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Face-Off: Nightmare Before Christmas vs. Fantastic Mr. Fox

08.23.2012by: Paul Huffman
In last weeks Face Off, we featured the ultimate battle of action stars in a match between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. While good ol Sly had a handful of his faithful supporters, it was the former Governator why pulled out a victory. He's back, indeed.

This week, in honor of the release of ParaNorman, we've decided to show some appreciation for the art of the stop motion film. Over the years, there have been plenty of high quality...but a few in recent years have really stood out. The two films we're throwing against each other are the 1993 Henry Selick film Nightmare Before Christmas and the 2009 Wes Anderson gem Fantastic Mr. Fox. Interestingly enough, Fantastic Mr. Fox began as a collaboration between Anderson and Selick, before they parted ways so Selick could go to work on another stop motion film known as Coraline. The similarity between these two movies stops at their choice in animation, both have a tone all their own. Which is the better film? Let's discuss!
Story
Jack Skellington has grown tired of his function as ruler over Halloween Town. After a bit of moping via a memorable musical number, Jack discovers serious of mysterious doors just waiting to be explored. Jack indulges in that temptation and discovers the wonderfully magical world of Christmas Town, as his envy quickly builds he hatches the ultimate plan to take over responsibilities for the one we call...Santa Claus. Has there been a film that has tried to pull off the Halloween meets Christmas motif since this that I missed? I hope not, because nobody could pull it off this well.
Mr. Fox attempts to live a responsible life, putting his days of hell raising in the form of farm raising behind him forever. However, his mischievous and rebellious nature just won't allow that. When Mr. Fox and gang plan one more ultimate thrill ride, plans are complicated when three farmers who don't appreciate the antics none too much come into play. I appreciate the plot behind this film, I can identify with doing your damnedest to suppress a rebellious nature and fly right for the sake of family, it's not a light switch you can turn off...even for a fox apparently.
Animation
What I always appreciated with Nightmare Before Christmas is the creativity that had to go into the design, especially when it came to the characters. The design of characters like Jack Skellington, Santa Clause, and Oogie Boogie, and the movements that resulted in that design were beautiful to see. Bringing Halloween and Christmas Town to life was also very methodical, with Selick attributing Halloween Town to that of German Expressionism and wanting Christmas Town to feel like a "Dr. Seuss pop up book". A total of 227 puppets were created for the film, with Jack Skellington's design being re-used for another Selick film 'James and the Giant Peach'.
Fantastic Mr. Fox employed the same process and the same unbelievable amount of effort into the making of process as that of Nightmare, with very different execution. I marveled at the detail in the set design, as I do in a Pixar film. So much attention went into it. The country settings, and the character design were more or less already existing material to work from but the unique movement of the puppets was extraordinary. This film blends different types of animation but our beloved stop motion art form is front and center and it's a sight to see.
Voice Cast
Chris Sarandon (with Danny Elfman himself providing a singing voice). Catherine O'Hara. William Hickey. Glenn Shadix. Ken Page. And Paul Reubens.

Not necessarily a rag tag bunch of A-listers per se, but damn could you tell that every single one of these ladies and gentlemen were having a blast with their respective roles. When Elfman wasn't rocking the house with his song voice for several of the characters, the actors in their speaking roles brought so much enthusiasm and creativity to the voice work. It's one of the main elements that made this film a masterpiece in my humble opinion.
George Clooney. Meryl Streep. Jason Shwartzman. Bill 'F*ckin' Murray. Willem Dafoe. Owen Wilson. Michael Gambon. Brian Cox. Adrien Brody. And Wes Anderson himself.

Wes Anderson pulled out all the stops casting wise with this little endeavor didn't he? Every single one of them brought their A game as well, the technique in the voice work was also interesting, with the actors filming all their dialogue on actual locations. A lot of animated films tend to have impressive casts, but this one seems to stand out. On another note, as if Meryl Streep wasn't enough, Cate Blanchett was set to voice Mrs. Fox. but dropped out due to "undisclosed reasons". Not too bad of a replacement.
Soundtrack
One of my favorite soundtracks of all time. Not a song on this track listing that isn't catchy as hell and that I wouldn't sing at any moment of any day. As if the original soundtrack with Danny Elfman lending his voice talent wasn't enough, for future releases we got re-imagining of several of the songs by musical acts like Marilyn Monsoon, Fall Out Boy, Panic at the Disco, Fionna Apple, Korn, Rise Against, and the All American Rejects. Universally loved this piece of musical brilliance seems to be, and for unbelievably good reason.
Fantastic Mr. Fox was no slouch in the musical department either. Alexander Desplat provided a great score for the film, and it included the musical talents of The Beach Boys, The Bobby Fuller Four, Burl Ives, Georges Delerue, and none other than The Rolling Stones. Just like the soundtrack to Nightmare, the songs and score for this film set the mood of the proceedings perfectly and added so much to the film. Now please excuse me while I go listen to 'Street Fighting Man'>
Overall
Nightmare Before Christmas in my opinion stands as the big daddy of them all when it comes to stop-motion animation films. The film sports a wonderful and inventive story, excellent animation, amazing music, and great replay value at two very important times of the year. I haven't found a film lover yet who hasn't had a soft spot in their heart for good ol Jack Skellington and that speaks volumes. Critically wise it was equally as loved with Roger Ebert harboring the opinion that the film was visually as important as Star Wars, praising its infinite imagination. Agreed Mr. Ebert, agreed.
Fantastic Mr. Fox did not let me down. It has all the style and the tone of a Wes Anderson film while being a visual feast. The ensemble cast was impressive, and the effort put into the film is admirable. The story and characters were something I could really sink my teeth into, and I think it's something that many people who are at a certain position in their lives can actually relate to. That's one thing I can say Mr. Fox has over Nightmare, it hits one on a human level a little deeper than Selick's stylish gem. The best compliment I can give it is that it carried on the trend of quality work in every aspect a film can be a winner in the art of stop-motion.
Nightmare Before Christmas
So there it is schmoes, in my eyes Nightmare Before Christmas has yet to be knocked off its thrown as the one to beat when it comes to stop-motion animation films. All the ingredients that a film needs to be timeless were present here front and center. Other films like Corpse Bride, and Coraline, and Fantastic Mr. Fox have put up a hell of a fight...but couldn't knock Nightmare out in the last round. But hey, that's just my opinion. Where do you stand? If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which stop motion animation film is your favourite?
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Tags: Face-Off

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