a critiQal film review The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Despite having recently presided over a very successful Halloween, Jack Skellington, aka the Pumpkin King (Sarandon/Elfman), is bored with his job and feels that life in Halloweentown lacks meaning. Then he stumbles upon Christmastown and promptly decides to make the Yuletide his own.

615 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 4s)
  • ...a quirky stop-motion holiday film as only Tim Burton can create.

While we were talking about what movie to watch next in our Christmas Movie Marathon this year, Heather mentioned that she always liked The Nightmare Before Christmas.

When I mentioned I’d never seen the film, we agreed that should be our next film. After finding out our local Blockbuster® did not have a copy to rent, we put it at the front of our queue on Blockbuster® and waited for it to arrive.

More than a decade after it’s release, would The Nightmare Before Christmas become a permanent member of our Christmas Movie Marathon, or would this be a one-time event only?

None of the voice actors in the film are easily recognizable. Since the film is more musical than talkie anyway, this actually works pretty well. While perennial Christmas mom Catherine O’Hara and Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens lend their voices, it’s famous movie music composer Danny Elfman who stands out among the crowd as Jack’s singing voice.

While viewers would probably recognize some of his movie themes (, Beetlejuice, , , , etc.), they would be hard-pressed to remember him actually singing anything. Hearing him lend his voice to his own compositions is a treat (especially considering he actually has a good singing voice). He adds more passion to the lyrics simply because they are his own, and his singing moments are a definite highlight of the film.

With producer and creator Tim Burton behind it, the viewer already knows the film is going to be a bit odd and quirky – and The Nightmare Before Christmas doesn’t disappoint. In this story, each holiday has it’s own town, and when lead actor of Halloweentown, a skeletal figure named Jack, stumbles across Christmastown, he decides to throw his own Christmas celebration – one that will outdo what Christmastown can do.

Only Tim Burton would be able to come up with something this bizarre. The idea of mixing Halloween – with it’s evil shadows and scares aplenty – with Christmas – complete with it’s festive, cheery atmosphere – is something that has to come from a slightly disturbed mind. While this film isn’t exactly light kiddie fare – they may be frightened by the dark feel of the film and some of the creatures that abide in it – it does have a Christmas-time message of cheer, even if that message is hidden beneath a rather disquieting visage.

Of course, that visage in and of itself is quite impressive, considering the whole film was painstakingly shot with stop-motion animation (in other words, shoot a frame, rearrange the characters by hand, shoot the next frame, rearrange and so on and so on). Knowing the painstaking process behind the film makes it all the more entertaining to watch, in this case. With such a long process, it’s amazing how fluid and lifelike the characters seem to be, flowing across each sequence with impressive grace. It’s truly breathtaking to see, and that feeling is only heightened by knowing what went into making the film.

While The Nightmare Before Christmas is a highly entertaining film, I’m not sure I’d count it as a true Christmas film. While the storyline may revolve around Christmas time and the holiday, the rather disquieting way the folks of Halloweentown go about bring their own Christmas to everyone (their idea of tamer gifts include a shrunken head), it’s not a film that exactly fills one with Holiday cheer.

Instead, if The Nightmare Before Christmas is to be included on any Christmas Movie Marathon, it should be seen right at the start – in fact, before Thanksgiving, if at all possible – a time when Halloween is still fresh in our minds, but Christmas is just right around the corner.

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