The Nightmare Before Christmas
For those who never thought Disney would release a film in which Santa Claus is kidnapped and tortured, well, here it is! The full title is Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, which should give you an idea of the tone of this stop-action animated musical-fantasy-horror-comedy. It is based on characters created by Burton, the former Disney animator best known as the director of Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and the first two Batman movies. His benignly scary-funny sensibility dominates the story of Halloweentown resident Jack Skellington (voiced by Danny Elfman, who also wrote the songs), who stumbles on a bizarre and fascinating alternate universe called... Christmastown! Directed by Henry Selick, this PG-rated picture has a reassuringly light touch. As Roger Ebert noted in his review, "some of the Halloween creatures might be a tad scary for smaller children, but this is the kind of movie older kids will eat up; it has the kind of offbeat, subversive energy that tells them wonderful things are likely to happen." --Jim Emerson
James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl's modern classic for children becomes a delightful combination of live-action footage and stop-motion animation by the team that made The Nightmare Before Christmas--director Henry Selick and producers Tim Burton (Batman) and Denise Di Novi. The story concerns young James (played for real and through voiceovers by Paul Terry), who is orphaned and left in the charge of two cruel aunts (Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley). Rescued by a mysterious fellow (Pete Postlethwaite), James ends up inside a giant peach, drifting over the Atlantic Ocean in the company of a gentleman grasshopper (voiced by Simon Callow), a fast-talking centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), an anxious earthworm (David Thewlis), a matronly ladybug (Jane Leeves), and a sexy spider (Susan Sarandon). The collection of actors and their creepy-crawly alter egos are a delight, especially when some of the song-and-dance numbers (tunes written by Randy Newman) get everyone going. --Tom Keogh
These two stop-motion animated movies from the same filmmaking team prove that not all special editions are created equal. James contains only a couple dozen character drawings, a music video, and a publicity-fluff featurette. Using the exhaustive laser disc version as a start, Nightmare is fascinating disc with more than 450 production and design images, a deft storyboard-to-film example, and deleted scenes. Director Henry Selick delves deep into the making of the film in his audio commentary and in a 20-minute documentary. The disc also features two Tim Burton shorts, the stop-motion Vincent (his first film, which is rarely seen) and the half-hour Frankenweenie. In a welcome trend, both discs contain DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. --Doug Thomas
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