‘Tis the season for Christmas movies. I’m more of a Halloween person myself. With that in mind, this month I’ll be covering Christmas movies with a darker edge to them. And the first movie will be The Nightmare Before Christmas. There is an ongoing debate as to whether this is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie. It has elements of both. But, for purposes of this blog entry, it’s a Christmas movie.
The Nightmare Before Christmas opens with Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon with a singing voice of Danny Elfman) leading Halloween festivities. Jack is the Pumpkin King, leader of Halloween Town. The town is populated by creatures associated with the holiday. While on the surface Jack is enjoying the annual Halloween celebration, privately he is tired of the same routine. He wants to bring something new to the town. The morning after Halloween, Jack stumble across trees in the woods that contain doors which are portals to the other holiday-themed towns. Jack goes into Christmas Town. He is captivated by the whole idea of Christmas. When he travels back to Halloween Town and tries to explain Christmas to the residents, it goes right over their heads. Jack studies up on Christmas all he can. Then he has an idea. Why should Christmas Town be the only place to celebrate Christmas? Jack decrees that Halloween Town will take over the Christmas festivities this year.
All of the Halloween Town residents are assigned different Christmas tasks, including singing carols and building a sleigh to be pulled by a skeletal reindeer. Sally (voiced by Catherine O’ Hara), who is secretly in love with Jack, has a vision that everything will end in disaster. Jack dismisses it and carries on as planned. Jack enlists three of Halloween Town’s trick-or-treaters to abduct “Sandy Claws” and keep him safe. Unfortunately, they turn him over to the villainous Oogie Boogie. Sally tries to save Santa, but is captured herself. Meanwhile, Jack sets off to deliver Christmas presents. But the gifts are more Halloween inspired and terrify the recipients.
News gets out of what happened to Santa and that a Santa imposter is on the loose. The military shoots down Jack’s sleigh and he is presumed dead. But he survives, and then goes off to rescue Sally and Santa, followed by trying to salvage Christmas.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, who also was one of the movie’s writers. This is a delightfully twisted animated tale that bursts with imagination in every frame. The whole idea that each holiday has its own town is a very intriguing one.
The real star for me in The Nightmare Before Christmas is its rich visuals. Stop motion animation has become a lost art. But this movie uses it on a scale that you’ve never seen before. Right from the film’s opening song This Is Halloween, it’s clear we’re about to see something we haven’t seen before. Every monster has its own unique personality, including the monster crawling under the bed. The Nightmare Before Christmas has a boundless animation that is refreshing in the age of prequels, sequels and remakes. And, since Tim Burton dreamed up the concept, it has a wicked edge to it. This is not some light, mindless kids movie. It may frighten younger children. But that’s okay. Back in 1939 kids had nightmares about the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. This is a clever and entertaining movie for kids as well as adults.
While the visuals of The Nightmare Before Christmas are often what gets the most attention, Danny Elfman’s work deserves credit. His score and songs make this into a fun and memorable musical. The Nightmare Before Christmas to this day is one of the most imaginative movies I have ever seen. It’s worth checking out at Christmas as well as Halloween.