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Movie Reviews

The Nightmare Before Christmas



nbcReviewed by: Anne Iredale

Released: November 25th 1994 (UK)

Directed by: Henry Selick

Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Greg Proops, Catherine O’Hara

Certificate: PG (UK)

It’s easy to forget that Tim Burton didn’t actually direct The Nightmare Before Christmas because it is so Burtonesque. In fact, Henry Selick was the director but Burton produced the film and the characters and story were his idea, originally in the form of a poem he wrote.

This is a musical stop motion animation but it’s not a depiction of cuddly animals or rescued princesses. This is from the mind of Tim Burton, after all. What we have here is the twisted, creepy world of Halloween Town, a bizarre place peopled by curious citizens. There is a town mayor but the real leader is a skeleton called Jack Skellington, otherwise known as the Pumpkin King. It falls to Jack to organize the Halloween celebrations each year and he does it so well. The problem is that he’s bored out of his tree.

Whilst out with his ghostly pet dog, Zero in the woods, Jack finds a door. Curious, he enters what turns out to be Christmas Town. He’s intrigued and thinks he’s found the challenge he’s been looking for. Jack is smitten with this thing called Christmas, which is such a strange contrast to Halloween, and he announces to everyone that Halloween Town will take charge of the festive celebration. He, of course, will take the leading role of Santa Claus. In order for Jack to be Santa, the real Santa is unceremoniously kidnapped.

Jack’s version of Christmas turns out to be a kind of Hammer horror version, but with kindly intent! Jack and his scary ‘reindeer’, led by Zero deliver his take on festive cheer for Christmas Eve.  Children are scared and bewildered in equal measure when Jack appears as Santa. The presents are a departure from toy trains and dolls and the kids recoil in horror at their weird gifts. Jack has to be stopped and his wacky Christmas is thwarted. Not to be defeated, he responds with a plucky optimism and revives his enthusiasm for good old Halloween. Santa is released and all is well again.

The moral of the story? Perhaps, it’s the old adage that there’s no place like home. This is one for family viewing if the children are a bit older (and not easily frightened) and they’ll revel in the naughtiness of Jack and his cohorts.

Marvellous characters make up the town in addition to Jack. The highlight is Dr Finklestein who bears more than a resemblance to a certain Dr Strangelove as played by Peter Sellers in Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Finklestein does what barmy scientists do and has created life in the form of Sally, a doll like girl with big eyes, who has a soft spot for Jack and tries to stop his Christmas madness. In a sweet scene, more poignant than any romantic comedy, Jack and Sally declare their love at last. We also have Oogie Boogie, the wonderful jazz singing, green bogeyman.

The film, which was nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar, spawned a nice line in merchandise, much appreciated by the Goth kids of the ‘90s who got the black humour. Jack and the gang were emblazoned with pride on their black clothes.

What lifts this film to an even higher level of enjoyment are the songs and what catchy tunes they are. Danny Elfman, a regular collaborator of Tim Burton, does a superb job with both melody and lyrics. He also sings the part of Jack (Chris Sarandon voices the speaking Jack). His efforts were rewarded with a nomination for Best Original Score at the Golden Globes. The dark art direction and the chirpy songs are a winning contrast and something that Burton would bring to Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The mind of Tim Burton is always worth exploring and he is never more entertaining than in this Halloween/Christmas treat. Light and darkness collide with a tongue in cheek musical extravaganza only he could have envisaged.

25 year old film fanatic who loves rock music, Xbox and cat videos on Youtube. I also tweet @lewisvstheworld

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