THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS1993"Are you a gambling man, Santa?"
-- Oogie Boogie
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993 animated film directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. It tells the story of when holidays collide, clashing the haunted holiday of Halloween with the joy and peace-ridden holiday of Christmas. In the ancient holiday world of Halloweentown, there lives the Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, sung by Danny Elfman) who has become tired of his age-old holiday. As he ventures into the wilderness, he stumbles upon the portals to the other holiday worlds and soon finds himself in Christmastown. Seeing the beauty of the land, he decides to bring some Christmas cheer back to his own town, telling the townsfolk that they are going to take over Christmas this year. They start to prepare their own creepy versions of gifts for all the boys and girls, and they even go as far as to steal the horrible "Sandy Claws" (voiced by Edward Ivory) to keep him from ruining their plans. Unfortunately, Santa is delivered to the incredibly evil Oogie Boogie (voiced by Ken Page), who hopes to make a ruckus of his own.
I was five years old when this film first hit theaters back in 1993, and my earliest memory of the movie was how terrified I was of the trailers I saw in the months leading up to its release. As a young child, the images of terrifying presents on Christmas morning scared me beyond belief. It scared me so badly that I never actually saw the film until a few years ago. And from the moment I first saw the film, I can honestly say that it's one of the most brilliant animated films I've had the pleasure to see in my lifetime.
Let's start with the screenplay. If you're looking for an original story, this one's about as original as they come. Essentially, the monsters from Halloweentown attempt to steal Christmas from the inhabitants of Christmastown in order to add their own dash of holiday cheer. In the time that they spend preparing for the Christmas holiday, the film goes through nearly every Christmas cliché you can possibly imagine and turns it on its ear. Even the film's title is a play on an age-old Christmas tradition: the story "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." At the same time, we're getting a sub-plot of a love story between Jack and a "woman" named Sally (voiced by Catherine O'Hara) as well as a continued predicament with the aforementioned villain, Oogie Boogie, who ranks as one of my all-time favorite cinematic villains. The blending of these intertwining stories puts this screenplay above and beyond your average Christmas, or even your average animated, film.
Our voice acting is also above par, and while no one's truly standing out from the rest, I think part of that has to do with the fact that each and every character's voice fits them so perfectly that there's no one who could truly stand above the rest. Obviously, the collaboration between Sarandon and Elfman to bring Jack to life is simply astounding, but we're also getting some fantastic voice work from the likes of Page and William Hickey, who voices Dr. Finklestein, who plays an integral part of the story.
I think what's truly great about The Nightmare Before Christmas, however, are some of its intangibles. For example, the stop-motion animation is top-notch, and I'd argue that stop-motion wasn't used as effectively again until 2009's Coraline, which was also a Selick/Burton collaboration. The special effects are so good in this film that the earned it an Academy Award nomination in that category (it ultimately lost to Jurassic Park). So if you're not wowed by anything else, at least appreciate the fact that you're seeing an entirely visually pleasing film.
Also, some mention needs to be made of the soundtrack, especially considering this film is a musical. There's two facets to the soundtrack that should be mentioned. First, Elfman's orchestral score is simply beautiful in its own way. Here's a snippet of the score for those of you unfamiliar:
In addition to the orchestral score, we're getting a slew of fantastic original songs to accentuate the film's story. Be on the listen for songs like "Jack's Lament," "What's This?," "Kidnap the Sandy Claws," and my personal favorite, "Oogie Boogie's Song," shown below:
Ultimately, The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the best animated films I've ever had the pleasure to see, and it's made such a lasting impact on the cinematic landscape that it manages to be re-released every October for a limited span, and people continue to flock to the theaters to see it. It's an annual must-see for me, as I watch it at least once between Halloween and Christmas, just to get my fix. If you haven't had an opportunity to see the film, I strongly suggest you do so this holiday season. I'm almost positive you'll love it.
Movie Review Summary
2 Thumbs Up