As the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington spends his entire year planning for the next Halloween. As a matter of fact, his entire town of Halloweentown does the same thing. His latest stint as king has Jack questioning his place in life and after the events of Halloween are over, a somber Jack heads out for a walk and comes across a gathering of trees, each marked with a different door representing a holiday. Jack enters the door of a decorated tree and finds himself in Christmastown.
What he finds is a town full of colors, cheer and happiness, which is a polar opposite from Halloweentown. With an idea in his head and excitement in his belly, he heads back to Halloweentown with a plan. That plan consists of kidnapping Santa Claus and appointing himself as the bearer of joy and gifts in an attempt to recapture his zest for life. The combination of the two holidays however, end with disastrous but hilarious consequences.
There is no doubt that The Nightmare Before Christmas came from Tim Burton’s brain. It was however, not directed by Burton, but by Henry Selick. Having two strong, creative minds behind the world of Jack Skellington only made this film better. Burton’s films always have a unique look to them. From the sets, to the landscape, to the characters, you just know when you’re watching one of his movies. One of the things I loved most about Nightmare is that its world is unlike anything I had seen previously.
Aside from the typical things associated with Halloween and Christmas, the landscape of the film was totally unique. I loved the townsfolk and the dark and dreary element to Halloweentown. Dried leaves, and bare branches. Tumbleweeds and wind. It’s all so perfectly Halloween (depending on which part of the world you live in of course) but it also managed to be rather charming. It goes without saying that the world of Christmastown was just as great. Instead of dried leaves and barren hills, we’re treated to a snowy, bright, joyful realm with elves making toys and children riding sleds. The worlds are polar opposites but fit in this film perfectly. At least until Jack starts making and handing out his own presents. Things get a little weird there.
Chris Sarandon (along with Danny Elfman in the singing portions) brings Jack to life through his voice. Jack is a typical Burton character, but by no means is he forgettable. He’s just a guy who goes about his life, and begins to question that life. He’s quirky and even though he’s the Pumpkin King, he’s a bit of a misfit and a bit misunderstood. I love these qualities about him. Even though he’s revered in his town, he wants to be better. That’s something that everyone feels at one point in their life.
The one aspect that this film truly grasps (for me at least) was that feeling of wonder that only comes with innocence. I remember feeling awestruck at Christmas when we’d go look at the houses that were decorated, or once the tree was finished. That sense of wonder only comes when you’re a child and slowly fades to something else as an adult. Jack looks upon Christmastown with that same look of wonder and wants to be a part of it so bad. I think that’s something that all of us can relate to.
When Pixar released WALL-E, the biggest thing I heard was how they were able to convey so much emotion without using any dialogue. With Nightmare, I was amazed to see how much emotion could be conveyed when the character didn’t have any eyes. Actually he didn’t even have a face per se. Just a skull, devoid of flesh. His facial expressions speak volumes and you know what he’s feeling just by his brow line. A furrowed brow goes a long way in getting his point across.
As if this film wasn’t lively enough, adding the other characters enriched to the point of being a classic. Sally (voiced by Catherine O’Hara), Lock, Shock, Barrell, the Mayor, Dr. Finklestein, Oogie Boogie all added to the tapestry of the film, but my favorite secondary character, was that of Jack’s ghost dog Zero. Don’t ask me why, I just love him. Maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for dogs.
This is a film that holds up to time and even now, 17 years later (yes it’s been that long) it still holds its appeal. Doesn’t matter what I’m doing at the time, if it’s on, I have to sit and watch it. The soundtrack is catchy, thanks to Danny Elfman, and there isn’t a Halloween/Christmas season that goes by without a viewing.
Once I get through the annual 24 hour A Christmas Story marathon that airs every year here in the States, I’m moving on to The Nightmare Before Christmas once again. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend watching it. If you have seen it, watch it again. You won’t regret it.