For those who enjoy alternative Christmas films, there’s Tim Burton’s marvellous creation The Nightmare Before Christmas. Based on characters created by Burton and directed by Henry Selick, the film follows the residents of Halloween Town and popular figure Jack Skellington on his quest to bring Christmas joy in a bid to change things up. A mash up of Halloween and Christmas films that also flits across various genres such as light horror, musical, drama and comedy. The Nightmare Before Christmas also has the added bonus of being a great choice for family viewing as well which I have discussed in a previous post that you can read here.
The screenplay by Caroline Thompson perfectly encompasses Tim Burton’s vision with Selick’s direction perfectly complimenting the darkly comic tones of the writing. As we shift between the two worlds, we really get the inner struggle Jack has as he remains loyal to Halloween Town but also wants to explore the Christmas traditions. The Nightmare Before Christmas feels like a collaborate effort between its various creators in production and is clearly a labour of love. The stopmotion animation is perfect for the film as it brings something new to the Disney animation catalogue. Full of amazing sequences throughout, the contrast between the darker, murkier tones of Halloween Town and the bright dazzling colours of Christmas Town keep the audience attention as the two eventually merge together.
The voice acting in this film is among the best in animation with Chris Sarandon and Catherine O’Hara doing brilliant performances as Jack and Sally. Elfman provides Jack’s singing voice and does a superb job as well. Sarandon’s voice is hugely energetic and charismatic and captures that childlike wonder that Jack has when venturing into Christmas Town and bringing the Christmas cheer to Halloween Town. Likewise, Elfman’s vocal performances are all stellar and particularly in “What’s This?” when Jack is exploring Christmas Town. O’Hara’s take on Sally is a contrast, however, as she is melancholy and longing for freedom and Jack’s affection. There are so many beautiful sequences in this film but few get as iconic as the image of Jack and Sally on the whirly tree in the graveyard (you know which one I mean).
The star of the film comes in the form of the amazing Ken Page as antagonist, Oogie Boogie. A character that is literally a sack of bugs, Oogie Boogie is hellbent on taking Jack Skellington down with the help of his three minions: Shock (O’Hara), Lock (Paul Reubens) and Barrel (Elfman). Page’s voice is full of power and his performance of the appropriately named “Oogie Boogie Song” is fantastic. You can also sense how much fun Page is having with the role. Everytime I watch this film, I am always in awe of his performance. It is definitely among my favourite voice performances of all time.
Danny Elfman’s score and songwriting is a wonder to behold and his signature whimsical sound marks another amazing collaboration between him and Burton. In many ways, this feels like Elfman’s film as much as Burton’s with Elfman providing his usual genius score and songs as well as his singing voice for various characters. The soundtrack is full of many highlights from the instantly memorable “This Is Halloween” that opens the film to the sinister “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” in which Oogie Boogie’s henchmen, Shock, Lock and Barrel plan various ways to kidnap Santa Claus.
Overall, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a film that demands to be watched time and time again. It can be watched at Halloween and certainly at Christmas, making it a perfect film to crossover between the two. Despite not being directed by Burton, it remains a key part of his filmography and has become synonymous with his image. Burton’s vision is so strong that people tend to forget that it was Henry Selick that directed the film. The resulting film is a fantastic look into the dark side of imagination that manages to be both creepy and fun at the same time.
What do you think of The Nightmare Before Christmas? Let me know in the comments below!
The Nightmare Before Christmas is streaming on Disney+.