Scott Marks 3 p.m., Aug. 31
Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas
- Rated PG | 1 hour, 16 minutes
More accurately Henry Selick's Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas, Burton having had the idea for it and then having turned it over to Selick, a specialist in three-dimensional stop-motion animation. As so often in that medium, the aesthetic plane, quite distinct from the financial plane, is not sufficiently higher than that of Mr. Potatohead. The hero, Jack Skellington, a/k/a The Pumpkin King, looks unfortunately like Whitley Strieber's extraterrestrial in a pinstripe suit and on stilts. And his many, varied, and grotesque cohorts are first and foremost a manifestation of Hollywood's besetting vices of overabundance and overindulgence: too many, too varied, too grotesque. Another, more basic, manifestation of these is the mere fact that the film is a feature and not a short. Because it is a Disney film, of course, and an animated film, there seems to be some immutable law that it must have songs, songs, and more songs -- written (and some of them sung) by Danny Elfman, but sounding more like Andrew Lloyd Webber in search of a melody ("I don't believe what's happening to me,/ My hopes, my dreams, my fantasy!"). These musical interludes are no doubt the greatest offenders in the torture-rack stretch to feature-length, but the gaudy displays of wealth and expenditure run them a close second. In its bare bones, the premise seems viable enough. Completely separate towns, according to Burton's fantasyland geography, are responsible for planning and carrying-off the separate holidays on the calendar, until one year the Halloween mastermind gets it into his head to abduct Santa Claus and usurp Christmas. There is some dark-toned fun (not darker than TV's The Simpsons or than Charles Addams's New Yorker cartoons, and not more fun, either) when the revised Christmas plans begin to go awry. And by and by there's a traditional and respectable fairy-tale message to do with accepting yourself as you are. The delivery of that message, however, and for that matter the setting-up of the basic premise, are garbled in the extreme. One does not envy parents who must try to explain the thing to their young. 1993.