Sunday, November 2, 2008

Have You Seen It? The Nightmare Before Christmas

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite holiday films. Bold statement, I know. Directed by Henry Selick with music by Danny Elfman, Nightmare is an irresistible modern classic, although I remember not being all that fond of it when it originally hit theaters in 1993.

I first saw this film when I was nine, and I was a tad underwhelmed when I walked out of the theater with my father. I somehow expected something far different from what I saw. Based on commercials, I had no idea that Nightmare was a musical and, for some reason, I expected it to be decidedly darker than it actually was. I blame Tim Burton’s previous effort, Batman Returns. After seeing that film—with its gang of horrifyingly maladjusted clowns and Danny DeVito’s Penguin spewing black bile every time he opened his toothy maw—I expected Nightmare to give me, well, nightmares. It did nothing of the sort, and that was a letdown for some reason. I was an odd child. But I'm an adult now (snicker) and, as such, I've come to appreciate just how much this film has to offer in its musical mash-up of two wholly different holidays.

The film’s main character, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) seems to have it all. He’s the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, celebrated for his fine-tuned scaring abilities, but there just isn’t any thrill in doing the same thing year after year. Distraught, he wanders into the forest and stumbles into Christmas Town, deciding that he might want to give the whole Santa Claus thing a shot. Everyone in Halloween Town is overjoyed at the thought of “Making Christmas” (they let you know as much through an all-too-catchy song) save for Sally (Catherine O’Hara), a lab-created living rag doll who has strong romantic feelings for Jack. She sees that Jack’s fascination with taking over Christmas will only result in disaster, and, as one would guess, she’s right. Jack succeeds only in terrifying children all over the world by taking Santa's place on Christmas Eve and almost gets Saint Nick killed at the hands of an appropriately-named boogie man named Oogie Boogie (Ken Page). But Jack saves the day, Santa saves Christmas and Jack and Sally embrace on a snowy hilltop at the end of the film. Hooray.

Whether it’s the songs, the characters or the quirky, stop-motion animation, there’s a reason why Nightmare is a holiday staple to this day. It also has a longer shelf-life than most holiday-themed movies—you can pop in the DVD from October through the end of December and never feel seasonally out-of-touch. Whip it out on New Year’s Day, however, and you’re probably asking for trouble.

Speaking of DVDs, there’s a nifty Collector’s Edition on store shelves now, which includes all-new bonus features and a digital copy that you can play on your iPod or other portable media player. Head over to to order it. It's also available on Blu-ray for those of you who have already made that inevitable technological leap.

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Henry Selick

Writing Credits:
Tim Burton (story)
Michael McDowell (adaptation)
Caroline Thompson (screenplay)

Original Music by:
Danny Elfman