Tuesday, February 11, 2014

#1,275. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Directed By: Henry Selick

Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara

Tag line: "We're changing the face of 3-D"

Trivia: The inspiration for this film came from a poem written by Tim Burton in 1982, while he was working as a Disney animator

My original goal was to review 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, a stop-motion animated film produced by Tim Burton, during the 2013 Holiday season. The problem was, I couldn’t decide which holiday was more appropriate: Halloween or Christmas? Thanks to Burton and director Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas is actually a splendid combination of the two, a movie that has the look and feel of a Halloween story, yet presented with the spirit and energy of a truly great Christmas special.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is set in a world where all the major holidays have their own town. The Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington (spoken voice provided by Chris Sarandon, while Danny Elfman handles all the singing), is the #1 resident of Halloween Town, and he and his fellow citizens have just put the wraps on yet another successful Halloween night. But Jack is growing tired of doing “the same, old thing” year in and year out, and longs for a new challenge. While walking through the woods, trying to gather his thoughts, Jack stumbles upon a group of trees, each of which has a door built into its side. Unbeknownst to jack, these are the doorways to the other Holiday towns, and when he opens the door to Christmas Town, he’s whisked away to a magical place, filled with snow and brightly-lit decorations. Bringing some of what he’s found back with him, Jack tries to convince all of Halloween Town that, going forward, they should instead concentrate their efforts on Christmas. To this end, Jack orders Lock (Pal Reubens), Shock (Catherine O’Hara), and Barrel (Danny Elfman), a trio of costumed kids, to go to Christmas Town and abduct “Sandy Claws” (Ed Ivory), thus clearing the way for him to play Santa and deliver toys to all the children on Christmas Eve. But is the world ready for a Yuletide run by skeletons, ghosts, vampires, and witches?

The characters that populate Halloween Town are a colorful bunch; aside from Jack and Lock, Shock, and Barrel, there’s Sally (Catherine O’Hara), a living, breathing rag doll created by Dr. Finklestein (William Hickey), the town’s mad scientist. Sally is in love with Jack, yet at the same time is the only one trying to stop him from taking over Christmas, a scheme she’s sure will end in disaster. Then, of course, there’s the resident Boogeyman, named Oogie Boogie (Ken Page). Against jack’s wishes, Lock, Shock, and Barrel deliver the kidnapped Santa to the volatile Oogie Boogie, who, after having a bit of fun, intends to finish his new hostage off before the night is out. These characters, and all the others that inhabit Halloween Town, have their sinister side (even Sally, who tries to poison Dr. Finklestein when he refuses to let her go outside). But, in the end, they’re such a likable bunch that we find ourselves rooting for them. And, as expected, their efforts result in one of the most unusual Christmas mornings the world has ever seen!

Featuring wonderful songs written and composed by Danny Elfman (“What’s This?”, performed by Jack when he first discovers Christmas Town, is tremendous, though my personal favorite is “This is Halloween”, our introduction to Halloween Town), The Nightmare Before Christmas effectively blends the ghoulish and gruesome with the sweet and happy, giving us a movie you can enjoy at either Halloween or Christmas.

Or, even better, both.

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