bunny cartoons, featuring Witch Hazel, the others being ‘Bewitched Bunny’ (1954) and ‘A Witch’s Tangled Hare’ (1959).

‘Broomstick Bunny’ is a halloween cartoon, in which Bugs Bunny, wearing a witch mask, tries to get trick or treat from Witch Hazel.

Unfortunately, she sees in him a competitor in ugliness. In the end, she drinks her own beautifying potion, turning into a beautiful redhead girl, soon being chased by the genie from her magic mirror. Hazel’s girl image was allegedly modeled after her voice actress, June Foray.

Jones’s animation style becomes close to a mannerism here, with a practically obligatory way to depict Witch Hazel speeding away, leaving numerous hairpins in the air. The cartoon is saved by Ernie Nordli’s extreme layouts and Philip DeGuard’s more than fabulous backgrounds, which belong to the most beautiful of the cartoon modern age.

Watch ‘Broom-stick Bunny’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.ulozto.net/live/x5US9Dz/bugs-bunny-broom-stick-bunny-1956-avi

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 120
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Bugs’ Bonnets
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Rabbitson Crusoe

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