Something About Stop Motion Makes Me Want to Eat My Eyes

Photo by Ash Fuentes

By Ash Fuentes

I admit, there’s a handful of Halloween horrors and cult classics that I haven’t yet seen which makes me a fake film buff in most categories, but I truly believe there are some movies that don’t deserve my attention. Art is subjective and of course, no one will agree on every stylistic choice in a film, but I wish that we as a society could eradicate stop motion animation… claymation, puppeteering, whatever it may be.

We can praise animators of stop motion works, we can marvel at the talent of the puppet masters, we can appreciate the time and patience these creators have for putting together the motion picture. Yet, I hate the product.

The only exception I’ll make is for Corpse Bride. Everything else should perish. There’s a reason why the majority of the most popular stop motion films are of the Halloween-ish genre; there’s no way that you can look at a stop motion film and not think that’s a little bit scary. This is one of the reasons why those Rankin-Bass Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are creepier than they are comforting. Stop motion just works better as part of Halloween festivities.

So, in honor of the Halloween spirit, I decided to review a handful of stop motion movies, even if they aren’t directly related to the holiday. I even forced myself to stomach the ones I had originally mentally blacklisted such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. I could’ve been completely delusional when I first watched them, so I had to give them a rewatch just in case my opinion on them had changed.

From spooky Henry Selick to loving Tim Burton works, here’s my analysis on the best of stop motion films.

The Nightmare Before Christmas dir. By Henry Selick (1993)

In a universe where the holidays are personified by seasonal characters living in their respective towns, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town grows bored of his everyday life and goes out of his way to obtain a change in scenery. Through mischief and all sorts of mayhem, Jack Skellington makes a game out of toying with Christmas.

Ah, yes. The movie that was the very reason behind my pure hatred and distaste for claymation. Never will I ever like this! However, it has one of the best soundtracks. “Kidnap The Sandy Claws” is absolutely thrilling! Praise for Danny Elfman. Although we are introduced to the eerie Halloween Town, this movie is Snoozeville for me and the score wasn’t enough to keep me interested. I feel like all of the relationships are kind of a mess and certain power dynamics don’t make much sense. There’s just no way this can be someone’s favorite stop motion movie of all time because the storyline is a bit weak, but the set design is pretty amazing. I will say it deserves credit for trying to cross the lines between being a Halloween movie versus a Christmas movie. Please stop calling Jack Skellington “Bone Daddy,” though.

Corpse Bride dir. by Tim Burton, Mike Johnson (2005)

The introverted son of a respectable rich family is arranged to marry the daughter of another wealthy family who is secretly going bankrupt as her parents’ last attempts staying rich. Fortunately for Victor and Victoria, they actually are the perfect match for each other! It’s just too bad that there’s another woman in the picture.

I truly love how the people are so dramatically designed yet somehow uphold such real characteristics. I could probably look into the archives of a 19th-century European town and find pictures of actual human beings who accurately resemble their clay counterparts. Out of all the claymation I’ve watched, I definitely appreciate this character design the most. The movie was also the most entertaining claymation movie, as I didn’t feel any dead beats (ha…). The plot is simple and slightly silly, but with just the right amount of twists to it. I truly like the movement of the characters and how exaggerated the action is. The dialogue is probably one of the best of the claymation movies, full of wit and fun. It’s a bittersweet adventure with a few catchy songs to accompany it. The story of Victoria, Victor, and Emily is sure to be engaging (okay, I’ll stop now).

Coraline dir. By Henry Selick (2009)

A tall tale passed down by generations to spook troublesome children into behaving, or a nightmare come to life? Coraline is dying to find sources of entertainment after moving to a completely new town and being neglected by her parents. When the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur, she realizes that boredom does kill.

Honestly, this is one of the most visually pleasing movies I’ve ever seen. The attention to detail, beautiful coloring, and even the art style really bring it to life. I have to say the style that the characters were created in makes me so uncomfortable because of how realistic yet overexaggerated they were, but I suppose that’s a huge part of why the movie works so well. It’s probably the scariest out of all the intentionally creepy claymation films. It never gives you a moment to catch a breath of fresh silly goofy air as it’s pretty eldritch all the time. The plot had me curious, but not entirely intrigued. I find Coraline to have such a low amount of rooting interest that she becomes merely tolerable after her big character growth moment. I understand that she’s a young kid, still immature and growing, though, so it makes the Moral of the Story have the best takeaway. The movie certainly made me realize to be more grateful, especially after it scared me as a child. Although there were some bland moments throughout the movie where I found myself desperately waiting to move on to the next thing, Coraline is overall a well-made chilling movie and definitely has spirit. 

Frankenweenie dir. by Tim Burton (2012)

When they say that dogs are loyal, it’s true because their role as Man’s Best Friend will outlast a lifetime. A young scientifically-gifted boy takes desperate measures to bring his best friend back from the dead after a tragic accident. Victor Frankenstein succeeds in giving life but wasn’t prepared for all the complications that could arise.

I was originally looking forward to watching this movie because it fits within the spooky theme with the black and white film style and inclusion of Frankenstein methods all while being a cute dog movie, however, I was slightly disappointed once I finished it. The introduction leading up to the known death of Victor’s dog Sparky was slow, as though I was just waiting for the dog to die so we could get the movie going already. Yet, even once Sparky’s moment came, the film progressed in a snail-esque fashion because there was nowhere else for it to go. There are a few major points, while most of the content is just filler. The ending didn’t feel like there was any real closure, so it wasn’t that satisfying to see. Everything worked out exactly in the main character’s favor, while what happened to some influential people in his life went unaddressed which bothered me. Many characters were distinct with each child having their little quirk that sets them apart from the others. Some felt offensive in ways that I can’t quite place. Many faces, mainly the adults, looked too familiar, but I’ve heard about the theories connecting Corpse Bride to this film. Also, this is kind of a gross concept, digging up your dead pet and putting them back together to electrify them, but sometimes people are so driven by love and loss that they’re willing to do anything to get things back to how they used to be. I think Victor is easy to sympathize with which drives the plot, but other than that the writing is a letdown.

Paranorman dir. by Sam Fell, Chris Butler (2012)

What is life like for a boy who can see spirits when he lives in a ghost town? Norman, known as the freak of the town because nobody believes he’s a medium, struggles with his gift of seeing. It becomes more of a burden when his shunned medium uncle passes away abruptly and leaves him with the task of stopping a witch’s curse that had been brewing in his town for 300 years.

So many of the stop motion movies mentioned above have to do with dead communities interacting with living ones. This one is different because Norman is actually a medium, and had been able to see and speak with ghosts for his whole life. For such an innocent concept, this movie definitely should be rated higher. What do you mean it’s only rated PG…? Its dialogue was witty, yes, but it seemed as though every other bit was near-adult humor. It was funny, though. Every character is slightly unappealing to look at. The animation style did not let a single character have looks in their favor. I suppose this was to add to the disgust of the zombies and the always on-beat humor already took away from any serious scary moments. If you thought some characters’ motivations were stupid, the main cast already broke the fourth wall to point it out in real-time. The plot was pretty simple and predictable, but the ending was wholesome for so many people involved so I’ll just excuse it. For a kids’ movie, this is definitely not meant to be as thrilling as Coraline, but it’s pretty up to par in entertainment. 

For more stop motion movies to watch or look out for, check out my list on Letterboxd here.

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