A few years ago I posed a question to my legion of Facebook friends (385 and shrinking): Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Christmas movie or a Halloween movie? The overwhelming (and obvious) answer was “both!” So really, the movie covers three major holidays; Halloween, Christmas, and because it fits neatly between those two, Thanksgiving. This is important because there really aren’t any good Thanksgiving movies, with one exception, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. But more on that later in this series.
Due to it’s unique amalgam of multiple holidays, it’s the one that usually kicks off the holiday movie viewing season at my house in October. I’ve got small kids, and I’m not really into horror movies anyway, so this is about as scary as it gets in our living room. For an animated Christmas movie, it’s pretty creepy. For a Halloween movie, not as much.
Released in 1993 and springing from the warped mind of Tim Burton, it’s the story of Halloween Town and it’s pumpkin-headed Hallowen party planner Jack Skellington. Growing tired of the same-old-same-old spooky life in Halloween Town, Jack wanders into the woods and stumbles into Christmas Town. He’s immediately smitten with Christmas Town–where the kids are throwing snowballs instead of heads–and tries to bring the holiday to Halloween Town, with disastrous results. Trying to play the role of Santa, Jack quickly learns the world is not ready for a Halloweenized version of Christmas. People prefer the gifts under their tree not try to eat them.
Nightmare is a musical, and all the music is written by Danny Elfman, who is also Jack’s singing voice. The music is the best part of the movie with some really great, memorable songs. Some are creepy (my son is constantly quoting the line from This Is Halloween “I am the clown with the tear-away face!”), some are festive like What’s This, some are melancholy like Sally’s Song, and some just weird like Kidnap Sandy Claws (sample: “Kidnap the Sandy Claws, beat him with a stick, lock him up for 90 years, see what makes him tick”). Oh, and of course the jazz-inspired Oogie Boogie’s Song. They’re all great.
The animation is of the stop-motion variety, and pretty impressive, especially for 1993. The production included the use of about 400 different heads for Jack to capture all his expressions!
Most of the movie takes place in Halloween Town, full of all kinds of fun and creepy characters. There’s the aforementioned clown with the tear away face, the two-faced mayor, the mischievous trio of Lock, Shock, and Barrell sent by Jack to kidnap Santa Claus, and Sally, the Frankensteinesque monster love interest of Jack. And of course, Ooogie Boogie, who is basically a burlap sack full of bugs who lives in some kind of death trap casino. The town is also full of all the Halloween regulars; vampires, werewolves, skeletons, and bats.
I was a bit of a late comer to the party, not ever seeing Nightmare until a few years ago, watching it with my then four-year old daughter. The wife was not so happy about that. Neither was the daughter, to be honest. Ooops. She is eight now and my son is five and they both love it.
If you want something a little subversive and off the wall during your Christmas movie viewing this year it’s worth checking out. It’s funny, clever, and the songs are infectious. If it were strictly a Christmas movie, it would be higher on our list, but it’s Halloweeness worked against it in this case. Also, Jeff has only seen it once. Shameful. Happy Halloween! I mean, Merry Christmas! Or something.