Tim Burton’s vivid imagination is visible throughout The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although Henry Selick directs, Burton’s unique style is apparent from the moment the titles appear. Skeletal and creepy, the animated town of Halloween bursts into life through the power of verse, given powerful musical vibrancy by the fantastic Danny Elfman.
The citizens of the eerie town revel in the mischief they cause for the human world every Halloween but one inhabitant, Jack Skellington – the Pumpkin King himself, has grown weary of the endless spooky assaults and longs for something more. Whilst listlessly roaming the endless forests that surround the town, he happens across portals to what appears to be several holiday seasons. It is when the alluring tree that represents the Christmas portal catches his eye that the fun really starts.
The excitement that overwhelms Jack when he wanders through Christmas Town is palpable and provides the animated adventure with its best song. His attempts to decipher the secrets of Christmas when he returns to Halloween are enjoyable and seeing the town’s abysmal attempts to recreate the festival provide the film with some entertaining scenes.
Although the film may labour its points the way it does so makes this a rather forgiveable crime. The jarring between the joviality of its songs and the sombre tones of Skellington’s town is one of the film’s highlights whilst the stop-motion used throughout the film gives The Nightmare Before Christmas its now classic look and feel.
The vast amount of characters that populate the film are extraordinarily weird and wonderful and breathe life into the animation. For all of its entertainment, the film does have it sinister moments and most of these centre around the woeful misfortunes of the cruelly imprisoned Sally. Oogie Boogie may be presented as the villain of the piece but, at times, it seems that Sally’s captor Dr. Finkelstein may be more worthy of the title. The Mayor’s fantastically given two faces between which he changes depending on his mood. If only all government officials were so easy to read.
Sharing many of the same themes as The Corpse Bride (in which Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter stars), The Nightmare Before Christmas sees Jack journey across worlds, entering our own dressed as Santa but his festive cheer isn’t as welcome as he had hoped. Will Santa escape the town of Halloween in time to save Christmas? Although his Christmas plans may go haywire Jack would be pleased to see what an impact he has ultimately had on our world as he has become a cult icon since the film’s release.
Best performance: Jack (voiced by Chris Sarandon)… whilst the Rudolph-esque Zero is very likeable.
Best song: The one Jack sings upon discovering Christmas Town.
Watch this if you liked: The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.