The Nightmare Before Christmas

Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems 
In a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams 
For the story that you are about to be told 
Began with the holiday worlds of old…

Originally I was planning on reviewing this film for Halloween, however with the film being a crossover of Halloween and Christmas, I decided to aim more for Thanksgiving.

I went to see The Nightmare Before Christmas when it was released in 1993, and although I was about 4 at the time, I still enjoyed it, and have loved watching it ever since.  It was originally released under the Touchstone Pictures banner, since it was thought that it was too dark to be released as a Walt Disney Picture.  The movie is entirely stop motion animated, and took 3 years to complete.  It is based on a poem by Tim Burton.

The title sequence introduces us to an assortment of bizarre and wacky supporting characters who reside in Halloween Town.  The song ‘This is Halloween’ sets the tone for the rest of the film with its upbeat tune and dark lyrics.  We are then introduced to the hero of the story, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town.  The people of the town seem to adore him, and he plays up to their cheers, however, we soon see that Jack is bored with his role of Pumpkin King when he wanders off forlornly into the woods.  Another great song here as Jack sings about his boredom with the ‘same routine’ every year, and how he longs for something different.  Jack walks through the night until he is in a part of the woods he’s never been to before.  It is here that Jack discovers the ‘Holiday Doors’.  There are several trees standing in a circle, and on each tree there is an image representing a different holiday, including; a four-leaf clover for St. Patrick’s Day, a heart for Valentine’s Day, and a turkey for Thanksgiving.  Out of all these doors, Jack is drawn towards the one which has a Christmas tree painted on it.  He opens the door and falls into the tree, which transports him to Christmas Town.

Meanwhile, Jack’s love interest, a rag doll named Sally, is being held against her will by her creator, Dr. Finkelstein, though she often manages to outsmart him so that she can escape his lab.  Sally is concerned for Jack, who has seemed distant and lonely recently.  The love story between Jack and Sally runs very loosely (almost not at all) throughout the whole film.

Christmas Town is in massive contrast to Halloween Town, adorned with lights, awash with brilliantly bright colours, and inhabited by cheery and joyful people.  Another rousing song by Jack at this point illustrates his disbelief at such a different place to what he is used to, as he asks ‘What’s This?’  The lyrics are quite amusing too:

‘There’s children throwing snowballs, instead of throwing heads/they’re busy building toys and absolutely no-one’s dead.’

It is here that Jack gets a glimpse of Santa Claus, though he mistakes him for ‘Sandy Claws’.  He is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he heads back to Halloween Town to tell his fellow townspeople about it.  While Jack was away, the town seems to have descended into a state of chaos, even the Mayor of the town declaring that:

‘I’m only an elected official here; I can’t make decisions by myself!

Jack becomes obsessive over Christmas, trying to learn all he can about it, and this causes him to decide that he will take over Christmas for the year; all with the best intentions of course.  He sets all the people in the town to work making Christmas toys, including a hat made out of a rat and a duck with bleeding gunshot wounds.  At this point it becomes obvious that the people of Halloween Town have not understood the meaning of Christmas.  Jack also goes to the extreme of sending his enemy’s henchmen, Lock, Shock and Barrel to kidnap Sandy Claws.  After making the mistake of trawling back with the Easter Bunny, they return later with Santa in a big sack, and are told by Jack to take care of him while he ‘does’ Christmas.  Sally starts to get more and more concerned for Jack, having visions of his idea going terribly wrong, though he doesn’t listen when she tries to tell him.

Up until this point in the film, we have not been introduced to the villain of the story, though he does make a brief appearance in the opening sequence, only as a shadow.  Oogie Boogie has Santa given to him by Lock, Shock and Barrel, and sets to work torturing the poor soul.  One of the most visually exciting parts of the whole film, Oogie Boogie sings ‘Oogie Boogie’s Song’, which tells of the ways he likes to inflict pain and suffering upon his ‘guests’.  The whole scene is set in Oogie’s dark lair, though all the objects like his roulette wheel and dice are fluorescent colours; even Oogie himself, who is usually a brown colour, is bright green under UV lights.

Meanwhile, Jack has set out to create his own Christmas, with his sidekick ghost dog Zero lighting the way for the sleigh in the fog with his glowing nose.  Nice play on Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.  Since Jack never really got the idea of Christmas straight in his skull, he starts delivering presents such as severed heads and snakes to several children in the ‘real world’.  After the police are alerted to someone posing as Santa, Jack is unfortunately shot out of the sky, landing in a snow-covered graveyard.  It is at this stage that Jack realises he has made a mess of everything, and vows to put it right by rescuing Santa from Oogie Boogie and getting Christmas back on track.

The styling of the film, especially Halloween Town, reminds me a lot of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with its sharp silhouettes and weird perspectives.  Christmas Town has more of a Dr. Seuss feeling about it, and is rather similar to the town in The Grinch.  One of the most iconic images from the film is Spiral Hill, which can be seen on the original movie poster, as well as in the Kingdom Hearts series of games, where the whole of the Nightmare world can be explored.

The voice cast are pretty amazing on this film, though by now we shouldn’t expect anything less from Disney.  Jack is voiced by Chris Sarandon and his singing parts are performed by Danny Elfman.  Catherine O’Hara voices Sally and Shock, and Ken Page voices Oogie Boogie.

The music, as I have mentioned above, is amazing, and possibly one of the best film soundtracks I have ever heard.  The songs were written by Danny Elfman, as well as him lending his singing voice to Jack Skellington.  It is hard to choose a favourite song out of the whole bunch, as the lyrics on each track are fantastic and are performed beautifully by the cast.

The Nightmare Before Christmas saw a revival in 2006 when it was released in Disney Digital 3D.  I was lucky enough to catch it on its 3D release and it looked better than it ever did!  Although I am reviewing from the DVD, I have heard that this film gains a lot by being viewed on Blu-ray.  The special features on the 2 disc DVD are pretty good, though in fact, disc number one holds all of the ‘Making Of’ features, which in my opinion are the best features to watch.  There is also a big section on the Disneyland Haunted Mansion’s Nightmare Before Christmas overlay which is really interesting.  On disc 2 is Tim Burton’s short live-action film Frankenweenie, which is a nice watch, along with his animated short Vincent.

As a side note, Disneyland overlay their Haunted Mansion each year to make it look like Jack Skellington just landed down the chimney and decorated the place.  There is a Spiral Hill in there as well as Oogie Boogie and Jack Skellington with Zero floating by his side.  If you ever get a chance to visit over Christmas time, you really should!

You could be forgiven for thinking that this film has rather a morbid aura about it, however it more than makes up for the gloom with plenty of jokes and quirky characters throughout.  The music also lifts the viewer’s spirits even when the subject matter is a little bit gruesome.  Tim Burton’s direction is as interesting as ever and really does not disappoint.  Hopefully if you have never seen this film before you will give it a fair chance, as it isn’t just for the tween Goths and Emos, it is for anyone who loves Christmas, Halloween and simply being entertained.

I give this movie 5 Tinks.

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