Directed by Henry Selick (Feature Directorial Debut)
October 29, 1993
The King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, stumbles upon a portal to Christmas Town and after becoming obsessed with the holiday, decides to take it over and chaos ensues.
This film has such an odd and weird atmosphere. It is a Tim Burton (produced) film at his most Tim Burton (produced). As is often the case in his movies there is a dark and weird vision in the story that also manages to be strangely sweet and warm and family-friendly. It is a Disney film if Disney try to do horror which the kinda did since this is through Touchstone which they own.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is an animated Christmas classic. It is one of the weirder entries into Christmas film canon too. Or is it one of the weirder entries into Halloween film canon? There is more to debate here about this one and its status than there is about Die Hard. While it was released in 1993 right before Halloween, I am not sure if that qualifies it as a Halloween film. I would call it definitely a Halloween film if it was released earlier in the month of October, but they put it in theaters two days before Halloween. I do not know but am willing to engage in a discussion.
This movie manages to be a sweet film despite the darker imagery. Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon-speaking voice / Danny Elfman-singing voice) is a bit of a lost soul. While revered as the Pumpkin King, he is tired of the same thing year after year and yearns for something different. And he finds it while meandering through the forests near Halloween Town when he stumbles through a door in a tree and is immediately captivated by the visual trappings of Christmas. And that is the important part and what gets all the problems rolling. He misses the point of the season. His focus is on the trappings and not the meaning.
This is a shorter animated feature, but they manage to pack so much into the limited run time. In its all too brief 76 minutes they even managed to craft a good romance between Sally (Catherine O’Hara) and Jack Skellington. Some film series cannot even do that in two hours per film.
We have some interesting supporting characters in this film. Doctor Finklestein (voiced by the great William Hickey) is a mad scientist and the creator of Sally. He is obviously a parody of Dr. Frankenstein from the old Universal horror films. He is listed in the credits only as “Evil Scientist” and is only mentioned by name once in the film. Mayor of Halloween Town (Glenn Shadix) is the bipolar mayor of Jack’s domain.
And what is a hero without a villain? Oogie Boogie (Ken Page) is the chief monkey wrench in Jack’s plan. Rather than keep Santa safe he decides to play a game with his life. Rather macabre but fitting with it all.
A personal reason I like this movie is the use of stop motion. It is not a common thing in animation. Aardman and LAIKA are the two most prolific in that department today. I think the latter is probably the one that comes closest to Tim Burton’s vibe in this medium. Coincidentally it was founded by Henry Selick who directed for the first time here. I am glad he decided to continue on with more adult like content in this medium.
The characters that populate this world are very unique. They are not generic, and you can see different traits in each one. To go along with their individual looks you get distinct individual personalities all highlighted by superb voice acting. You can see why people still revisit this odd film so many years later.
Whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas classic or a Halloween classic is immaterial. What is important is that it is a classic that everyone should watch. If you have not seen it yet, why? Watch it!