The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Dir: Henry Selick
It’s not exactly Tim Burton’s…
‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is a stop-motion animated film, that tells of the erudite Jack Skellington (also known as the Pumpkin King) who is getting bored with doing the same thing every year in Halloween Town arranging the scares of Haloween night. So when he stumbles across Christmas Town, he is struck by how different it is, and decides to take over their holiday instead, getting all the residents of his town to replicate what he’s learnt of Christmas and arrange it that year. However he ignores the warnings of Sally (a rag doll Frankenstein’s creature) that it will be a disaster.
I think people often believe this film to be directed by Tim Burton, and you can’t really blame them, it is clearly from his mind. Though he wasn’t the director, he produced it, and as the credits said, the ‘story and characters’ were by him, and it shows. The film is full of the weirdest creatures, and so many little dark twists and features in the world of Halloween Town.
The director was Henry Selick, the man who later went on to make both ‘James and the Giant Peach’ in 1996 and then ‘Coraline’ in 2009. I have only seen ‘Giant Peach’ once, on a ferry when I was younger, and though I remember bits I don’t remember loving it (may need to try again). ‘Coraline’ I saw last year, and was struck by how brilliantly it merged charming and creepy. Both with the characters and the storyline, there was a beautiful charm and affection, yet it was dark through so much and had such a strong creepiness, yet the two worked together and not against each other.
‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ has the same sense as that. Though it’s a film full of deliberately weird and creepy characters, you still like them and get a strong sense of charm. It’s lovely that the town is not trying to spoil Christmas, just they are so inherently dark that they can’t help but twist it, producing effects that they think are excellent yet are quite the opposite of what they’re going for.
I couldn’t help but thinking this may be a little like Tim Burton’s mind. I’m a fan of his, and enjoy the worlds he creates. Yet his mind really does manage to put little twists and darker feelings into things that would otherwise be normal or even magical to others. As a case in point, look at his version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, where the story is so fun and magical, and in the original film attempt, there was only a small section that went pretty dark, and a general air of creepiness from Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. With Tim Burton at the helm, I think he unlocked so much more from the original text, taking the wird and wonderful to new levels, but also bringing out the darker overtones in a far more consistent way.
Part of what makes the seemingly opposing creepy and charming elements work together is the use of music and songs as this film is a musical. Danny Elfman has been a frequent collaborator with Burton, and both wrote all the score and songs and also sung a lot of ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’. Simply, it’s hard to be hugely scared by a character that is singing, and so you are drawn to them. The songs are very good too, making strong use of half-rhymes and such so that a lot is conveyed through the songs, and it gives the lines the quality of not quite being predictable or feeling prefect, which works so well with the storyline.
At only 76 minutes long, it is quite obvious that ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ was developed from the ideas for a short, and as such it moves along very quickly. So much of the story is put into the songs with the characters being active while singing, so you never really stop to watch them break into song but they do what songs in a musical should, which is help move the narrative along. From the opening scenes of Halloween Town right to the very end just over an hour later, you can be spellbound by the charmingly weird world that Tim Burton thought up in that unique mind of his.