One of the biggest mental struggles of my entire life: trying to decide whether to do this as a Halloween special or a Christmas special. In the end, I decided on the latter. Bah Humbug!
Hi everyone, Classic Film Kid here, and today I’ve got something special in store for you. I haven’t done a review of a Christmas film since Home Alone back in 2016. Plus, I’ve been meaning to cover this movie ever since my review of Coraline for Halloween in 2017, so I thought that the time was nigh to come back to another personal favourite of mine, directed by the same man who brought me demented enjoyment in Coraline – Henry Selick. Henry Selick has directed two stop-motion horror films that are both two of my favourite films ever? And James & The Giant Peach, tied with Matilda as the best Roald Dahl adaptation? Can this guy do NOTHING wrong? Now it’s time – let’s look at The Nightmare Before Christmas!
“… one of the best soundtracks
ever composed for
an animated film”
It follows the story of Jack Skellington, the mayor of the festive town of Halloween, who suffers something of a crisis – he’s become bored with the repetitive nature of his job, Halloween’s losing its scary sparkle. On a walk to clear his mind, he stumbles across a tree that acts as a portal to the town of Christmas. He is so entranced by everything he decides to take the mantle off Santa and celebrate the holiday himself, but with the scary traditions of Halloween, we know that ain’t good. First off, the creativity in seeing the two festive traditions of Halloween and Christmas, then deciding to combine the two into one film is definitely a concept that could either equal greatness or go horribly wrong. Thankfully, Henry Selick and producer Tim Burton pull out all of the stops and in a short but sweet 75 minutes make one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. OK, let’s just get this out of the way before we move on because I’m not even sure if it needs mentioning. The stop-motion animation is detailed, gorgeous, the sculptors are amazing at their craft, stop-motion is an incredibly underrated form of animation, it is absolutely beautiful, I will not hear any words otherwise, end of the story, goodbye.
Now that that’s over with, let’s talk about this film’s other tread into film genres because, as most of us know, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a full-fledged musical. Composed by legendary Danny Elfman, these songs have become part of animation and musical history. When a film opens with “This Is Halloween“, you really can’t knock the ingenuity that’s taking place here, can you? The song is an absolute classic, it’s so inspired, catchy and wickedly enjoyable, however, there are so many others that challenge its position as the top song. “What is This?” is a heartwarming staple, and some of the more soft and melancholy tunes such as “Jack’s Lament” and “Poor Jack” are not only integral to the story but beautifully touching. Danny Elfman knocks it out of the park with the score and music, making it, in my opinion, one of the best soundtracks ever composed for an animated film.
I also want to applaud Selick’s ability to give this film a grotesque, scary Halloween edge and combine the festive warmth of a Christmas-season flick. Disney themselves distributed this under the Touchstone Pictures banner, a name given to movies that Disney try desperately hard to disown, however here it was simply because they thought that the movie was too scary for their usual target audience. While the film may push those boundaries, the Christmas elements of the film compensate it really nicely. I’ve spoken about how “What is This?” introduces Christmas into this film in the best way possible, and indeed while we don’t see much of the iconic Saint Nick in this film (purely because in typical Nightmare Before Christmas fashion they kidnap the guy) his presence is definitely felt.
Another admirable trait about it is sometimes when I watch the film again, I forget just how much they manage to cram into this – it’s not even 90 minutes long, yet it feels long in the best way possible. Every major character is given an arc that is resolved gracefully – Jack thinks he can be master of everything, but his story takes a dark turn when he ends up turning Christmas into a fright-fest. It’s actually really emotional – to think about all of the great ideas you have, then to hear that you have ruined the festive occasion for the entire world. It’s surprisingly deep. Sally’s arc is also great – we see her feelings for Jack right from the get-go, but her father, the nasty and evil as all hell Doctor Finklestein, restricts her from the outside world. There is one flaw I do have with this arc, however – we never really see or hear much from Finklestein after the first act. There’s already enough going on anyway, but if his character maybe had one more scene or a bit of redemption, it may have capped it off slightly better. It’s amazing how many characters and stories they have in here, yet the pacing of the film is still smooth, it never feels like it’s tripping up over itself with all that it has to do.
Now I do have a couple of flaws with this film, pretty minor but I thought it’d round the review off nicely to mention them. I do wish that Jack and Sally maybe had a couple more moments together – we see that Sally cares about and feels for Jack, but we don’t really see vice-Versa until the very end. Might have been nice to see that. Also, we have the villainous bogeyman Oogie Boogie and while his character is entertaining (and his death utterly disgusting), we really don’t know his motives or his background at all. I suppose it’s good for a bit of mystery, but it feels just slightly empty in that field. Why is he obsessed with casinos and gambling? It is never really looked upon. But give or take a couple of minor gripes, you really can’t go wrong with Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s an amazing seasonal tale, no matter when you watch it. Beautifully animated, really well-told and thoroughly entertaining, it’s a solid 9 out of 10 for me.
That does it for this time. I’ll have even more reviews of film and TV coming your way in 2020, but until then have a really good Christmas. This is the Classic Film Kid, signing off!