Santa Claus is an essential part of Christmas. Who hasn’t sat by the TV and watched the Rankin/Bass classic holiday special Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town? There have been many interpretations of Kris Kringle on the big screen, ranging from Edmund Gwenn’s Oscar-winning turn in the 1947 holiday classic Miracle On 34th Street to Tim Allen in 1994’s The Santa Clause. Santa hasn’t appeared as much in animated form on the big screen (my favorite being Tom Hanks’ motion-capture performance in 2004’s The Polar Express). For this Christmas edition of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking back at Disney’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary) and Aardman’s Arthur Christmas.
Directed by Henry Selick, 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas centers on Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, as he discovers Christmas Town and attempts to adopt that town’s holiday with disastrous results. Featuring the voices of Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Ken Page, Ed Ivory, Paul Reubens, and Danny Elfman, this critically acclaimed film cost $18 million to make and grossed $50 million domestically in its initial release (it added $25 million in 3D re-releases for a $75 million domestic haul). The film was inspired by a three-page poem Tim Burton wrote in the early 1980s when he was still a Disney animator. Burton and production designer Rick Heinrichs developed concept art and storyboards, and considered making the film as a short or a half-hour TV special. The idea was abandoned when Burton left Disney, but several years later he revisited it. In 1990, Burton and Henry Selick (who worked with Burton as an animator years before) struck a deal with Disney to make the film as a feature-length stop-motion animated film. Burton couldn’t direct due to his commitment to 1992’s Batman Returns, so Selick would take the directorial reigns (Burton stayed on as producer). Danny Elfman wrote the terrific score as well as 10 songs and contributed the singing voice of Jack Skellington. Among the film’s accolades are three Annie Award nods (including two wins), a Hugo Award nod for Best Dramatic Presentation, four Saturn Award nods (including two wins), a Golden Globe nod for Best Original Score, and an Academy Award nod for Best Visual Effects.
Directed by Sarah Smith, 2011’s Arthur Christmas centers on Santa Claus’ younger son, who sets out on a mission to deliver a Christmas gift that had been failed to be delivered during Santa’s Christmas Eve flight. Featuring the voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Michael Palin, Robbie Coltrane, Joan Cusack, Andy Serkis, and Dominic West, this critically acclaimed computer-animated film grossed only $46 million domestically on a $100 million budget (but it grossed nearly $101 million internationally for a worldwide total of $147 million). Arthur Christmas (whose original title was Operation Rudolph) marked the first film made by Aardman as part of their deal with Sony Pictures Imageworks (their last film, 2006’s Flushed Away, was made in conjunction with Dreamworks). Pre-production lasted 18 months in the U.K., with a focus on story and the design of the film, while production then moved to Los Angeles and lasted another 18 months. Harry Gregson-Williams would compose the film’s terrific score. Among the film’s accolades are five Annie Award nods (including one win), two BAFTA nods, Best Animated Feature nods from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics Association, Online Film Critics Society, and the Golden Globes, as well as Best Animated Feature wins from the San Diego Film Critics Society and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association.