Halloween will finally be upon us this week, but the October horror season hasn’t quite reached its end. This month we’ve talked about everything from the Treehouse of Horror to Hocus Pocus , but to finish things off, I wanna switch to one of my favorite forms of animation: stop-motion. It’s an art form that doesn’t occur too often nowadays and requires such laborious patience and planning that it would force even the most dedicated artists to put away the play-doh and pursue that med school application. But whenever one of them does come around the bend, it is usually to amazing effect and unprecedented acclaim. So, here are three stop-motion (claymation specifically) movies that you might enjoy queueing up before the 31st this Thursday.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
Now I know what you’re thinking: why is The Nightmare Before Christmas up here? After all, it’s pretty obvious when you read the last word of its title that it is a movie steeped in Christmas, and that’s something I will never deny. However, the majority of the film takes place in Halloweentown itself and while the primary focus of the story is Jack Skellington’s obsession with the unfamiliarity of Christmas, there are enough genuinely scary and macabre aspects to this film that I think that the film can exist simultaneously as both a Halloween and a Christmas film.
Melding the mind-blowing stop motion animation of Henry Selick with the darkly original designs of Tim Burton, this film has managed to amaze and scare for twenty years without feeling even the slightest bit dated. From the stunning opening of “This is Halloween” to the final embrace with the full moon backdrop, this film is populated with true magic from beginning to end and has the power to ignite a childlike sense of wonder in even the most curmudgeonly of viewers. And of course, you can’t go wrong with Danny Elfman’s soundtrack, which makes this, in my opinion, one of the greatest musicals of its time or any other.
Sixteen years after The Nightmare Before Christmas became the smash hit that it was, director Henry Selick took the twisted imagination of Neil Gaiman (Sandman) and ignited that creative fuel to form Coraline. Blending child-like fantasy with a slowly mounting dread, the film follows the titular girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) as she discovers an alternate world mirroring her own, where everyone has buttons for eyes and this version of her parents are playful and sweet to her. After being warned by a mysterious cat (Keith David from The Princess and the Frog), she realizes this place is more dangerous than it seems and that she must escape before she finds herself trapped forever.
The stop-motion animation is as top-notch as you’d expect from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but what’s most astounding is the atmosphere of the film itself and how it can deftly slide between frivolous and frightening. While it is most certainly a film that kids can see, it seems to understand the dark undertones hiding beneath most familiar fairy tales and plays that creepily enough to where even I felt chills watching many of the scenes. Add to that the very bizarre and surreal character designs, and you have a wonderful horror-fantasy that’s worth checking out.
Somewhat swept beneath the success of Brave and Wreck-It-Ralph, last year’s Paranorman stood out for me as perhaps one of the most visually stunning and daring animated movies I’d seen in a long time. Opening with a hilariously mundane and sardonic take on The Sixth Sense, this story focuses on Norman Babcock, an outcast kid who can speak to the dead. After a witch’s curse causes the dead to rise from their graves, Norman and his unlikely group of allies must find a way to break the curse and return the town to normal.
Now on the surface, Paranorman sounds like it has a pretty standard premise, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely floored by this film. For one thing, this story of acceptance and tolerance unfolds with an astounding number of twists and turns, keeping you constantly guessing and shattering expectation after expectation. For another, the character designs are among the most original I have ever seen for ANY film, with an off-beat “anti-pretty” approach that makes the entire world pop with originality. Bolstered further by a great voice cast and an absolutely stellar climax, this film is a must-add to any respectable Netflix queue.