It seems like only yesterday folks were celebrating Halloween and now in just a few weeks Christmas will be here! Retailer don’t help the matter by rolling out Christmas decorations immediately following Halloween. Their antics inspired Tim Burton to pen The Nightmare Before Christmas as a poem in the 80s, which was transformed to the stop-motion marvel in 1993. This year marks its twentieth anniversary so I figured it was about time to give this old chestnut a chance.
The Mayor (Glenn Shadix) may keep all the witches, vampires, werewolves, and other monsters on track in Halloween Town, but even he turns to Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman), The Pumpkin King, to organize the annual Halloween festivities. Jack has a knack, as it were , for making Halloween a grand fright, but he’s grown weary of the same ol’ same. After the latest Halloween success, he dejectedly wanders the forest beyond the cemetery with his dog Zero until coming across a grove of portals, one of which transports him to Christmas Town. Christmas Town’s bright lights, warm glow, and hustle and bustle ignites something within Jack and he returns to his Town to share the wonders of Christmas Town and it’s overlord “Sandy Claws.” Obsessed with understanding the foreign holiday, Jack decides to give Santa a break and take his place on the annual sleigh ride. Halloween Town sets out making Christmas preparations the only way they know how, while one citizen, Sally (Catherine O’Hara), tries to stop Jack from unwittingly unleashing a nightmare on the world.
If you can believe it, this is my first time sitting through The Nightmare Before Christmas. My sister is an avid fan, so I’ve caught glimpses of the film over the years, but something about it never appealed to me. I wish I knew what it was; maybe I wanted the werewolf to have a bigger role or, who knows, maybe Jack’s bony, skinny-jeans physique made me self-conscious. Whatever the reason, I’d shied away from the Burton created and produced for years, but have finally succumbed to the twisted wonderment that only could come from his mind.
Directed by Henry Selick, the stop-motion animation is outstanding, earning it nominations for both an Oscar and Saturn award. It won neither, losing to Jurassic Park in both cases, but it’s originality has been kept pristine at Burton’s insistence unlike Jurassic Park which is currently developing a third, no doubt inferior, installment. Nightmare‘s imagery, from the grey skies and dark recesses of Halloween Town to the red and green radiance of Christmas Town is fresh and creative.
Danny Elfman stepped in for Chris Sarandon whenever Jack had to sing which was a considerable amount since Jack bounds from one song to another as easily as he bounds from tombstone to tombstone. Nightmare was nominated for a Golden Globe and won a Saturn award for Elfman’s music. Competing for recognition, in both crooning and frightening, is Oogie Boogie (Ken Page), the Boogeyman who has fiendish plans for the “vacationing” Santa.
The delightfully dreadful images and chipper tunes rising from Halloween Town, not to mention the seventy-six minute runtime, help The Nightmare Before Christmas whiz by. Its macabre, but playful imagery can be a bit morbid for younger audiences; there were more than a few ghouls and fiendish toys that made me pause to remember this is a children’s tale. Still, it’s easy to see why The Nightmare Before Christmas made it into Pat’s favorite Christmas movie list last year. I already have a fairly hefty list of Christmas classics I rely on for my holiday cheer, but I can easily see Jack Skellington creeping his way into my yuletide rotation in the years to come.