31 Days of Halloween: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” Remains Timeless And Quintessentially Halloween
There was a time when Tim Burton was one of the most creative minds in Hollywood. Surprisingly, one of his creations was even connected to Disney. The resulting picture ended up being one of the greatest holiday films of all time: The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s a totally absurd premise that has gained a cult following over the twenty or so years since its release in 1993.
The film takes place in a universe where each major holiday has its own world. Each world is blissfully unaware of the existence of the other holiday realms. Enter a restless skeleton named Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloween Town. A walk and some deep thought leads him to crossing into Christmas Town, and he becomes intrigued with the concepts of this newly-discovered holiday. His curiosity and the way he interacts with the inhabitants of lands familiar and foreign to him make for a fun tale that sees an adult-like figure display a childlike wonder.
Skellington is voiced by Chris Sarandon. He does a pretty standard job in the lead role, but the character’s singing voice actor, Danny Elfman, is the one who truly captures his range of emotions. Elfman composed all of the music for the film and it is his creative genius, even more so than Burton’s, which makes the film so fresh. You can tell that he enjoyed every second of being Jack Skellington. Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Edward Ivory and Glenn Shadix all bring a nice amount of emotion to their supporting roles. O’Hara, specifically, brings some essential vulnerability to Halloween Town’s most sympathetic character, Sally. The best supporting voice work, though, is Ken Page as the disgusting bag of bugs, Oogie Boogie. The thunderous voice brought by Page to the character makes the oft-silhouetted Oogie all the more terrifying.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is made almost entirely using stop-motion. At the time of its release, no film since the original King Kong in the 1930’s had used the technique so effectively. The film’s ambition was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. In a world of massive explosions and animated figures that can be made through computer generated images, The Nightmare Before Christmas’ hands-on animation style stands as something that is truly unique.
The music – all original songs and original score – in The Nightmare Before Christmas is an aspect of the film that is almost constant throughout the seventy-six minute runtime. As mentioned, Elfman composed all the music and to this day, the soundtrack to this film may be his greatest accomplishment as an artist. Timeless songs like, “This is Halloween,” “What’s This” and “Sally’s Song” are exceptionally pleasing to the ear. As a Christmas-Halloween crossover film, Elfman perfectly captured the best elements of both of those holiday’s musical pools.
There’s something special about this film. While it is partly-owned by Disney, it would never have been made in Walt Disney’s lifetime. It has lighthearted moments, but the content always seems very dark in presentation. It isn’t shy about referencing how almost all of the characters are dead, and it can actually get scary at times. Still, I would not discourage any parent from letting their kids see The Nightmare Before Christmas. The artistry is impressive and the music is memorable. Perhaps the only way to describe it is this: It makes you feel older as a child and younger as an adult. Don’t miss out on feeling this for yourself.