In 1993, following the successes of two Batman films, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton came back to his alma mater of Walt Disney Studios to team up with stop motion animator Henry Selick to release The Nightmare Before Christmas. For the few that have not seen the film, it’s the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, who had grown tired of scaring the world once a year and decided to bring it good Christmas cheer in a more macabre way.
Fast forward two decades and the film has become not only a modern day classic for not just those who like scares, laughs, and a timeless story of romance between a pumpkin king and his sewn together paramour, but a true touchstone in stop-motion animation. Now Disney has re-released the film to theaters and brought an audience participatory element into the mix, that both delights and also challenges the viewer to truly become one with the film. For this review, we are going to exclusively focus on the second screen experience.
The experience begins with the installation of The Nightmare Before Christmas Second Screen application before you head to the local cineplex of your choice, which, for myself was not an issue via iTunes. However, for those that may be unprepared for the experience of heading to this film, it may cause a challenge. I have a feeling this will be addressed in future film releases. One other factor: To participate in the group experience, you will need to connect to a special Disney wireless antenna placed in the theater and place your device into airplane mode, so if you want to check your social media status during the experience, you’re out of luck. Once loaded, like any modern game, you will be asked for an ID and your name, as this will be used to track scoring throughout the experience.
As a side effect of the second screen experience, the film has been modified to include digitally-added lower-screen captions and random stops in key scenes to handle some of the activities, which extends the runtime from its original 79 minutes to around 90 minutes. As the experience starts, you will be divided into two teams, One for the hero Jack and the other for his film nemesis (which I proudly represented), Oogie Boogie. The games and challenges presented are of a social media gaming nature, including memory-based games, rhythm/touch gaming via the Xylo-Bones, catching Jacks ghostly dog Zero and shooting missiles while Jack is on his fateful Christmas flight, a casino experience during the scenes with Oogie and last but not least, sing-alongs, round out the offerings. The latter, which may or may not be filled with joyful voices in the theater of your choosing, appeared to be a favorite of the audience that I was sitting with.
The Nightmare Before Christmas Second Screen Experience is something that may (or may not) become the future of cinema outside repertoire engagements such as the one I experienced. The combination of the traditional film and second screen has been done at home with success and the translation to the big screen is fun. Yet it still has a ways to go from being just a social gaming novelty to a truly intergraded experience. However, Disney has been an innovator in entertainment for 90 years, and this technology shows promise to be used not only for limited engagements of this nature, but wide release features as well.
The Second Screen experience is opening now in select theaters across the country for a limited time. Check your local theaters for more information and times!