REVIEW by John C Adams
The Nightmare before Christmas (dir, Tim Burton)
It’s the same old dilemma year in, year out. You love Halloween and can’t get enough of it. You like Christmas too, but probably in somewhat smaller doses. But how to span the gap between the two festivals? There’s Thanksgiving, true, and for us Brits Bonfire Night but otherwise it’s an awfully long wait between the two. At least it was until 1993, when Disney released The Nightmare before Christmas and gave us a feel-good film to watch for weeks on end until Christmas arrived.
This movie was painstakingly shot in stop-motion animation frame by frame using clay models. And, if this fact doesn’t terminally deter you from thinking of watching it, I’ll mention up front that it’s a musical.
The premise behind the film is simple, but it’s not necessarily easy to get your head around if you love Halloween as much as I do. Jack Skellington lives in Halloweentown, where it’s always trick or treat season. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking ‘Cool! How can I move there?’ But Jack feels a certain amount of chill and darkness about his home that leaves him feeling incomplete despite the loyal presence of his ghost dog Zero.
Inexplicably, Jack decides that this emptiness can be filled by exploring Christmas and attempting to introduce it into his home to make Halloween feel a little cosier. My advice to Jack would be to forget Christmas and go out on a date with Sally, the rag doll unwilling lab assistant to the scary duck-faced inventor in the creepy old house on the hill. Above all, he should remember that he’s so lucky to live in Halloween all year round. But of course Jack doesn’t see it that way.
Jack’s attempts to introduce Christmas into Halloween are predictably amusing and disturbing in equal measure (which is pretty much Tim Burton’s stock in trade). One of the things I love most about his work is that you always know what you’re going to get and he delivers. Jack finds love too of course along the way and learns a few self-taught lessons about why we keep Halloween and Christmas apart.
This is a great movie, packed with all the best monsters of childhood including the Oogie Boogie Man. I even found myself singing along, greatly helped by Danny Elfman’s composing.
I guess Burton intends to teach us that our festivals—pagan and Christian—are best left separate. This lesson of history needs learning, given that the Christian church has in the past seemed determined to latch onto every pagan festival and stamp it out completely. Or maybe he’s trying to hint that there’s a time to celebrate the darkness and a time to celebrate the light, that kind of thing. Lots of people would agree with this lesson of tolerance and moderation between different sides of our human nature, but personally I always prefer the darkness!


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