Movie Project #47: The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]
Director: Henry Selick
Genre: Animation/Family/Fantasy
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon and Catherine O’Hara
Running Time: 76 minutes

Although this is only the second movies project I have put together, I am noticing a trend. There is one film from each that garners the biggest “how have you not seen this?!?” reaction. With last year’s project, hands down it was Back to the Future. This year it’s Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (with apologies to Rocky and The Bourne Identity).

Set in the spookily morbid world of Halloween Town, the film follows the plight of one Jack Skellington, a thin skeleton who wears a snazzy black pin-striped suit. Every year the monsters and mutants that make up the town’s population rely on Jack to lead their Halloween celebrations. This year, however, Jack has become disillusioned with their proceedings. While wandering about, he stumbles upon a portal into a new world — Christmas Town — and becomes enchanted with what he sees there. Seeking to bring that Christmas spirit into his hometown, Jack decides he wants to be Santa Claus and hires a group of residents to kidnap the jolly fat man.

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

Clearly this is a bad idea, but it sets the precedence for some of the film’s greatest moments. As a trio of kids — dubbed Lock, Shock and Barrel — chase down Santa, a ridiculously inappropriate (but wildly amusing) song starts playing that discusses how they want to “chop Santa into bits.” I don’t know how appropriate that is for children, but I got a kick out of it. It was also a lot of fun watching Jack masquerade as Santa Claus, delivering frightful gifts to little kids.

Outside of these comical bits, however, I felt little attachment to the film. Most of Danny Elfman’s musical numbers, outside of the opening tune, are forgettable, and the film’s emotional development rests its weight on the skinny little shoulders of Jack Skellington. Most of the supporting characters fall flat, and I did not feel connected to any of them.

The Nightmare Before Christmas [1993]

On the flip side, I did find it amazing that Burton’s stop-motion animation still holds up remarkably well nearly 20 years later. I can’t use the word “beautiful” because of the grotesque subject matter, but this is one slick-looking film. The character designs are especially imaginative, and there’s always something new to catch the eye.

I can’t help but feel that a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ appeal rides heavily on nostalgia from those who saw it in their youth. It’s a solid film, but is it truly worthy of its near-unanimous praise (IMDB Top 250, 96% on Rotten Tomatoes)?