When a character in this slop-motion animated fantasy film moans, “This is worse than I thought, much worse,” one is tempted to yell, “Tell it, sister!” But that would be Scroogish, and not in keeping with the Christmas spirit that Nightmare cherishes in its own twisted way.
Based on a story and characters conceived by Tim Burton, the dark visionary director behind Batman and Edward Scissorhands, the film is a simple 73-minute fable about what goes wrong when Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, decides he would rather be Santa Claus. Jack orders the real Santa kidnapped by a trio of bratty kid goonlets, then dresses up in a Santa suit himself and rides off to deliver Christmas gifts—bullet-ridden toy ducks and severed, blood-seeping doll heads—made by his fellow Halloweentown ghoulies. (With their chopped-off limbs and deformities, these seem to be the spawn of Beetlejuice, an earlier Burton creation.) The obvious moral is don’t try to be somebody you’re not.
This is not really as scary as it sounds, since it’s all very cartoonists and played for humor. Younger viewers, the ones who gel a charge out of spilling ketchup on themselves and pretending they have just had an accident with a power tool, will actually enjoy the movie. Adults, despite being wowed by the dazzling, geez-how’d-they-do-that animation, will find their attention wandering to Christmases past. Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara and William Hickey supply voices for the major characters. Danny Elfman provides music and lyrics for 10 songs, none of which you will come out humming. (PG)