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Batman Returns – Tim Burton’s true nightmare before Christmas

In 1990 Tim Burton’s long standing passion project The Nightmare before Christmas was finally green lit by Disney. This has been something he’d been working on since 1982 and had previously faced resistance from Disney due to the projects tone. Unfortunately for Tim he had already committed to direct the follow-up to his 1989 success Batman.

Tim Burton handed the direction of The Nightmare Before Christmas to his long time friend and collaborator Henry Selick. Burton, who disliked the lengthy stop-motion animation process, was initially happy for Selick to interpret his vision. Later in the process Tim would take a more hand on approach. Unhappy with Selick’s progress Burton would fly between the Los Angeles Batman set and San Francisco where Nightmare was being produced.

Due to the success of the first Batman film Warner Bros gave Burton more of a free range on the sequel. This led to a more nightmarish world of crime and poverty. The films themes of the wealth gap, political corruption, and populist politics weren’t usual blockbuster fare. The June release date also didn’t seem in line with the Christmas setting. This might be part of the reason that, despite a higher production budget, Batman Returns took just over less than half of its predecessor’s box office takings.

Most of Batman Returns grotesqueness comes from Danny DeVito’s portrayal of The Penguin. This hideous version of the notorious DC villain is one of DeVito’s finest performances. The drooling, heavy breathing, dirty looking Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin’s name) looked like he could burst into a geyser of pus at any moment. Everything from his movement (created to help DeVito cope with the heavy prosthetics) to the grunts he makes between talking and whilst walking (based on a noise a rabbit makes) helped create a classic comic book movie villain.

The Nightmare Before Christmas did not perform well at the box office. During the late 1990’s early 2000’s it started picking up a cult following due to DVD and TV showings. Worried about the content Disney had removed its from the initial release. Years later it was restored. Characters from the animation are now popular purchases from Disney Stores. Recently a stage live production has toured areas in America and Europe.

Both these films seem to have been almost looked down upon when released have gone on to gain huge followings. They have also both worked their way to becoming essential Christmas viewing.


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