SANTA MONICA, Calif. —Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
has a new dimension to its spookiness, after all these years. And the years add up, appropriately enough, to 13.
With Halloween looming around the corner, Friday the 13th just passed, and in celebration of its significant anniversary, The Nightmare Before Christmas
is hitting movie screens again Friday — this time in 3-D.
And even creator Burton finds himself caught up in a new way by the Gothic and ghoulish world of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King.
"It makes the movie weirdly better; you just see it the way it was meant to be — completely dimensional," says Burton, 48, on a visit to his native Southern California from his adopted home in London. "It takes the story and actually deepens it. I see details in the sets that I don't remember seeing."
Burton has resisted tampering with the 1993 film that has become a cult classic. With so many current movies generating sequels or even forcing out a trilogy, Burton's Nightmare
stands alone. There will not be another installment, he says. But that's not for lack of trying on the part of Disney, the studio that released Nightmare
Burton — whose most recent films are The Corpse Bride
and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
and who is in pre-production on the screen adaptation of another macabre story, Sweeney Todd
— fends off sequel offers from "each new regime that comes in" at Disney. "I just say no. So, there won't be a Jack Visits Thanksgiving World
Part of his desire to keep the movie a solo offering has to do with the connection the stop-motion animated film has forged with die-hard fans.
"You can't screw around with that," says Burton. "It's not a mass-market kind of thing. It's kind of specialized."
The movie's enduring popularity has surprised even Burton. "It sort of snuck up on me," he says. "The goal in my mind was a kind of emotional payback for (holiday specials like) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
and How the Grinch Stole Christmas
, the things I remember specifically sitting down and watching. It's great when you meet people who tell you it has had some impact on them, because you know it's from the heart."
The story is about Jack Skellington, the bored Pumpkin King (spoken voice by Chris Sarandon, singing by Danny Elfman) who attempts to take over Christmas, against the advice of Sally (voice by Catherine O'Hara), the rag doll who has a crush on him. It is darkly mischievous and eccentric, yet has an inherent, unsentimental sweetness.
Burton is convinced that audiences, especially kids, recoil from the sappy messages of some animated films.
"Reach for the vomit bag! Kids know it's pandering, and that's what makes you really sick," he says. "Kids are more aware of that than anybody."
These days, studios are churning out animated films faster than ever. And yet it's the rare animated film that will stand apart and keep its luster — and its devoted audience happy — 13 years later.
"For the longest time, studios didn't really understand the power of animation," Burton says. "It's taken time for it to catch on. The same thing happens in any genre: They'll saturate it, put a pillow over it and smother it. How many talking-animal pictures can you end up with?"
Even though it's called Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas,
Burton didn't direct it — Henry Selick did — and though he conceived of the story, Caroline Thompson is credited with the screenplay.
Is the Burton imprimatur a kind of brand marketing?
"They thought it would be a way of saying what kind of zone it was in, as opposed to an X-rated slasher movie, since it sounded like maybe it could be a Nightmare on Elm Street
kind of thing," he says. "I thought having my name on it might end up actually frightening people more. But they thought differently."
Meanwhile Burton is gearing up for his favorite holiday, with Helena Bonham Carter and their son, Billy Raymond, 3.
"I like the run-up from Halloween to Christmas," he says. "It's quite an electric, emotional time of year."
And now that he's a dad, he gets to share the spooky thrills.
Though Billy Raymond is not quite ready for the film experience, Burton says, he likes to play with his Nightmare
"He likes Jack. He's got a great Jack pillow," he says, rifling through his wallet for photos of his boy dressed in a skeleton suit.
When told the golden-haired toddler resembles his actress mother, Burton agrees. "Luckily, he looks more like her. It's probably for the best."