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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1992)

17 December 2002 by Gnoll No Comment


1993, Dir. Henry Selick

76 min. Rated PG.
Starring: Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Danny Elfman, Paul Reubens.

Review by Noel Wood

#4 on our list of the Best Christmas Movies Ever!

When judging the criteria for what qualifies in the top holiday movies of all time, some folks might question just exactly which holiday THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS best fits under. Is it a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie? Well, folks, the answer is easier than you think. It’s both. Well, whatever it is, it’s definitely one of the most ambitious childrens’ features to come down the pike, especially for its time. The vision of Tim Burton created the story and characters who populate this movie, which has become a staple of my video collection since its first release.

It’s hard to believe that as recently as nine years ago, someone actully went through the trouble of making this film. In case you’re uninitiated, Nightmare is completely done in stop-motion animation. Models made of clay and other materials are moved, frame by frame, by the directors’ hands. With the advent of CGI and the commonality of it nowadays, you can bet this movie would never be made again. At least nothing anywhere near this level. Put it this way: If Burton were to pitch this film to Disney in the year 2002, it would likely be envisioned by the execs as the next feature from Pixar.

But the “Burton touch” is what makes this movie so special to begin with. The stop-motion animation makes the movie work. Without it, it just wouldn’t have the same feel. The story is fun, and it’s fine for the audience that Burton aimed it toward, but the story alone just isn’t enough. It’s the complete package. After seeing Burton’s hand at animated sequences in PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and BEETLEJUICE, as well as his dark fantasy tones in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Nightmare just seemed to be the next logical step. And it’s visually beautiful, and complete with a fun story and a great soundtrack.

The soundtrack, of course, is supplied by Danny Elfman, who has been with Burton in almost all of his film ventures. The songs are fun and lively, and really affect the rewatchability factor here. In fact, there’s only one that I tend to skip (Sally’s slow piece in the middle), and even it’s not that bad. At the outset, we get a little ditty letting us know who all lives in Halloweentown, and just what they all do. Of course, this is when we meet our hero, Jack Skellington.

Jack, although nothing but sculpted clay is the archetypal Tim Burton hero. He’s thin, dark, a bit unsure of himself, and brilliant. In fact, he’s the embodiment of Burton himself. Jack loves his work as the king of Halloweentown, but feels something is missing. He finds his muse in the most unlikely of places, when he accidentally winds up in Christmastown. Instead of fright and darkness, there’s love and happiness. He is determined to usurp the holiday for himself, going so far as to have the motley crew of Halloweentown denizens do the work of Santa’s elves, “making Christmas”. Everyone in the town is delighted at the new outlook on things, except for rag doll Sally, who fears the worst will happen. Things begin to go terribly wrong when Jack sends a gang of hooligans named Lock, Shock, and Barrel to capture “Sandy Claws” and Jack’s attempt to take over St. Nick’s job goes terribly afoul.

What results is a movie that’s great to watch, and watch again, and show the kids, and even entertain the adults. Some movies take you to another world; THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS creates a world of its own and sucks you into it completely. And thanks to it’s dual-holiday appeal, this one can be enjoyed during more than the jingle bell season.

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