Film Review No.267: The Nightmare Before Christmas


After realising that the Rescuers Down Under was squashed at the box office by Home Alone I thought it would be good to follow up my last review with that particular Christmas treat. That plan was soon squashed worse that The Rescuers potential financial success when it turned out that not a single TV channel in the UK was showing Home Alone on Christmas Day. There was Home Alone 2 and, apparently, there’s a 5th film now, but not the original entry in the series. So the hunt was on at the 23rd of this month to find a suitable replacement Christmas film. Man the choice was dire this year. Even Die Hard was missing from the Christmas schedule. Thankfully I managed to find a channel showing The Nightmare Before Christmas, and here we are. Click the link below.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a seasonal marketers wet dream. Not only is it a creative Christmas film but it can also fully cover Halloween. 3 months of DVD sales man! In this film, for those silly enough to have never seen this, the lord of Halloween, Pumpkin King Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), has grown weary of the holiday season he presides over. On a nightly wander he discovers a forest with a number of doorways that lead to various other holiday themed towns. After taking a tumble into the world of Christmas Town Jack in enthralled by the wonder of the perpetually cheerful and wondrous world. So much so that he plans to take it over to see if he can figure out what makes Christmas so special. His friend Sally (Catherine O’Hara), the stitched together creation of Dr Finklestein (William Hickey), has a premonition that Jack’s Christmas will go terribly wrong. Unfortunately nothing will stop jack in his plan to spread his own version of Christmas cheer.

You can probably guess how well Jack’s Christmas goes, but God bless him for trying. What helps make this story really work is that Jack doesn’t have an ounce of malice in his plan. He isn’t taking Christmas over to spread fear, his intention is to merely experience the wonders that Santa spreads to the people of our world and in turn help him figure out what he feels is missing from Halloween. In a typical Tim Burton style the characters may be grotesque but they’re not entirely evil. Some are a little evil, but they all support jack and want to see him succeed. Granted, Jack does ask three kids to kidnap Santa for him so he can have the night off, but he is doing it out of kindness so it’s OK.

Wonder how many of Jack's limbs snapped off during animation.

Wonder how many of Jack’s limbs snapped off during animation.

Whilst the film has Tim Burton’s stamp all over it the film was directed by Henry Selick. If you’ve seen Selick’s work you’ll know that he shares a similar love for the dark and twisted, so the fit works out very well here. Apparently Burton spent all of 8 days at the studio during production. It was his story originally though and he did work closely with Danny Elfman on creating the many brilliant songs featured in the film. Regardless of who worked on what the look, texture of the characters and the entire audio design is exemplary. I’d say only Laika has managed to exceed this film in terms of quality stop motion animation since. Every single element of the film work in perfect harmony with the other. Of particular note is the design of the three worlds the film is set in. Halloween town is pure German Expressionism with touches of Gothic art, Christmas town heavily influenced by Whoville from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas book and the human world is shown to have a more normalised architecture that sits between the others. These three disparate styles help enrich the beauty of the film and give it the visual flair that Henry Selick and Tim Burton are known for.

One thing I love about the film is that, whilst it is almost entirely told in the form of song, none of them are painful, cheesy Christmas tunes. They’re all story driving and fit within the tone and temperament of the story at whatever place it appears. Whilst it may not have spawned any songs that are weaved into the fibres of culture like many Disney songs do, they are memorable in their own twisted little way. I hadn’t watched the film for about 15 years but realised I still remembered the lyrics to This is Halloween at the film’s open. Danny Elfman sits in for Chris Sarandon on the Jack Skellington vocal duties and, to be honest, you’d be hard pressed to tell. I’ll state this without a hint of humour or jest, despite his use of certain common themes, Danny Elfman is one of the best musical talents to have worked on film in the last 30 years. I’d love to hear him handle some more musicals as he has a real skill for creating effortlessly intricate and rich songs.

People won't notice. They look identical.

People won’t notice. They look identical.

This film appears slap bang in the middle of Tim Burton’s actual good period of film making. Yes, there was a time when he wasn’t a shameless husk of a creative mind and didn’t feel the need to fill his films with themes of father issues. There was a time where just the basic idea of a Burton film was enough to create something brilliant. This film comes just between the brilliantly dark batman Returns and, what I consider to be, his masterpiece Ed Wood. He has directed two stop motion films since passing the duties on this one to Selick, but neither are quite as magical as The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It is near essential that you introduce this excellent Halloween/Christmas film to any children you may have collected and/or produced over the years. I’m a firm believer that a good kid’s film should scare as much as it spellbinds and enthrals and The Nightmare Before Christmas strikes that balance as perfectly as I could expect. It provides genuine humour, heart and all those twisted little moments that put grins on our faces. So, if you follow my Christmas movie recommendations from the last few years you can now add The Nightmare Before Christmas to Scrooged and Die Hard as essential family viewing at this time of year. Especially the last one. Kids fecking love Die Hard.


About lvl54spacemonkey

Just a dude who likes movies and games and has delusions of working in one of those industries. Write screenplays and work on short films in my spare time. Most of which never get finished. View all posts by lvl54spacemonkey

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