The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) / Animation-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for some disturbing images           
Running Time: 76 min.

Cast (voices): Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix 
Director: Henry Selick
Screenplay: Michael McDowell, Caroline Thompson

Review published January 2, 2003

As a kid, I remember watching such holiday classics as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, which I suppose weren't perfect movies, but they were perfect for the season and the age I was when watching them.  If I had waited until adulthood before watching them, perhaps they would not have been as magical.  In that same tradition comes The Nightmare Before Christmas, based on an original story by director Tim Burton .  It's the kind of film that has sights and sounds that will captivate the younger viewers, but unlike those earlier animation holiday films, adults will probably appreciate the film's imagination and wit enough to hold their interests to a lesser extent.

This fantasy tells the tale of Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon, The Princess Bride), the pumpkin-headed king of Halloween Town.  Jack is a bit bored with what has turned out to be a tediously redundant job of coordinating the Halloween scares every year and longs for something more.  His wanderings land him in Christmas Town, which opens his eyes to new ideas for his life, and he desires desperately to be the king of this new holiday, but there is another who heads this town, Santa Claus.  With the help of some of his ghoulish friends, Santa is kidnapped and Jack takes over the reigns, but his heart is still with the ghouls and ghosts, and Christmas takes a markedly darker turn. 

Without a doubt, the strongest aspect of The Nightmare before Christmas comes from its eye-popping art, animation, and production design.  The visuals are nothing less than stunning, perhaps the best among holiday entertainment.  The depth of the detail is quite rich, and if they had only done half as much, this still would have impressed.  The characters are cartoonish, but lifelike in their movements, and the designs of the architecture and backgrounds give evidence that there's genuine heart being poured into each painstaking frame of film.  Although Burton didn't direct it, there's no doubt the look of the film was created with his vision in mind, and the inclusion of Burton's longtime musical collaborator, Danny Elfman, shows why they are a match made in heaven when it comes to being on the same page artistically.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a perfect film for Halloween or Christmas viewing, and children will probably love it, provided they aren't so young that disembodied spirits and severed heads still frighten them.  The music flows in and out of the narrative in such a way that is virtually seamless, and the film is short enough to keep your interest before boredom overtakes you.  Destined to be an eternal holiday classic, if it isn't considered one already.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo