Directed by Henry Selick
Starring Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Glen Shadix, Edward Ivory, and Ken Page
Only a bespoke group of movies cause mass hubbub when the question of genre classification comes up at Christmas. To make it on to a list of “Festive Films” the criteria can differ greatly from person to person, such is the experience for a film like Die Hard (1988) or franchises which viewers typically watch at Christmas time, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter. But none of these movies compare to the intensely heated debate which arises when one tries to classify Henry Selick’s movie, written by the incomparable Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas. With equal armies in the Halloween camp as the Christmas camp, is it safe for UK Film Review to review this title as part of our #ChristmasFilmCountdown series? Hell yeah! If only because it has the word “Christmas” in the title, Santa in the story, and enough references to easily compete with the likes of Home Alone (1990) or White Christmas (1954).
With a sumptuous animation delivered through stop motion, The Nightmare Before Christmas was originally conceived by gothic hero, Tim Burton, and has come to exist in infamy as one of the most creatively inspirational movies of all time. A generation of artists and creative doodlers were reared on this animated classic, introducing them to the darkly imaginative outlets that artistic expression can lead to - not to mention a fuck load of pencil cases and school backpacks.
The story centres around Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon taking the dialogue and Danny Elfman the singing), a prodigy when it comes to delivering the perfect scares at Halloween, and beloved hero of Halloween Town (he has even earned the nickname, The Pumpkin King). Jack suffers a momentary low, though, after another successful October outing, and stumbles aimlessly through the woods. Having travelled through the night, he finds himself at a juncture where multiple doors lead off to other fantasy worlds (all themed). He chooses the one with the big Christmas tree on, and lands himself in the snowy landscape of Christmas Town, where he discovers a world very much unlike his own, and yet he feels strangely drawn to the candy canes and present-giving. He then decides to promote himself to “Sandy Claws” in order to deliver the next Christmas event, using his Halloween minions to kidnap the real Kriss Kringle in the meantime.
Bizarre, fantastical, and bewilderingly creepy, The Nightmare Before Christmas will inevitably divide audiences. For those who like their Christmas films as pure as snow, Burton’s horror-strewn landscape of ghouls and weirdos will certainly not inspire much festive cheers. However, the movie, which has a huge cult following, has a lot to offer to the genre of Christmas films.
Like several other Christmas movies, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a musical - delivering anthemic melodies that have remained in the popular mindset since the film’s release. By opting for this dramatic form, the animated film is able to transcend the rigid borderlines between genres like horror, animation, children’s movies and the like, and instead focus on literally sculpting its own place in the Christmas narrative. Indeed, Jack’s struggle to be more than just a scary icon is much like the film’s struggle to cast off the chains of genre labelling, which it does magnificently. The film is weird and wonderful in equal measure, proving that the confines of artistic limitation are self-imposed.
At times the movie is wincingly scary (see the Boogie monster made of bugs and a burlap sack), and this only serves to fuel the audience’s excitement about the hero’s journey, a character who is terrifying, but not terrible. He simply wants to be something else.
Whilst the animation may look a little hokey now, it has to be on the Christmas Film Countdown. There is simply too much to love about Selick’s film, and Burton’s creations, for it to be confined to the shackles of animated horror. In fact, this is a film for October, December, and any month you want to see a hugely impressive piece of animated genius.
The Christmas film reviews are nearly finished...two more to go!