by Ken B.
“’Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems in a place perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams. For the story you’re about to be told began with the holiday worlds of auld. Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven’t I’d say it’s time you begun.”
– first line from the movie, a narration from Santa Claus.
Within the first two minutes of The Nightmare Before Christmas, it is explained that holidays come from many different fantasy worlds, labeled as towns. There’s a Christmastown, a Halloweentown, Eastertown, so on and so forth. While watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder what Washingtonsbirthdaytown looked like.
Tim Burton’s 1993 stop-motion animation musical fantasy film is the perfect movie to watch on Halloween, not only because of its theme, but its ability to transfer into the winter holidays. While watching the movie, the notes I jotted down often resorted to the word “brilliant” in the sense of “music is haunting and brilliant”, “visuals are brilliant”, and going on to call the film flat out “brilliant”. I feel that this completely made up for Burton’s previous Edward Scissorhands, a production I found ultimately disappointing if with a couple of worthwhile moments.
The story is neatly engaging. Jack Skellington (voice: CHRIS SARANDON while speaking, composer DANNY ELFMAN whilst singing) is the mayor, or rather “the pumpkin king” of Halloweentown, some sort of muted, dim, dreary town filled with hybrids of famous fictional horror stock characters, and some simple analogies for the genre itself. In the towns of holidays, their holiday is the biggest day of the year, and the day following Halloween, Jack, depressed, walks through the forest and discovers the portals to the other holiday worlds. The one that catches is eye is to Christmastown, where he is immediately infatuated with its existence, returns to his home, and attempts to explain Christmas to the residents of Halloweentown, to little effect. It climaxes in him kidnapping Santa Claus, bringing him to Halloweentown, and trying to take his job in Christmastown to deliver toys, while residents from both worlds try to intervene.
Danny Elfman has a way of writing music that is instantly recognizable, especially so in this movie. Several times throughout this movie’s course, musical numbers are placed in, or more or less dialogue with loud background music to a type of singing explanation. Unfortunately, the music sooner or later feels roughly identical to the previous piece, with little room for memorability in the end. However, the thing most memorable about this movie is its astonishing visuals. For something that was created in the stop-motion style, it flows extremely well, never seeming jerky or choppy, like many amateur claymation films I have viewed to great almost-nausea and displeasure (amateur stop-motion bothers me way more than it should, but that’s another story). Because no such problem exists within The Nightmare Before Christmas, I found the whole thing to be quite exquisite, even in the muted damp setting of Halloweentown.
Clocking in at 76 minutes (closer to 70 without credits), this movie feels short. While that [somewhat?] is justified by the time-consuming process of this movie’s animation process, you long for only a little bit more than what it has. It never feels unfinished or abrupt, mind you, but kind of compressed in the end just the same.
A movie such as The Nightmare Before Christmas is very able to be rewatched, to appreciate the visual standings, the story which unfolds before you, and the general sense of fantasy. The term “weird and wonderful” applies 100 percent here in describing this lovely experience. Now, if only we could do something about that music…