Judge Kristin Munson will never forget her nightmare before Hanukkah. The Challah! The Challah!
Our reviews of The Nightmare Before Christmas (published May 23rd, 2000), The Nightmare Before Christmas (Blu-Ray) (published August 27th, 2008), and The Nightmare Before Christmas: Special Edition (published October 3rd, 2000) are also available.
Boys and girls of every age, wouldn't you like to see something strange?
The Nightmare Before Christmas is the little animated movie that could. The skewed Gothic send-up of Rankin Bass holiday specials didn't exactly light up the box office when it was first released, but it did become a beloved holiday treat for those who could appreciate its off-kilter style.
Fifteen years later and the misfit is now mainstream, as any trip to Hot Topic or Newbury Comics will show. The movie's already been released twice to disc, so why should you spend any more of your hard-earned money on yet another edition of a DVD you already have?
Three words: Ana freaking morphic.
Facts of the Case
Jack Skellington is in the midst of an identity crisis. He's the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town but making the macabre holiday year after year no longer gives him any satisfaction. When he stumbles upon the warm and fuzzy delights of Christmas Town, he decides to take the place of "Sandy Claws" and musters his friends to create Christmas as only werewolves, mad scientists, and living dead girls can.
The Nightmare Before Christmas has always provided a bit of a puzzle. Do you watch it at Halloween? Christmas? Or do you split the difference and throw it on for Thanksgiving? Of course, every year the start of the Holiday season is pushed further and further back, so releasing the new Collector's Edition in August doesn't seem so strange when you think about it.
Everything about this movie dares you not to be enthralled. From the lovingly animated details of a penguin asleep by a Christmas Town hearth, the color wheel by the silver Christmas tree, and the Gothic trappings of Halloween Town, to the utter perfection of the vocal cast. Chris Sarandon (Fright Night) and Danny Elfman teaming up to voice Jack and Catherine O'Hara (Beetlejuice) as rag doll Sally can't ever be replaced. Sure, the tale of a pale skinny hero and his equally misunderstood, self-harming love interest are now an aggravating emo platitude, but the romantic simplicity of the final scene gets me every time.
But, let's face it, we both know that you're not here for my critical insights and opinions.
You know this film. You love this film. You want and/or have this film on DVD. What you want to know is how this version stacks up.
Both the DTS and Dolby Surround 5.1 tracks are still here and still crystal clear. So much so that you can hear the crackle of leaves whisking across the speakers. The newly anamorphic transfer brings out every whacked out detail of Halloween Town's Cabinet of Dr. Caligari world. Blacks and Greys are sharply defined, and, even though that does make the few mistakes in animation stand out even more, it's completely worth it.
When a sparkly new release arrives, studios tend to ditch the old bonus features but not to worry, as the Special Edition's extras have been carried over, all of which are exhaustively detailed in Former Chief Justice Mike Jackson's review. New to this set are the uncut version of Frankenweenie, with an intro where Tim Burton shares concept art from the stop-motion remake he's working on, and an animated storybook of the original Nightmare Before Christmas poem narrated by Christopher Lee. There's also a trip through the 2007 makeover of the Haunted Mansion which has Jack, Oogie Boogie, and the rest of Halloween Town taking over the classic Disney ride from Halloween to Christmas. The tour itself lasts only seven minutes, but there's also the option of watching it with a half hour of Behind the Scenes footage and again with pop-up trivia, most of which is in the "Making the Ride" section. I'd normally berate this as a blatant ad for the Disney parks, but the interviews with the next generation of enthusiastic imagineers and clips from The Wonderful World of Disney about the original ride completely won me over.
While the new the cover art doesn't look too sharp, the box is amazing in person. Jack's portrait is actually 3D, with the cigar box case serving as a protective frame. The whole thing is triple the width of a regular DVD case, but you're going to want it facing out on the shelf anyway. The one drawback is that when you open the case the digital copy takes up the whole left side and the DVDs are on one of those annoying overlapping hubs, so you have to remove Disc 1 when you want to get at Disc 2. It would have made more sense to put the CD-ROM—the disc you'll be using the least—at the back and have the book open directly to the DVDs but that's something you can fix yourself.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Collectors's Edition has ported over every feature from the Special Edition except one. The original commentary by Harry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik has been replaced with a new track by Selick, Tim Burton, and Danny Elfman. It's actually three commentaries edited together and the track suffers for it. Elfman and Burton's portions sound tinny and it's apparent that only Selick is watching the movie as he speaks. There's still plenty of production info and trivia—Vincent Price was slated to be the voice of Santa!—but the cut and paste method makes for a choppy listen and it would have been great if Disney had found space to include both tracks.
In a surprising bit of mea culpa by Disney, this edition contains a form that allows you to submit the UPC from any of Nightmare's DVD releases for a $10 rebate—but only if you're buying on Blu-Ray.
It took the House of Mouse three tries to get there, but the Collector's Edition is the only Nightmare you'll ever need. It's frustrating that the one bonus holdout means commentary junkies can't ditch their Special Editions, but if that version was an A+ than the Collector's Edition is an A++ with a gold star.
Justice delayed is usually justice denied, but this case is the rare exception. Not Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Creator Tim Burton, Director Harry Seilik, and Composer Danny Elfman
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.