On the Ninth Day of Christmas… “The Nightmare Before Christmas”

[…Day 9 of the 12 Days of Christmas review project…]

Director: Henry Selick
Writers: Tim Burton
Producers: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi, Don Hahn
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 76 min
Year of Release: 1993

Keep in mind the fact that through these past nine days of Christmas film viewing, not a one had I seen previously. So is also true with today’s lesson in how to make a great film. Taught by director Henry Selick and writer producer Tim Burton. Fully expecting for this film to be just so-so, I was enamored from start to finish with the richness in detail, storytelling, characters and most surprisingly the music.

The movie starts off with a bunch of ghouls and ghosts and other frights of the macabre all singing and dancing about the joys of Halloween. When the celebration is over, the organizer of the successful event, Jack Skellington, feel somehow empty inside; like there should be something more. Later, while exploring through the woods, Jack finds himself presented with some mysterious doors in the forest. For the audience, these are obviously marked to represent different holidays. Jack finds himself leaving Halloween land and entering Christmas world where he finds a whole slew of new, interesting, bright, joyous and fascinating ideas and wonders. He then takes it upon himself to bring the idea of Christmas back with him to Halloween land where no one can quite understand or even comprehend the idea of cheeriness as fun.

What got me right off the bat (within just the opening minutes) was the unique look to this strange land. Obviously the creatures are odd and the stop motion look of everything is different that most any other films released today, but what struck me was the meticulousness to which everything was paid; particularly the lighting. What makes the land of Halloween and Christmas work so well is the different methods of lighting the scenes. Whether it be from a strange green light from a mysterious cauldron, the yellow/orange (even black) hues and color blends of the moon, to the straight up use of a spotlight aimlessly wandering through the picture. Everything is gorgeous.

This gorgeousness can also be attributed to the strange and wonderful creatures Burton has come up with. Every known creature of the night and frights (spiders, snakes, vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches and even clowns!) come alive with so much expression and amazement that it was hard not to actually pause the DVD at times just to get a longer glimpse. Of course there are odd, unknown creatures utilized as well. Ones that although charming, would certainly have scared the pants off of me as a young child. So yeah, while this is a kids movie, I would certainly recommend keeping the younger ones away until they are able to handle a little bit more scarier elements. Think “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” on acid.

And speaking of everyone’s childhood favorite’s, the animated “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, one can’t help but make some more “Seussian” comparisons with The Nightmare Before Christmas – even down to the songs. Yes, The Nightmare Before Christmas is actually a musical. And while I normally am turned off by the musical numbers in children’s films, I found myself quite enjoying these songs. Musically they aren’t particularly memorable, but the lyrics and fun and bouncy; not to mention extremely creative. I was hinged to every word.

Again, the look of the movie is what steals the show here. Even beyond the aforementioned lighting, the use of differing techniques in animation is obvious but not distracting. The use of stop-motion animation (or what appears to be anyway) coupled together with a little bit of CGI and even a delightful sprinkle of standard, hand drawn animation to spice things up just where it needs to be is absolutely dynamite (actually, I wish there had been a little bit more of the traditional animation). The attention to detail is amazing and the amount of time and effort that must have gone in to this production is unfathomable.

So the question stands, is this a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? If a gun as put to my head I think it tries to capture the spirit of Christmas and a viewing seems better fit in this last month of the year. Having said that, it’s no wonder that for the past few years it has been released in limited screenings around the country during October as well. It fits both seasons perfectly and while I did see it on the big screen this weekend, I can’t wait to get get a glimpse of the 3-D version that plays at the IMAX next Halloween. Only 270 days and counting!

While it may be cliche to say, this is truly great entertainment and fun for the whole family. While mainly a kids movie, some of the humor and visual are aimed squarely at adults. Though again, this is most certainly NOT for the little ones. When most people talk about great achievements in children’s animation, Pixar studio is immediately what springs to most people’s minds. While this is a Disney film, Pixar’s logo is nowhere to be found and it’s quite refreshing to see something that is this visually unique and stunning coming from someone other than those Toy Story guys. And maybe most fascinating of all, is that this film is over 15 years old! If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have any reservations about believing this film to be released in 2008. Wondrous!

Andrew James
Podcaster. Tech junkie. Movie lover. Also games and guitar. I dig music.