The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Genre: Fairy Tale and Musical Running Time: 1 hr. 16 min.

Release Date: October 29th, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Henry Selick Actors: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, Greg Proops

 


 

L

ong ago in the holiday worlds of old – the places where holidays originated – the denizens of Halloween Town introduce audiences to a strange collection of spooky characters, whose primary job each year is to design, prepare, and celebrate Halloween. The portly Mayor (Glenn Shadix) is in charge, handing out trophies for the scariest performances, but it’s Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King (Chris Sarandon), who is the real star of the show. “Life’s no fun without a good scare.”

“Just like last year and the year before that … ” Excelling without even trying, Skellington can bring a chill to anyone. But he’s quickly growing weary of the repetition. He longs for something fresh – perhaps, even a new holiday. Lonely Sally (Catherine O’Hara), a woman stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster, shares his restlessness. But her owner, the evil scientist (William Hickey) who built her in his lab, doesn’t want her running off (though she repeatedly tries to poison him to escape). When Jack wanders into the forest and stumbles upon a portal (embedded in a tree), which transports him to a parallel world that does nothing but celebrate Christmas, he’s overjoyed at the wealth of curious imagery – from elves to snow to strings of electric lights to mistletoe to chestnuts to wrapped presents.

For a film about Halloween-themed personas, the macabre qualities are sensationally augmented by chirpy, fast-paced, upbeat songs. Incredibly rare for an animated musical, there isn’t a weak tune in the picture (written and scored by Danny Elfman, who also lends his voice when Jack sings); every one is catchy, memorable, and masterfully thought out. The lyrics are both funny and aid in telling the story, almost as if an opera. Jack’s initial solo song, crooned from atop a spiraling outcropping, also manages to strike a significant, signature image, as he’s framed by an enormous, glowing full moon.

With Tim Burton behind the premise, the character designs are hysterically odd, embracing disproportionate humanoids and anthropomorphized monstrosities (stick-thin creatures and blobby ogres alike). There’s a delightfully demented weirdness to each of the players (Jack doesn’t have eyeballs, but blinks his sockets nonetheless), as well as with the supporting elements – from animated inanimate props to mutant animals to mythical monsters. The primary villain, Oogie Boogie (Ken Page), is also a grand creation – something of a gambling voodoo gangster (with a sluggish quality like a more mobile Jabba the Hutt). And when Jack decides to kidnap Santa Claus (or Sandy Claws, as he calls him), so that the master of Halloween can govern Christmas for himself, there’s an innovative mix of gaiety and morbidity. “How horrible our Christmas will be!”

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is an uncommonly dark Disney release, yet it’s also full of comedy and adventure. Plus, there’s a love story in here, though it’s regularly pushed aside for humor and music. Highly creative perspective tricks and camera angles are also notable, but it’s the unique qualities of the story and characters that are truly mesmerizing; what a bizarre, singular, touching, entertaining little picture.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10