Traditional Christmas movies have never been my style, but at the height of my childhood (I think I still believed in Santa in 1993) one of my favorite Christmas/Halloween movies came out. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a fun and joyfully creepy celebration of both Christmas and Halloween that I loved as a kid and grew up to appreciate even more. It tells the story of a year that Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king, and the other delightfully macabre creatures who control Halloween take over Christmas.
As the film begins, it is Halloween and we are immediately immersed in the spooky celebrations to the lovely tune, This is Halloween. We see the creepy creatures do their stuff and they do it wonderfully. But this is a very kid friendly film, so these creatures don’t do anything very violent or really frightening. In fact, I love the little line of reassurance for any kids that aren’t sure, “Life’s no fun without a good scare, That’s our job but we’re not mean, In our town of Halloween.”
However, Jack seems unfulfilled and bored with doing the same old Halloween festivities. When he wanders into Christmasland, he is bewildered and inspired. He decides to give Santa (or Sandy Claws) the year off and he and his town tirelessly works to create a spectacular Christmas. But Sally (Catherine O’Hara), a lovely sort of Frankenstein rag doll, has a premonition that Jack’s Christmas will be a disaster.
Those of us who have experienced Christmas before know it will be. One of my favorite scenes is when the creatures are “making Christmas.” They make gifts they believe will delight the children, like shrunken heads and evil looking toy ducks. The sleigh is a casket, the reindeer are skeletons, and the town is so proud. Kids and adults will both get a kick out of how the Halloween characters just don’t understand Christmas.
Like many films bearing Tim Burton’s name, there are stark differences between the usual happy world and a darker, more offbeat world. When Jack discovers Christmas land, it is like nothing he has ever seen, or imagined before. Between the sparkling snow, the twinkling lights, the bright colors, the cute inhabitants, it is all very overwhelming. Back in the Halloween world, the brightest thing is the full moon, nothing sparkles and the cutest creature there is the little zombie kid with his eyes sewn shut. It’s easy to understand how easily Jack could be hooked into this Christmas thing.
The most colorful moment in the Halloween world is in Oggie Boogie’s lair. There, blacklights are used to illuminate the set in glowing neon colors. I suspect this is was used because it’s a fun trick and makes the usually bright Santa duller than the rest of the surroundings. We don’t want him out shining the real stars of the film.
One of my favorite theater experiences was seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D. I took my (then) teenage brother, it was the first time either of us had seen the film in a theater. Immediately, I felt like I was seeing the film with a new set of eyes. Usually 3D is a gimmick, but I felt as though I could reach out and feel all the textures throughout the film, from the stripes on Jack’s suit to the most subtle cracks on the tombstones. I sincerely hope this film is re released into theaters (with or without 3D) in the next few years so I can take my son.
Of course, this wonderful visual experience is due to the high calibre of animation in the film. One reason I took my brother was because he was going through a claymation phase, and to this day I believe that The Nightmare Before Christmas is the best claymation film out there. It is a field of animation that takes dedication and patience, but if you work had enough, it all pays off into an amazing visual effect that is well worth the effort. In fact, the film was nominated for the Academy’s visual effects award, a rare prize for an animated film.
I try to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas at least twice a year, to celebrate Halloween and Christmas. It shows off the warm and infectious feeling of a merry Christmas season but with a fun twist. And the music, boasts some of Danny Elfman’s best work and some of my favorite holiday songs. I always hum Making Christmas when wrapping presents. This film is especially enjoyable for anyone who would gladly trade in their ugly Christmas sweater for another round of trick or treating.
“And on a dark cold night, under full moonlight, he flies into the fog like a vulture in the sky! And they call him, Sandy Claws!”