Before seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas at the El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, I ducked into the Disney Store right next door and marveled at the amount of Nightmare merchandise available. Old timers will remember that when the movie was originally released it did okay business, and it captured the imagination of a certain segment of the population, but it seemed destined to never quite catch on. A decade and a half later that’s all changed, and a theatrical revival of the film is an annual tradition. And since last year there’s been a new wrinkle: it’s in 3D.
This year’s rerelease was kicked off with a special event at the El Capitan: director Henry Selick and co-producer Kathleen Gavin participated in a chat with Don Hahn, producer of some of Disney’s modern animation classics. While they were talking about the making of the film – budgeted at a scant 18 million dollars – animator Mike Belzer stood to the side with a naked stop motion armature. His mission: animate something before a live audience. It was a smashing success as the armature did a graceful dance move on the screen, although perfectionist Belzer asked Selick not to judge him too harshly.
After that came a huge surprise: Neil Gaiman took to the stage to show off about ten minutes of Coraline, Selick’s next stop motion film. The footage, which included finished animation and some storyboards, was in 3D, and I was blown away. I’m not a big believer in the 3D revolution – I just don’t see how it adds to filmmaking in the ways that sound and color did, and I think it’s kind of a gimmick – but it’s a great gimmick when used right. Just a couple of days earlier I had been to see revival of Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D, and where that film took every opportunity to shove things in the audience’s faces to remind us that this was 3D, Coraline was understated with the effect. The 3D added depth to the picture and created a sense of heightened reality, which the best stop motion does anyway. Nightmare looks fantastic in 3D, as well, by the way, and for the same reasons. The depth and texture added by the 3D process gives the whole movie a new vibrancy.
In between the Coraline sneak and the beginning of the main feature, I went backstage with a couple of other journalists to talk to Selick, Gavin and Belzer (Henry Selick turns out to be a CHUD reader, which is pretty exciting). Selick said that he wasn’t involved in the process of turning Nightmare into a 3D film, and that it had been Hahn who spearheaded the effort – "He didn’t know any better," Selick said, talking about the massive amount of work that went into making the movie 3D – but Belzer had been closely involved, checking out dailies on a… well, daily basis.
For Selick it was important that the film remain the same. "We didn’t do a George Lucas," he explained. There’s no going back and changing things for this release, and the version playing in 3D is the same version I saw in theaters back in 1993 – actually maybe closer to that than I had ever come again, since I was so high the first time I saw the movie it might as well have been in 3D.
Gavin had some thoughts about what has made Nightmare transform from a cult film to an annual mainstream hit. "I remember when it first came out and people were all, ‘Don’t take your kids. It’s scary.’ But I never once heard any parent tell me that when they took their kid, the kid was scared. I think the reason is it holds up is even though those characters look scary, they don’t do anything scary. They’re really lovely charming characters who are trying to give the world something. Jack goes awry in terms of Christmas, but really they believe bringing Halloween to the world is a lovely thing and that’s what they do. So I think the characters are so well meaning that people can connect with them. It’s a very sweet movie despite its look."
It’s never looked better than it does now. The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D is playing for a limited three week engagement right now. Click here to see where it’s playing near you.