The Nightmare Before Christmas review by Matt FuerstI feel pretty strongly that aside from the commentary within a piece art, you have an opportunity to look inside the artist themselves. Now, this isn't always the case with film, since let's face it, not every piece of celluloid (soon to be digital?) that hits the big screen is a masterpiece of art. However, in the case of The Nightmare Before Christmas, I really felt like I was entering into the mind of creator Tim Burton for an extended stay.
Inside the mind of Tim Burton, each of the holidays have a little town dedicated to all the occurances of the holiday. So for example, for Easter there is an Eastern Town, for Christmas there is a Christmas town, etc... The Nightmare Before Christmas follows the story of Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween Town. The story begins on the evening of October 31st, the most important day in town. Halloween was a rousing success yet again, thankful to the scares that Jack cooked up, but Jack cannot help but feel a sense of loneliness in his existance. Sure, every 365 days Jack delivers the scares around Halloween Town, but Jack feels that there must be more to life aside from this. Desperate for answers after Halloween, Jack walks in the woods with his ghost dog Zero, hoping to find the answer. Jack ends up walking so long he bumps across the secret place in the forest where all the towns meet. Each town is represented by a door, Jack has stumbled across the nexus of his universe.
Curious, Jack selects the Christmas door and is transported to Christmas Town. Everything is foreign. People are happy, not afraid. There is snow on the ground and lights on the homes as opposed to darkness in the sky and wickedly shaped castles lit by candles. Instead of being aghast at the world and the drastic changes therein, Jack finds Christmas Town to be the answer he is looking for, he is ready for a change of pace, and Christmas Town can deliver that in spades. Excitedly, he returned to Halloween Town and tells the Two Faced Mayor to announce a town meeting immediately. Therein, Jack announces his grand plan, to take over Christmas from the King of Christmas Town, and do Christmas, Halloween style. Of course, not everything about his plan goes according to schedule, and Jack ends up finding Christmas is alot harder to do well than he originally considered.
It's really hard for words to give any sort of justice to the visuals that are contained within The Nightmare Before Christmas. When watching it, the thoughts that kept running around inside my mind was that we really were seeing just a faint glimmer of how creator/producer Tim Burton must see the world. All of the elements have a bit of hyper, almost over-extension to them. Instead of creating an evil, ominous castle for the mad doctor to live in, he creates a massive, wickedly shaped dungeon of doom. Instead of Christmas town being the traditional North Pole-lookin' joint, it's bursting at the seams with gleeful children, a full Christmas rail system, and enough lights to make Clark Griswold envious. The set decoration and planning of the film standout maybe moreso than any other film I can recall. It truly makes the film a masterpiece.
The idea of watching a musical generally isn't one that appeals to me, and if you are like me then that makes the prospect of watching The Nightmare Before Christmas pretty slim from the get go. But, you are going to have to lower your defenses, because it's really worth it. Nightmare is a pretty short film to begin with, weighing in at 76 minutes beginning to end, and there are probably only 5 major musical interludes. Of the 5, 3 are memorable and will have you singing the next day, my favorites being: This is Halloween, Kidnap the Sandy Claws and Oogie Boogie's Song. The score is created by Danny Elfman, whom as a youngster I thought was the bees knees in terms of scoring film (any friend of Sam Raimi is a friend of mine). However as I aged (like a fine wine some would say) I have found Elfman's scores to be more and more deriviative, it seems like he worked out a pretty original and new formula, say for Batman, and than from that point on just created different versions of the same score. Elfman bashing aside, the score for Nightmare delivers as Elfman delivers not just good, fun music but lyrics to match. Elfman even supplies the singing voice for Jack!
The story of Nightmare could have been delivered in numerous ways, from traditional hand drawn animation to Muppet style puppets, but the creative team decided on stop motion animation, which is so great it will honestly leave you craving for more. The characters are all completely fluid and normal in their actions (as normal as an 8 foot, 80 pound semi-skeleton could walk and run). The team really broke stop animation mold when filming though, as they threw out the rulebook that states you have to tell a stop motion animation film from the third person, fixed perspective. No, the camera moves within the scene, moves about the set, and the camera even goes into the first person at times. Excellent, great touches that are amusing by themselves, but even work great within the story.
Great for younger members of the family as well as the adults, you're going to want to add this one to your collection. There is some fairly scary stuff occuring in the film, as Halloween Town is, in fact, a scary place, so if you're a caring parent I guess you'd want to keep your really little children away from it, but otherwise, buy it, pop it in and enjoy. Great for Halloween time, Christmas time, or anytime (I watched it in the middle of July!).
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