The Swanpride Award: 1993-1994

Up for consideration:

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Warner Bros, Traditional

The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

Once Upon a Forrest (1993), Hanna-Barbera, Traditional

The Thief and the Cobbler (1993), Richard Williams, Traditional

Felidae (1994), Michael Schaack, Traditional

The Swan Princess (1994), Richard Rich, Traditional

The Lion King (1994), Disney, Traditional


I think I will bend the rules a little bit for this one. I usually discuss at least three nominated movies, but when I look at this list, I see two movies which really deserves to be there, and a number of movies which I could put on the third spot knowing that they wont win either way, but which are (with the exception of Once Upon a Forrest which is a very forgettable movie) more or less equally deserving. Here a fast run-down: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is widely considered the best of the animated Batman movies. That doesn’t change the fact though, that it is a series based production which was made more with the TV in mind than the big screen. It is a really, really good TV movie, but only an okay theatrical release. I dig the artwork, though. Which is also the big selling point of The Thief and the Cobbler. This is a passion project by Richard Williams and usually exactly my kind of movie with its unusual animation style. But, well….a movie still needs a good story, and no matter which cut you watch, none of them amount to what I would consider good story-telling. It is possible to make a movie which mostly sells on visuals (see Fantasia), but if you do use a story as framework, you better do it right. Felidae is the exact opposite. Based on a German Bestseller it does have an unusual story to offer one which is adult without relying on sex and violence alone, but the animation…well, it shows that Germany has mostly been out of the animation game in the last decades. And finally there is the Swan Princess, which is one of those Disney Princess Cash-in which was produced back then (and really rips off Sleeping Beauty multiple times). But I have to give it credit, the movie is actually a fun watch with some good aspects in it. As far as Disney rip-off goes, only Don Bluth did it better.

In the end I decided to stick with the two movies which actually have a really good chance to win this one instead of picking an additional runner-up. This will be hard enough as it is.



The Nighmare before Christmas (1993), Skellington/Disney, Stop Motion

The Lion King (1994), Disney, Traditional

Why exactly did I decide to do this? No matter which movie I will choose, it will mean kicking one off the list which would have been equally deserving to enter the final selection. But let’s see if I am able to find some minor differences in quality.

  • The Story: Both movies are based on an original story. The Nightmare before Christmas was written by Tim Burton himself and while a lot of people claim that The Lion King is based on Hamlet, it really isn’t. It is more a collection of Shakespearean tropes connected to a new but nevertheless familiar story. And yes, I am aware of the accusations that Disney copied from Kimba, the White Lion, too. To be frank, I don’t think that this would even be a discussion if the name Kimba and Simba (which is Swahili for Lion) didn’t sound so similar. Yeah, there are a few scenes in The Lion King which look artistically similar to Kimba. But do you know what they are also look similar to? Older Disney movies, most notable Bambi and The Jungle Book. In fact, The Lion King is more a modern version of Bambi than anything else. And that doesn’t bother me either, because while a lot of tropes in the movie are familiar, they are reinterpreted quite well.Not perfectly, though. If I do have a gripe with The Lion King than that it undermines its own themes. The movie keeps saying that it is important to face your own past, but what is the reaction when Simba does it? Contempt. It is only when it turns out that he never was guilty of Mufasa’s death in the first place that anyone stands up for him.Thus said though, the story of The Nightmare before Christmas isn’t perfect either. It is incredible creative, but once the basic situation is set up, it becomes mostly predictable. Halloween and Christmas are simply two feast which don’t belong together, so it is no surprise that Jack has to learn that lesson, too. Still, it feels overall more original that The Lion King does.


  • The Characters: I admit, of all the characters in The Lion King, Simba is my least favourite. I don’t even think that it is the way he is written. It does make sense that he is a spoiled brat in the beginning and he does listen and learn when his father teaches him the right values. But adult-Simba is a little bit bland. I would blame the voice acting, but he is bland in every version I have seen. And Nala is barely more than a run-of-the-mill love-interest, mostly there to cheer him on.
    Skar also changes quite a lot. In the first half of the movie, he is the epitome of a terrifying Disney Villain, but in the second half, when he laying around playing with bones he looks kind of pathetic. I wouldn’t say that is a bad thing, though. It actually makes a really good point that those who claim that they would be better rulers, often aren’t if you actually give them the power. It is always easier to claim someone else does everything wrong than doing it better.
    But who really shines in the Lion King are the side characters. They all, not just Timon and Pumba, are colourful and memorable. Even those which are mostly there to sprout exposition. And then there is Mufasa. He is the epitome of a dedicated king and a loving father, which makes his fate so much more heart-breaking.In The Nightmare before Christmas the whole story hinges on Jack, and thankfully he is a compelling character. His plight is an understandable one, even if it is kind of a first world problem. After all, he is the best in what he does and admired by everyone. And yet, it is understandable that he feels empty. After all, most humans like to challenge themselves, they want to experience something new.
    But in this case it’s the side characters which aren’t that memorable. Granted, Sally is a little bit more interesting than Nala, mostly because she has her own weird side-story, and the movie does deserve a lot of credit for not going too cliché on Santa Claus, but I can barely remember the other characters or what exactly the plan and motivation of Oogie Boogie was.


  • The Music: Well, Lion King has the award winning soundtrack. But one shouldn’t overlook the one of The Nightmare before Christmas either. Danny Elfman is, imho, one of the best movie composers which are currently working and “This is Halloween” is in a way the ultimate Halloween song.


  • The Animation: Honestly, how can I compare that? The Lion King is an explosion of colour, but it also offers a number of iconic scenes, Rafiki raising Simba being the most well known one. But there is also the stampede, which doubles as impressive technical achievement, Scar’s singing performance, Timon, Pumbo and Simba walking over the tree trunk and the final battle. The character animation is equally good. Scar’s smooth movements and especially Simba’s face when he discovers the body of his father are details which make the movie as good as it is. But The Nightmare before Christmas is a masterpiece of Stop-motion animation. The creators took full advantage of it’s weird setting and went all out on this one. The image of the curved rock in front of the moon is at least as iconic as everything in The Lion King.

I wrote this passage two times, and the first time, I declared The Lion King the winner. But then I reread what I had written and noticed that while I the movies are fairly even in three categories, there is one category in which The Nightmare before Christmas has a slight edge: Storytelling. This movie feels more creative than The Lion King, and it doesn’t undermine its own themes at any point. So, close call, and I might decide differently on another day, but today I give it to The Nightmare before Christmas.



18 responses to “The Swanpride Award: 1993-1994

  • anii654

    Never watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, so I cant judge it.

  • smilingldsgirl

    I would also give it to Nightmare Before Christmas for creativity alone and I don’t really like the way that Lion King uses its songs although I do love the film. I reject your problem with Lion King undermining it’s themes. The lions have literally minutes to absorb Simba coming back after being gone for years. How are they supposed to react? To me it would seem completely false if they accepted him without any hesitation at all. They’ve also just been under a tyrannical rule where they no doubt were afraid to embrace Simba or change. If it was days where they were rejecting him I’d see your point but it’s the course of one conversation where they have to absorb everything, so I find that problem kind of bizarre to be honest.
    I give Nightmare Before Christmas the win because I think it is different than anything I’ve seen before and I like the songs better than Lion King songs. The comedic sidekicks are also not my favorite in Lion King although I know kids love them.

    • swanpride

      I think what bothers me the most is the line of Sarabi, who doesn’t ask “what happens” but “say this isn’t true”. Sorry, but if I were his mother, I would first want to know what exactly happened that day. After all, there is no way that Simba, as a cup, murdered his father.
      I also think that the story would be stronger overall if Simba actually had done something wrong.

      • smilingldsgirl

        I think that is a natural reaction to trying to understand what he is saying. I certainly never saw it as condemnation. It’s a heated moment where there isn’t exactly time to for a lengthy discussion of the events of the day. Simba admits to doing it at first so it is understandable she is very confused. Again they just need time to absorb all of this and so for her to not have that response would have rang false for me.
        I guess I can see if he had been in the badlands or somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be that might have been interesting but it never bothered me. Scar is such a sociopath seeing the way he manipulates Simba was always so gripping.
        I love the Hans Zimmer score too and feel it is sometimes forgotten over the Elton John/Tim Rice songs. Like I said my main flaw with the movie is how they use the songs except for Be Prepared.

      • swanpride

        It’s a good point, I actually considered writing about the way the songs sometimes slow down the movies, but, well, the same is true for The Nightmare before Christmas, so I left this particular analysis for another day.

      • smilingldsgirl

        That’s fair about the Nightmare songs. I just don’t like the way Can You Feel the Love Tonight for instance is a joke at first and then sung by Elton John. I wish more of the characters sung the songs and they worked into the stories but it’s still a very great film.

      • swanpride

        Yeah, but to be fair, love songs tend to be the weak point of each soundtrack, with a few notable exceptions. Tangled for example has a particularly well placed and well-worded one.

      • smilingldsgirl

        That’s good point

  • smilingldsgirl

    I also love Batman Mask of the Phantasm. It’s my favorite Batman movie and I think it is the best telling of Batman as a character. Finally he is more interesting than the villains. I love the Shirley Walker score and the animation is beautiful, vocal work great. I like the story and the sacrifice Bruce has to make with Andrea Beaumont. It made my top 50 Animated Countdown because I just think it is overall so well done.

    • swanpride

      If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. It is a particular honour that I even took it into consideration, because normally, I tend to disregard movies based on TV shows unless they have a particular noteworthy reputation. It’s perhaps an unfair bias, but I really couldn’t watch every single animated movie which was ever made.

      • smilingldsgirl

        Oh I completely understand why you picked the 2 you did. I just wanted to share my thoughts on it in my comment

      • swanpride

        Yeah, I know. Like I said, I did consider it seriously for the third spot, but picking a movie for that one would have been just as difficult as picking a final winner.

  • The Animation Commendation

    Oh wow, I’d have totally given this to The Lion King.

  • Nat

    It’s hard to choose between these two movies, since they’re both so well-done. I think Nightmare has 2 big problems, though:
    1. The songs have a tendency to stretch for a rhyme and kinda cheat a bit with half-rhymes ( like rhyming much with stuff and age with strange, etc)
    2. The romance between Jack and Sally. It’s not bad, per se, but it could’ve used a lot more development.
    Those still aren’t enough to keep me from liking it, though. Big question is whether or not to watch it during Halloween or Christmas.

    • swanpride

      Yeah, but the romance between Simba and Nala isn’t better either. That is the weak point in both movies.

      I think it is the perfect movie to watch between Halloween and Christmas. Like, first you finish you Halloween watch and then you use this movie to lead into your Christmas watch. I mean it is not like there are any good Thanksgiving themes animated movies, are there? (Plus, I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either way).

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