M e r r y C h r i s t m a s ! !
Focusing on the beings of Halloween as they learn of a brand-new holiday, The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the few films I can name that can be viewed as per tradition around two different holidays each year. Some people watch it around Halloween, others watch it close to Christmas. Me, I shift back and forth every year, and since it was Christmas’ turn this year, I decided to post my personal thoughts on it as one of my “Christmas reviews” (instead of the Halloween ones, which I was considering).
Based on the imagination of Tim Burton and brought to life via stop-motion by Henry Selick (Coraline), this is regarded by many to be the magnum opus of both artists. While my favorite Burton film is Ed Wood, I do see the appeal of this movie, its production design, its impact on cinema, its reliance on dialogue-free atmospheric moments, and the fact that it was a unique experience before every stop-motion film started trying to look like this – this includes subsequent Burton movies.
Set in Halloween Town, it features a multitude of creative and scary creatures who personify the holiday and base their lives around scaring children and making Halloween what it is. The best of the bunch is “pumpkin king” Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), who’s getting fed up with his repetitive routine. When he stumbles upon a portal into the world of Christmas, he finds something entirely new that he wishes to take with him back to Halloween Town. Jack’s intentions are good but it ends up going poorly, as he gets three nasty children to kidnap Santa Claws (Ed Ivory), referred to as “Sandy Claws”, only to bring him into the lair of much more malicious Halloween creature Oogie-Boogie (Ken Page) without Jack’s consent. It doesn’t help when Jack then attempts to take care of Christmas by himself in Santa’s absence, giving gifts to the kids that scare and traumatize them.
More characters we meet include Halloween Town’s double-faced mayor (Glenn Shadix), a deranged scientist (William Hickey), and a Frankenstein-type creation named Sally Stitches (Catherine O’Hara), who has enough working body parts to hold Jack very dear in her heart. There’s also a ghost dog named Zero, not to be confused with Scraps the skeleton dog from Corpse Bride or the eponymous mutt from Frankenweenie.
There are wonderful songs throughout the film, all of them written and some of them sung by the great Danny Elfman (Skellington’s singing voice), who’s also responsible for the equally beautiful score. You’ve all heard them, you all know them, and you all know that one weirdo from highschool who hummed them whilst drawing Jack Skellington fan art during recess. This film is no doubt a classic.
To comment on the animation for a bit: it remains impressive to this day, and I’d go as far as to say it still looks better than modern attempts at stop-motion. Many newer stop-motion films will use frame rate smoothing in order to go for a look more similar to that of CG animation, whereas this film has a relatively low frame rate with somewhat jerky movements, but this only adds to the charm and oftentimes does the animators’ hard work more justice than digitally fiddling with the footage in post-production would have done. I believe something of the sort was done with the aforementioned Corpse Bride and even Chicken Run, one of my all-time favorite films.
I don’t need stop-motion films to create the illusion of CGI to look impressive. I like getting those little reminders that these are hand-crafted characters moved ever so slightly by the filmmakers image-by-image. It makes me think of the first Wallace & Gromit short, where finger prints are visible on the clay that makes up the title characters throughout most of the film. To me that’s no “goof”. It’s merely a reminder of how the film was achieved and what an impressive artform stop-motion is.
The Nightmare Before Christmas may not be completely flawless, but it’s still pretty perfect when it comes to getting its main job done and its cultural impact is inarguable. Finding someone who has never seen it is difficult, and even when I do, they noramlly appreciate it once I show it to them. It is a timeless and captivatingly macabre tale with music and characters that can be adored and remembered by any viewer of any age group, and I’m confident it will stand the test of time – which it’s pretty much already doing, considering its initial release was 22 years ago. Don’t you feel old now?
Down below is a trailer and my rating. With this, I wish one and all a Merry Christmas. I’ll also be posting a Christmas-themed video in a bit so stick around for that, folks!