This is the eighth in a series of posts, The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies. Each one will review/talk about a different Christmassy film and the whole thing spans 12 days – one film per day. You can read the original post about it (which also lists all 12 days of movies) here.
It’s less than a week until Christmas! I can’t believe it’s so close. In all honesty, I don’t really feel ready for it to be the 25th of December yet. I mean, we only just started this month. How did it get to the 19th already? But anyway, getting closer and closer to Christmas day also means getting closer and closer to the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas Movies, as shown here on Ocean Owl. Today we hit the 2/3 milestone on the 8th day, with Tim Burton’s film The Nightmare Before Christmas.
I’m aware that there are quite a few people in the world who would cry out at this statement. After all, why should we call it Tim Burton’s movie? What about Henry Selick, the director? Why does Burton get so much credit for this film if he only took part in the writing of it? Well, I’m not really here to argue about this, and to be honest I don’t have a strong point of view as to why Burton gets so much credit – it seems kind of fair, especially given the fact that he did write the original story for it. For another point, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a distinctly Tim Burton film. It has all the signs: dark, macabre humour; music by Danny Elfman; German expressionism; stripes; Gothic-ness…….the list goes on. The point is that whether or not you believe Burton deserves as much credit as he is given for this film, there’s no denying his influence on it.
I love Tim Burton’s work, and today was hardly my first time watching The Nightmare Before Christmas – on the contrary, it has been one of my favourite films for some time. So maybe that is partially what made me add this film to the list of Twelve Christmas Movies, despite it having an unusual connection with this holiday season. The film is actually about Jack Skellington, the skeleton king of Halloween Town, who decides to steal Christmas from the people of Christmas Town and, er, make it his own. It’s a bit of a reverse Grinch story in a way, which is why I placed it immediately behind that film in the order of the list. If that didn’t make it unique enough, The Nightmare Before Christmas also combines elements of both Halloween and Christmas – there’s even a bit of Easter thrown in as well. Still, it is a rather Christmassy movie, and fits in this list just fine. Anyway, we included Die Hard, didn’t we?
Like a good deal of Tim Burton’s films, you don’t necessarily love The Nightmare Before Christmas just for the whole effect of it. The finer details are just as – if not more – important. The soundtrack, for example, is one of the best parts of the film, having been written by Danny Elfman and containing fantastically atmospheric and catchy music for practically every scene in the movie. This being Tim Burton, after all, the visual style is also great, provided you like that sort of thing. Personally, I love the dark colours and German expressionism-ism look the film has (except in the Christmas Town scenes, when it’s hello bright colours and merriness) , but I appreciate this might not be to everyone’s taste. Burton’s, along with Selick’s, work tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair. On a whole, if you generally like Tim Burton’s style, you will probably like the way The Nightmare Before Christmas is stylised. If you can’t stand it, then……….well, the film has a good plot too.
Speaking of that, I should probably elaborate on my earlier description of the plot. I said it is like a reversed Grinch story, in that it’s shown from the perspective of the creatures that steal Christmas. That is true, but it leaves out a few important points. First of all, the Halloween Town citizens don’t try and take away Christmas because they hate it; they do it because they love it. Or they think they love it, anyway. It turns out that their idea of a “jolly” Christmas doesn’t really match up with the original concept. It’s a very sympathetic film, though. The residents of Halloween Town might scare people for a living, but as they say: “That’s our job/ but we’re not mean”. They don’t hurt people, which is a crucial point as to why they’re not malevolent. Jack Skellington’s back-firing attempts at making Christmas are more misled than malicious, and there are very few actual bad guys in the movie.
The only truly evil character is Oogie Boogie, who strongly resembles an animated sack. Don’t laugh – his appearance comes across as a lot more menacing in-film. In fact, he’s a pretty effective character as a whole. He’s rather sadistic for a villain in a children’s film, so it’s easy not to feel much sympathy for him. His lair also comes with neon, voodoo-esque decorations and jazzy theme music, which both contribute to making him a memorable antagonist. Unlike other bad guys in films, though, Oogie is quite repulsive. So a good balance of traits, in total.
But I don’t want to send a weird message by focusing solely on the bad guy of the movie. The rest of the cast of characters in The Nightmare Before Christmas are equally good. Jack is a charismatic, theatrical protagonist on the surface, but he also has another side that is unhappy with his current life and wants something more. It’s always great to have a multi-dimensional hero who isn’t just the “brave-but-conflicted” type. Sally, a sort of Frankenstein’s monster/rag doll creature, makes for a good love interest, as well. She serves as a confidante and advisor to Jack (even though he never listens to her), but she also has her own dreams of escaping the clutches of her presumed-father Dr Finklestein. She can be a little self-pitying about how Jack doesn’t know she loves him and all that, though somehow it doesn’t annoy me. Seriously, I always feel that Sally should be an irritating character, but for whatever reason, she isn’t. On top of the main cast, there’s a huge host of other Halloween Town residents, all complete with their own looks and personalities: there’s the vampires, with their high voices and ever-present umbrellas; the cackling, tiny witches; the blubbery-voiced, slimy sea monster; the panicky mayor whose face spins around from happy to sad when his mood changes; and the devious trio of Oogie’s child assistants Lock, Shock, and Barrel. And that’s not even half of it. If you want to read about all of them, have a look here. Just how well-documented this article is shows what a devoted fanbase this film has.
In conclusion, I love this film. I also think it’s a very good, well-made one, but I can’t say for certain that a lot of people will enjoy watching it. Most of the people I have spoken to about this film in the past have said something along the lines of “I just didn’t get it.” Really, what is there to get? It’s a creative, slightly eerie kids’ film made by Tim Burton. If you can imagine what that would be like, then you have a pretty good sense of what The Nightmare Before Christmas is like to watch. So it’s more of a love-it-or-didn’t-get-it film, I suppose. I’d say it’s really the sort of film you have to form your own opinion of. My point of view will remain firmly on the side of liking the film, though.
Overall rating: 10/10
Christmassy-ness rating: 7/10 (lots of Christmas, but also lots of Halloween)
Mary’s parental guidance rating: PG (some kids might find the way characters take off limbs and talk flippantly about death a little……unnerving)
Tomorrow’s film: Joyeux Noel