‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ Director Bashes a Formulaic Animation Industry

By  · Published on July 23rd, 2013

First Smith, Soderbergh, Spielberg and Spike Lee, and now Henry Selick. The stop-motion master behind Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline is adding his name to an alliterative list complaining about the filmmaking industry and its risk-averse decision-making process. Selick took aim at Despicable Me 2, but by his own reckoning, could have been talking about any animated film these days.

“It’s too homogenous. It’s way too much the same,” said Selick, “The films aren’t really that different one from the other. Despicable Me could have been made Pixar, by DreamWorks. It’s not a great time for feature animation if you want to do something even moderately outside the formula.”

Selick also championed streaming as a possible new outlet for animators and had more strong words that echo the typical narrative – that Hollywood is broken because they’re betting too big on too many tentpoles, refusing anything that doesn’t fit neatly into their Channing Tatum-starring Profit and Earnings report. The director is certainly qualified to talk about the system shutting out creativity; his latest project, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book,” was dropped by Disney wholesale late last year and his Shadow King project came close to disappearing before an indie production house picked it back up.

All this goes to show is that the entire industry is crippled by the same thing, animation included. The funny thing is that a few years ago, Pixar would have been vaulted as the exception to the rule, but their sequelizing and prequelizing has put them in the same generic boat as everyone else. On the other hand, there are movies like How to Train Your Dragon and the first Despicable Me that break big as quality surprises…only to be shoved into the sequel machine as too-safe bets. That’s not to say that the Dragon follow-up will be aiming for par, but it’s a bit difficult to muster an argument that Selick is wrong here (regardless of his personal and professional bias).

And yet, even with the major studios frozen in a predictable pattern, they didn’t see value in betting on the man who turned $60M into a magical movie experience worth $124M worldwide at the box office with Coraline. Isn’t that the kind of success story producers can typically point to while shaking hands? Why can Focus Features pull that off while Disney can’t?

Sadly, I think we all know the answer.

Related Topics:

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.