Nov 1, 2014

Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The first time I ever saw The Nightmare Before Christmas as a kid, I was entranced. I didn't quite grasp everything that was going on, but the animation style, the songs and all the ultra cool characters had me transfixed. I had never seen anything like it before. The closest thing I had were the Wallace and Gromit stop-motion animation shorts, which of course have a really different tone.

It's known as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, but I really see it as Henry Selick's movie. Tim Burton did of course come up with the base story in the form of a poem and he did produce it. He was too busy with Batman Returns and Ed Wood to really be all that involved though. Ever since then, Selick has carved himself a place in Hollywood as one of the top stop-motion animation kings. He's like a stamp of approval to me when it comes to stop-motion.


Genre: animation, family, fantasy
Directed by: Henry Selick
Produced by: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi, Kathleen Gavin, etc.
Written by: Caroline Thompson  
Music by: Danny Elfman
Running time: 76 minutes
Production company: Touchstone Pictures, Skellington Productions Inc., Tim Burton Productions, etc.
Distributed by: Buena Vista International, Gaumont Buena Vista International, Prooptiki, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $18,000,000
Box office: $75,082,668 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Ken Page, Paul Reubens, Edward Ivory, Susan McBride, Debi Durst, Greg Proops, Kerry Katz, Randy Crenshaw, Sherwood Ball, Carmen Twillie, Glenn Walters 


Pumpkin King of Halloween Town Jack Skellington (voice: Chris Sarandon) is a master of fright and horror. Every Halloween he leads his town in boisterous celebration and is heavily praised for his efforts. However, Jack is growing tired of doing the same old thing every year and finds himself wandering the woods with his ghost dog Zero after another successful Halloween. He stumbles upon a grouping of doors, each one representing a different holiday. Attracted to the door with a shiny, decorated tree, he finds himself in Christmas Town.


The charm of The Nightmare Before Christmas hasn't worn off at all after all these years. The animation is gorgeous to watch and makes you really appreciate the painstaking effort that the animators put in. The settings are richly designed and you got to love the contrast between Halloween Town and Christmas Town. Without a doubt, TNBC is a visual treat for kids and adults alike.

The soundtrack is another big strength of this film, probably even its biggest. A lot of the songs are sad and whimsical, but there's a lot of room left over for the more humourous and fun songs too. The songs are integral to the overall plot of the story, basically putting the different motivations of the characters out there quite nicely as well as advancing the story. So it's nice that the songs are not just there for show. 

This is how we really get a good feel for Jack Skellington as a character. He's tired of his role and curious to find out what else is out there, if there is anything that is. When he finds out about Christmas he's absolutely enchanted and desperately wants to understand. He does have some difficulty in figuring out what the holiday is all about though and you can't really blame him. How is he to know about giving presents and being jolly? All he knows is how to be scary, that's been his whole life.

The sense of humour in The Nightmare Before Christmas is macabre in nature a lot of the time and for that reason you can definitely understand Disney's hesitance in putting it under their banner. It's also one of the reasons why it's such a unique film. It is a family film, but it has its fair share of dark elements and slightly scary parts as well. I mean, the love interest of Jack is trying to kill her creator by replacing his tea with nightshade for crying out loud. But a lot of what makes it so dark flew over my head as a kid anyway, so have no fear parents of young children. 

So not only is The Nightmare Before Christmas gorgeous to look at, it also has a really strong soundtrack and a story that's worth following. Jack Skellington is as rootable a character as they come and he's surrounded by tons of memorable characters, even if they only appear for several seconds. All in all, it's a classic film to watch around Halloween (or Christmas) and the songs are bound to stay in your head days after having seen it.



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