As soon as I find the tree to Halloween Town I’m moving there.
It has infamously been debated about whether The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie. You can make a solid argument for either side but I’m here to boldly declare that there are no wrong sides in this debate. You can watch The Nightmare Before Christmas to celebrate either (or both) holidays and you’ll be fabulously festive. Of course if you can’t quite decide when to watch this beloved classic, perhaps you should do as I do and opt to watch it in November, the middle ground between both holidays. There’s no movie that sings the praises of both Halloween and Christmas so passionately. If you’re looking to instantly become psyched for either holiday just throw this move on and you’ll be ready to carve jack-o’-lanterns or wrap presents in no time.
The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, the leader of the citizens of Halloween Town who work each year to create a true terrifying Halloween, a job they all take enormous joy in doing. When Jack laments that his job is the same year after year, he magically comes across a town completely different from his home: Christmas Town. Elated by his discovery, Jack decides that this year he and his frightening friends will take over the holiday and put their own twist on Christmas.
It is absolutely WILD that this is the movie people most associate with Tim Burton and his signature aesthetic and yet he neither directed nor wrote the screenplay for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton is a producer as well as the one who came up with the story, characters and many of the iconic designs. He may have not been directly behind the camera but every frame and line of The Nightmare Before Christmas is positively brimming with his unique touch. Seriously, part of me can’t believe that Disney was on board to produce this movie. Actually, originally the movie was deemed too scary for Disney so it was released through Touchstone but then when it became popular, Disney gladly embraced it. The terrifying visuals alone though! Literally pause the movie at any point and your jaw will drop that Disney agreed to include such visuals in one of their animated movies. It’s so not on brand for them and amazing that they wanted to be a part of it.
Practically every frame of this movie is iconic. The character and production design are brilliant, intricate and the very apex of Burton’s imagination and aesthetic. I would say that The Nightmare Before Christmas is the movie you should absolutely first show to someone who has never seen a Burton movie before. Well, that and Beetlejuice (1988). Or Batman (1989). There are too many good ones to choose! Watching this movie like an open invitation into the mind of the eclectic filmmaker and oh wow, is it a spooky, bizarre, yet wonderfully intoxicating mind to step into. The world of The Nightmare Before Christmas is so fleshed out and imaginative. You could pause any moment of this movie and be utterly blown away by the amount of thought and work put into every single detail of every prop, setting and character. The art is beautiful, amazing to look at and absolutely holds up to this day.
I spoke about it at length in my review of Coraline (2009) – check it out, here – but it can’t be said enough how amazing the art of stop-motion animation is. It took three whole years of production to make this movie happen. That’s a level of dedication to an art form than I don’t think anyone else in the moviemaking business possesses. So once again, let’s give an enormous round of applause to those talented and devoted artists who make masterpieces like The Nightmare Before Christmas. A masterpiece that is thoroughly enjoyable and well-paced despite being only 70 minutes long! I love the choice to make this movie stop-motion. Not only is director Henry Selick a master of the genre, but it’s also a cheeky wink to all of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials from the 1960s and 1970s. Of course, with far spookier designs than any of those specials. Spooky and ridiculously iconic. Everything about Jack and Sally’s designs, as well as the signature spiral hill they declare their love for each other on, are burned into my mind.
Now, can we talk about the music? Talk about iconic! The score is hauntingly beautiful which is no surprise because it’s composed by the incomparable Danny Elfman who also scored Coraline, Beetlejuice, Batman and Spider-Man (2002). Elfman also wrote all of the songs and is even the singing voice for Jack! All of the songs in The Nightmare Before Christmas are fantastic but Elfman really popped off with the opening number. I apologize for repeating this word over and over, but “This Is Halloween” is iconic. ICONIC. It’s such a fun, artistic, wonderfully brilliant way to establish the tone and style for the rest of the movie that is wrapped up in one of the all-time great Halloween anthems. Honestly, you could just watch this amazing opening number and be like, “holy fuck that was awesome, I don’t need to see anything else.” Of course, stick around because there’s still so much more frightening fun to be had. I also really get a kick out of “What’s This?” because it captures Jack’s innocent curiosity of learning that there’s more to the world than just what he’s familiar with. All the musical numbers in The Nightmare Before Christmas are filled with just as much choreography, precision and talent as any live-action musical. Apparently there have been several stage adaptations of this movie which is great because I can only imagine it would be a KILLER production to see live.
There’s so much to enjoy about The Nightmare Before Christmas but I think what I like best about it is that except for Oogie Boogie, no one in Halloween Town is actually mean or evil. They simply scare people and be creepy because it’s just who they are. They love to celebrate Halloween to the fullest and take their jobs as professional Halloween scarers with as much zeal as Santa takes to Christmas. As a well-documented Halloween enthusiast, I feel right at home with he citizens of Halloween Town. I also love the cute and charming way that Jack and the other citizens earnestly try to understand what Christmas is. They try to fit the idea of the holiday into their world view without diminishing it or feeling like they have no place in celebrating it. They genuinely try to celebrate Christmas the best way they know how and I love the creepy way they interpret it. Damn. It’s only been a week since Halloween and I can’t express how bummed I am that it’s over and I have to wait another year for it to come around again.
People have been obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas since it was released so much so that I think the booming sales of the movie’s merchandise has kept stores like Hot Topic in business for years. It’s no surprise why people are so enamoured with this movie that they’re willing to have Jack Skellington’s face printed on every item in their house. This movie is captivating, spooky, unique and the perfect blend of everybody’s two favourite holidays. In a word, it’s perfect. Please God, please never let Disney foolishly decide to greenlight a sequel or worse, a live-action remake.
Are you a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!