Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Review
I’m still in the Halloween and moving into the Christmas mood which is very similar to origin of the concept of this film so I’m going to review it anyway. To me this film is the forgotten film of the Animation Renaissance. People always list Aladdin and then skip to Lion King, but that is not the case. As different as the film looks it’s classic Disney and has the artistic quality and standards of it’s Disney contemporaries. It opened to modest success at the box office in 1993 and eventually became a cult classic and then mega popularity and Disney officially put the “Walt Disney Pictures” name on the film as opposed to Touchstone Pictures. It has become a holiday favorite for a lot of people and is beloved by many.
The story takes place in the “holiday worlds of old” mainly in Halloweentown and occasionally Christmastown. It tells the tale of Jack Skellington: The Pumpkin King who wants more self fulfillment and meaning in his life besides Halloween festivities and he finds his answer in Christmastown. He’s inspired by Christmas and wants to bring it to Halloweentown and wants to conduct the holiday himself. Since Jack doesn’t understand the meaning of Christmas this obviously can not go well. The consequences of Jack’s hasty and not well thought out interpretation of Christmas leads to Santa Claus getting kidnapped and sent to the devious Oogie Boogie, Halloweentown’s villain. When Jack’s Christmas goes down in flames literally Jack has an epiphany of solving the emptiness within himself and returns to Halloweentown to make amends for his unintentional misdeeds and save Christmas. He even finds love and his own happily ever after. It’s also worth noting that this is an original idea that came from Burton’s mind. For a company that mostly adapts fairytales and novels it was a nice breath of fresh air and Lilo and Stitch would follow suit about a decade later.
JACK SKELLINGTON: Voiced Chris Sarandon and sung by Danny Elfman:
This is a great character. He’s a classic Disney character. He’s nice and caring, but a little too confident and he’s a person who seems like he has it all, but wants a more fulfilling experience in his life a world and an experience that he can’t find in his home. I have a feeling that he and Ariel would form an excellent understanding and comradery. He develops when he realizes that it was foolish to take the holiday for himself and not understand its meaning. That’s why he was not fit to conduct the holiday, but Jack recognizes the recent events as necessary to make him see the potential within himself to add the fulfillment on his own as opposed to rely on another person’s holiday. Sarandon gives a very enthusiastic and warm performance as Jack and Elfman provides the bravado hamminess aspect of Jack’s esteemed position in the community in the songs.
SALLY: Voiced and sung by Catherine O’Hara:
Sally is a sweet and caring woman created by DR. Finkelstein. She loves Jack, but is shy and doesn’t tell him right away. She shows how much she cares by sneaking out of the lab and giving him refreshments when he’s working and other friendly gestures. When he plans to conduct Christmas this year she is not beyond warning him that it’s a terrible idea and something bad will happen. When things do go wrong she still tries to help Jack and save Christmas and Santa Claus. A kind, caring and brave soul who goes the distance for the ones she loves.
OOGIE BOOGIE: Voiced and sung by Ken Page:
Even though Oogie is a fairly 1 dimensional character because he simply wants to torture and kill Santa and kill Jack, he’s so charismatic, simple and awesome in design, and has a great lair and song you can’t help but love him. Ken Page delivers a delightfully sinister performance as the bag of bugs.
Danny Elfman’s score and songs capture the imagination of the entire project beautifully. Virtually every character has his/her own theme and is an extension of the characters. There are more songs in this than most Disney musicals, but this was intended more as an operetta than your standard musical, but the same types of songs are present and executed to the standards of classic Disney films and musicals.
This is my favorite song in the movie. It’s an excellent introduction to the imaginative world of Halloweentown.
This one of my favorite “I Want” songs. It has a Part of Your World type theme and quality to it except this is brooding and the motivation is unclear until Jack finds his answer. It contains the iconic scene on the Curly Hill and has the emotional resonance and lyrical meaning of a Shakespearean soliloquy and that conclusion is aided by Danny Elfman’s hammy acting/singing of the song. A brilliant song for a great character.
This is a song that shows Jack’s enthusiasm for Christmas. Elfman’s performance helps convince. It’s almost intense in the delivery that you feel the character’s excitement on the other side of the screen. The visual accompaniment also helps. It’s also a turning point in the story and allows the concept of the film to come to fruition.
This song is a plot moment where Jack tries to explain the Christmas holiday to the townsfolk and the holiday quickly catches on, but it also shows what Jack meant about the town not understanding how he feels and appreciate what Jack has found. A solid song.
This song is an evolution and follow up to What’s This?. Jack tries to discover the meaning of Christmas and fails and so he comes to the conclusion that he will make Christmas his own and create his own meaning. This scene shows how Sally is right and that having Jack conduct Christmas is a bad idea. He doesn’t understand the concepts of giving and altruism that are the foundation of Christmas’s ideals. This makes Jack unworthy of the holiday, but Jack doesn’t learn this until it’s almost too late.
This is my least favorite song in the film. I think it’s because I’m slightly disturbed that the lyrics are descriptions of horrible things that those little brats are thinking of doing to Santa Claus. It’s such a catchy melody too. But it just leaves me feeling uneasy. The good thing is that it builds up Oogie very well.
This is a transitional song that shows the residents of Halloweentown getting ready for Christmas. It also shows Christmastown again to show the contrast between the two different versions of the holiday. It’s an enjoyable song and it builds anticipation for the film’s climax.
This is the real introduction to Oogie Boogie. This is a fun song that shows Oogie’s menace and how much fun he has doing what he does. With great imagery, colors and atmosphere this is a great villain song.
This is an excellent song. You never really get a melancholy song like this in a Disney film. Everything I have to say has already been said by Paw in his review of the film. It’s so understated and it gives the audience time to breath and to take in the character’s emotions which is a testament to the subtlety and greatness that Elfman brings to the score.
This is the moment of Jack’s epiphany and understanding the error of his idea. It goes from the hammy brooding to hammy triumphant. It’s brilliant! It’s the type of over the top that’s good. It moves the character and story forward and gives insight as to how the character has changed. It did what movie songs are supposed to do.
As with most musicals the last song is almost always a reprise. Here it’s a medley of almost all the previous songs. It feels like we have come full circle and the conclusion is very satisfying. The moment that is especially magical and satisfying is the reprise of Sally’s Song and the duet between Jack and Sally on the Curly Hill.Absolutely brilliant!
The imagination of Tim Burton is at its strongest here. There has never been a world like this before and even Tim Burton has tried to reimagine it to fairly disappointing results. The world is so excellently designed, constructed and the characters so well animated that Roger Ebert has called it “A feast for the eyes and the imagination”. Excellent art direction!
This is an excellent film and is a forgotten,but significant entry in the Disney Renaissance and it was a revolution in stop motion animation with a memorable story, great characters, music, songs and a highly imaginative world. A seasonal favorite and a well deserved one.
VERDICT: 4.9 vampire ducks out of 5