Print Edition: Feb. 22, 2015
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BY John Lilly
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Addams Family, V1
Menacing and frightening images and sequences; mild suggestive humor and
innuendo. ’Tweens and up. The Nightmare Before Christmas: Macabre images and
themes; recurring menace. Might be too scary for younger kids. The Addams
Family: Mild macabre humor. Fine family viewing.
Friendly monsters are everywhere in kid culture, from
“Sesame Street” to Monsters, Inc.
Even in grown-up culture there are efforts to rehabilitate our monsters (as in
the novel and Broadway musical Wicked).
Are we protesting too much? Perhaps there is nothing
under the bed or in the closet, but I think it may be better and more wholesome
to fear the monsters that aren’t there, at least sometimes, than to always try
to befriend them.
(new on DVD) is a bracingly icy breath of fresh air, a ’tween-oriented family
film unabashedly out to frighten. It’s an excursion into primal fears of
haunted houses and graveyards — of places you don’t want to walk past at night,
of dark forces that are not just spooky or macabre, but sinister and vengeful.
For all its menace and peril, though, the film’s sneaky
denouement is remarkably good-hearted. Mortality, guilt, adolescence, tragedy
and hope are all at work in a hair-raising tale about a point of no return
waiting right across the street.
Alas, parents and authority figures generally don’t
appear in a good light. Even so, compared to, say, Zathura — a similarly imaginative family thriller about a house
full of uncanny goings-on — Monster House
at least has a sense of wicked humor and perspective amid its cynicism.
Opening in theaters in a new 3-D edition, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is an
entertainingly warped stop-motion holiday fable that’s among the best Halloween
DVD rentals for families. One critic calls it “How the Grinch Stole Christmas thrown into reverse” since the
protagonist, Jack Skellington, is a jolly spook who falls in love with
Christmas and misguidedly tries to improve it, almost ruining it by accident.
Despite its macabre humor, there’s something touchingly
innocent and naive about Halloweentown, Halloween’s answer to Santa’s North
Pole workshop. Its inhabitants live for fear
and thrills, but in general there’s no malice in them (except for Halloween
outlaw Mr. Oogie Boogie and his three young protégés). Halloweentown is not
about causing harm. It’s about having fun in happy and creepy ways.
Far from glorifying
evil, Nightmare caricatures it in
such a way as to pay oblique tribute to the straight and true. Think of the
upside-down values of “The Addams Family”: Real evil is nothing like that. Of
course real good is nothing like that either, but it’s real good — not real
evil — that provides the point of contrast that makes the skewed caricature
“They’re creepy and
they’re kooky/Mysterious and spooky …” The
Addams Family comes at last to DVD in a three-disc set. The 22 first-season
episodes include “Halloween and the Addams Family,” with robbers trying to rob
the Addams household on Halloween. Forget the Hollywood remakes; the TV series
is the real thing.
This edition is cheap
(under $20 at Amazon), but if you’re a completist, rent, don’t buy: The double-sided
discs have only four episodes per side, and 12 first-season episodes are
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