The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is that perfect film for that oh-so-difficult transition between Halloween and Christmas, a period of time which seems to get shorter every year, with Christmas products and decorations appearing in shops whilst the Jack-O’-Lanterns are still warm. The film centres on the residents of Halloweentown which, as the name suggests, is a town which exists solely to celebrate Halloween, spending the other 364 days of the year planning and preparing their celebrations. When Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, undergoes an existential crisis he goes in search for something more than the screams and the terror of Halloween, and stumbles upon portals to the other Holiday Worlds. Entering the door marked with a Christmas tree he discovers a magical world; Christmas Town. Filled with snow, presents and fairy light Jack is fascinated by what he sees and returns home to share his experiences with his friends, with the aim of bringing Christmas to Halloweentown.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is based on a poem written by Tim Burton, and adapted for the screen by Burton himself. And although the film was directed by Henry Selick, it certainly displays the trademark style associated with Burton films. Done entirely in stop motion animation the film is visually superb and especially innovative for its time, earning it a nomination for the Academy Award in Best Visual Effects. The soundtrack from Danny Elfman is also excellent, containing an array of frightfully catchy musical numbers, most notably the opening song ‘This is Halloween’, and ‘What’s This’, Jack’s reaction to his discovery of Christmas Town.
The Nightmare before Christmas is filled with charming and quirky characters; those such as Lock, Shock and Barrel, the three young, terrorising trick-or-treaters who Jack hires to kidnap ‘Sandy Claws’, are the perfect balance between adorable and fiendish. Whilst other characters, like Jack and Sally, a Frankenstein’s monster-esque creation, instil genuine sympathy in the audience as we witness glimpses of their occasionally tortured existences. The film also contains a terrifyingly menacing and thoroughly entertaining villain with the maggot-filled Oogie Boogie, although my main criticism of the film is that we do not get to see enough of him.
Although it was considered at the time to be too scary to be released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner, The Nightmare before Christmas appeals to both adults and children alike. And whilst some may argue that it is a film better suited to Halloween than Christmas I see it as a great film to get you into the Christmas spirit; Jack’s childlike amazement at this newfound holiday allows you to rediscover the magic of Christmas by seeing it through the eyes of characters who have never experienced it before. And if that doesn’t work, for those more cynical amongst you, perhaps the disastrous results of Jack’s attempt at Christmas celebrations will make you appreciate in comparison those Christmases spent arguing over charades with your family.