barrel, catherine o'hara, chris sarandon, Christmas, christmas elves, christmas town, claymation, creatures, danny elfman, Disney, disney animated, disney animated feature, disney animated movie, disney animation, disney review, dr. finklestein, elves, experiments, finale reprise, finklestein, gambling monster, ghost dog, glenn shadix, greg proops, Halloween, halloween town, halloweentown, harlequin demon, haunted mansion holiday, henry selick, jack skellington, jack's lament, jack's obsession, ken page, kidnap the sandy claws, lock, lock shock and barrel, mad scientist, making christmas, mayor, monsters, nightmare before christmas, oogie, oogie boogie, oogie boogie's song, paul reubens, poor jack, rudolph, sally, sally's song, sandy claws, santa claus, shock, simply meant to be, stop motion animation, stop-motion, the nightmare before christmas, this is halloween, tim burton, touchstone, touchstone pictures, town meeting song, what's this, zero
(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images and footage used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.)
Longer now than it seems
In a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams
For the story that you are about to be told
Took place in the holiday worlds of old.
Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from.
If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you’d begun…”
– Opening narration
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a movie that I’ve always had a personal connection to. It was released when I was just a child, but I can still remember seeing ads and toys for it in certain places and being oddly fascinated by it, despite the fact that it had ghosts and skeletons and monsters and other such things that would usually scare the bejeezus out of me at that age. I can still remember my first time ever seeing the movie – not in theaters, but at my cousin’s third birthday party. He was a year younger than me, and on his birthday that year, all us kids gathered in the basement of his house and watched this movie in the dark. Whether there were any adults there to supervise us I can’t say, but I can say that I was enraptured by every second of it. I can vaguely remember some of the other children being a little afraid, but I wasn’t (well, maybe for two parts, but those were rather quick moments that didn’t traumatize me as much as you might think). Up until then I had never seen anything like The Nightmare Before Christmas; it was dark but not gruesome, lighthearted without being sappy, humorous, heartwarming, and the visuals and the music stayed in my head long afterwards.
I remember really enjoying it, but a long time passed between that one viewing and the next time I would see it again. For whatever reason, maybe they thought I would be too scared by it, my parents never bought the movie for me. It wasn’t until I was about thirteen or fourteen that I caught it on HBO one day, and all those memories of watching it through the eyes of a child came flooding back. I became obsessed with The Nightmare Before Christmas big time, watching it and listening to the soundtrack even when it wasn’t Halloween or Christmas, learning all I could about the movie via books and dvd bonus features, and yes, making fanart of the characters. It was my gateway to the dark and quirky world of Tim Burton, and seeing as how I was also going through an angry, rebellious, anti-Rankin-Bass phase as a teenager, I embraced this movie with open arms while my family looked on with something that wasn’t quite disgust and wasn’t quite confusion.
So you may be wondering what the story behind this odd little film is. Well, back in the 80’s Tim Burton worked for Disney as an animator. Yes, the Man of Merry Macabre once worked for the bright and squeaky-clean House of Mouse. I still have a hard time believing it (What Alice in Wonderland movie? Disney only made one Wonderland film and it was animated, silly!) Burton’s time at Disney wasn’t a happy one as most of his ideas were shot down for being too dark and different and he wasn’t too keen on drawing only cutesy animals for a living.
One day, while walking down a street, he came across a window display in a store having its Halloween decorations switched out with Christmas ones and inspiration struck. He wrote a poem based on the classic holiday tome “The Night Before Christmas” showing what happened when two holidays collided. Initially he pitched it as a half-hour stop-motion special, ironically in the style of Rankin-Bass, and he wanted it to be narrated by his idol, Vincent Price. Disney, however, wasn’t interested, and Burton would eventually leave the studio. It wasn’t until after he achieved popularity with “Beetlejuice” and “Batman” that Disney approached him with the idea of turning The Nightmare Before Christmas into a movie. Burton was all for it, but couldn’t direct it himself due to his commitment to filming “Batman Returns”. Instead, he got stop-motion artist Henry Selick to direct it.
Now I’d like to clarify something right away – this is a Tim Burton movie through and through; his name and signature style may be all over this film (heck, the title of the film is preceded by Burton’s name just to remind you whose brainchild it was), but I cannot give enough credit to Henry Selick. The man is a genius of stop-motion; his name is up there with Ray Harryhausen and Nick Park as the best in the business. People often assume that because it’s a Burton film with his name in the title that Tim Burton directed it, but it’s not. Selick did an amazing job with this movie and I’m happy to say it’s led to a very fruitful career for him, directing other stop-motion greats such as James and the Giant Peach and Coraline. Even though there have been innovations in animation since then, this film looks just as great today as it did twenty years ago. So while the story and characters are pure Tim Burton, this movie is just as much Henry Selick’s as it is Tim’s. You’ll see why when I finally get around to reviewing it…
…which is now.
We open in the middle of a forest, where, in a clearing, there is a circle of trees, each one with a door representing a different holiday – an egg for Easter, a heart for Valentine’s Day, a clover for St. Patrick’s Day, a Christmas tree for Christmas, a turkey for Thanksgiving, a jack-o-lantern for Halloween, and one which for years I was unsure was either a firecracker for 4th of July or a dreidel for Hanukkah. We can only imagine how this film would have turned out if it was “The Nightmare Before Hanukkah” instead of Christmas.
Anyway, as the opening narration wraps up, we enter the jack-o-lantern door and we get our first musical number “This is Halloween.”
Oh, and did I forget to mention that longtime Tim Burton collaborator and former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman did the music for this movie? How foolish of me. How could it have possibly slipped my mind when this music is OHMYGOSHUNBELIVABLYAWESOMEANDBEAUTIFULANDBLAAAAAAGHHHH –
Uh, can I pay you to pretend that didn’t just happen?
To put that orgasm in better words, the songs in this movie are simply brilliant. They’re gold standards of not just Disney songs, but musicals in general because they do what a song in a musical should do:
- Show what the character is feeling or experiencing (if not just flat-out saying who they are)
- Move the plot forward
Every song does one of these two things, and some of them manage to do both. They’re catchy and memorable, and the visuals that accompany them make them stand out even more. Case in point? “This is Halloween”.
“This is Halloween” introduces us to the dark and spooky world that personifies the holiday and its inhabitants. The camera is almost always moving, twisting past shadowy corners and leaving you wondering what strange, intriguing horrors await you at the next turn. We see different kinds of monsters, zombies, vampires, ghosts (which are done by cell animation) and all other kinds of other creatures singing of their love for the holiday and what they do.
This is also where we get one of the only two bits that freaked me out a little when I was younger – the one and only sighting of “the one hiding under your bed”, which is nothing but a pair of jaws and gleaming red eyes. It’s not so much the face that scared me (actually it is, especially for the fact that the gnashing teeth appear first and then the eyes), but also that you never see what the rest of it looks like. You see what the Monster Under the Stairs looks like and that’s all well and good, he plays a small part throughout all this as most of the creatures of Halloween Town do, but the bed monster? Does it even have a physical form? Even as an adult it still kind scares me. I don’t know whether it’s better or worse that this is the one appearance it has in the whole film.
Like I said before, this is where we get introduced to the people…beings…things that we will see throughout the movie, and one of the lyrics reveals something important about them. They may be creatures of the night, they all look really messed up even by Tim Burton standards, but what they do isn’t out of any malice. The scares they make are all in good fun and keeping with the true spirit of the holiday. As the lyric goes, “That’s our job, but we’re not mean, in our town of Halloween.” The fact that it’s also sung by a family make it a little bit poignant, even if it is a family of corpses.
The song reaches fever pitch at the arrival of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, hailed by the citizens as the most terrifying being of them all. The once stationary scarecrow that we passed in the beginning comes to life, setting itself on fire and dancing about wildly before diving into a fountain and emerging in his true form.
The celebration comes to an end and everyone begins praising Jack (Chris Sarandon) for another Halloween well done. One being, however, can only admire Jack from afar. This is Sally (Catherine O’Hara), a Frankenstein-esque ragdoll who’s a young naive redheaded dreamer with an overbearing father figure ignorant of her needs and –
Hang on a second…
Sally is a sweet, shy girl who wants to talk to Jack, but is discovered by her creator/possible father figure, local mad scientist Dr. Finklestein. The doctor originally created her to be his servant and isn’t too fond of her going outside, especially since she often does so by slipping him something in his tea to knock him out. Sally manages to escape him by pulling the string keeping her arm together (PULL THE STRING! PULL THE STRING!) and running away minus one limb. Never fear, she still has control over her dismembered limbs, and that will definitely come in handy later.
…I just realized I made a horrible pun and I am so, so sorry for that.
Jack sneaks away from his admirers for some downtime in the local graveyard. Sally, who happened to be hiding out there, watches him stroll among the tombstones and summon his ghostly dog, Zero.
Then we go into our next song, “Jack’s Lament”, wherein Jack reflects on his greatest scares and commends himself on his frightening abilities. Despite all the acclaim he’s received, however, scaring isn’t as fulfilling as it once was. His claim to fame has become a tiresome routine. He longs for something new but doesn’t know what. I know my description may sound dull, but hey, I’m not as good with words as Danny Elfman. As he ponders his emptiness, we get the most iconic scene of the film, Jack climbing the large spiral hill silhouetted in front of a bright full moon. It’s an eerily beautiful sight that matches the song perfectly.
Speaking of, Chris Sarandon may do a great job voicing Jack, but credit should go to Elfman as well because he provides Jack’s singing voice and he sounds absolutely amazing. This past summer I was lucky to see the live concert featuring the scores for his collaborations with Tim Burton, and when he sung the part of Jack for the Nightmare Before Christmas segment, it was like hearing these songs again for the very first time. Elfman is in his 60’s, but all these years later he is still a true showman, and Jack is one of the finest roles he’s ever stepped into.
Jack wanders off into the forest followed by Zero, and Sally decides to make herself known only to find him gone (That sad timid “I know how you feel” before she walks away gets to me everytime). Before returning to Dr. Finkelstein, she picks some more deadly nightshade for later poisonings. Finklestein sews her back up and we get to see more of their relationship. She wants to break free of his control but he tells it’s just a restless phase (no wonder goth teens love this movie). As much as you can count the parallels between her and most teenage girls, we see that Sally is by far the most sensible and sane character in a world that’s utterly topsy-turvy. And that’s saying something considering she sneaks out of the house by drugging her creator, who, I might add, has a lid on his skull so he can mess with his own brain.
The next morning, the Mayor (Glenn Shadix) arrives at Jack’s house to get started planning for next Halloween but panics when he finds he’s not there. The Mayor is one of the more fun characters in the movie, a little man whose face spins around from happy to sad when he feels it, making him a literal two-faced politician. Three zombified street musicians that appear throughout the movie to provide background music tell him that he hasn’t returned home since last night, worrying him. (“I’m only an elected official, I can’t make decisions by myself!”)
Jack wakes up in the middle of the woods, having walked there throughout the night. It’s here he comes across the circle of holiday trees (I’m a bit confused as to why he doesn’t come out through the Halloween door but I’m not going to harp on it.) Jack is intrigued, but the one door that catches his eye is the Christmas door. He opens it and is disappointed to find nothing inside…until a wintry breeze swirls around him and pulls him in. After falling through the holiday version of the rabbit hole, Jack lands in Christmas Town…
…And it’s the stop-motion equivalent of Dorothy seeing Oz for the very first time.
After all the dark and gloom of Halloween Town, Christmas Town is really an eyewash of color. The production designers were told to make sure the two worlds were as opposite as possible. There are obvious differences, such as Christmas Town being brighter and warmer, but look at how the buildings are structured. Halloween Town’s buildings look like something you could cut yourself on if you touched. Christmas Town’s houses are softer and intentionally styled after Dr. Seuss (and seeing how this story is essentially a flipped version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas it makes perfect sense).
Jack explores Christmas Town just barely avoiding being discovered despite his rather conspicuous disguises through the song “What’s This?”
This is the song that most people immediately think of (or parody) when it comes to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack’s joy is so infectious it’s hard not to get swept up in his emotional rush. There’s so much glee in every new discovery, occasionally marked with a touch of grim humor (“There’s children throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads/They’re busy building toys and absolutely no one’s dead!”) Even though the song is considerably shorter than “This is Halloween”, we still see enough of Christmas Town to draw us in and understand how the world works. This whole scene just reaches into what’s left of my inner child in how each finding brings more curiosity and delight. Every time Jack leaps on top of the train and belts to the heavens that he wants more of this wonderful feeling to call his own, for a brief moment, I too feel that swell of hope and ecstasy that he does.
Back in Halloween Town, the Mayor is conducting a search for Jack with the other citizens that isn’t going well. They’ve searched everywhere from the pumpkin patch to the mausoleums to even behind the cyclops’ eye (and after watching Shark Movies’ parody of this film I can’t watch this part without thinking about their hilariously dark take on it). Determined to join the search, Sally poisons Dr. Finklestein’s stew, covering up the smell with Frog’s Breath.
She takes the stew to the doctor, who’s immediately suspicious and orders her to taste it first. Always one with a trick up her sleeve, Sally knocks the spoon out of his hand, takes out a different one with holes in it that she was hiding and uses it to fool him.
Later in the day, Jack returns in a snowmobile piled high with artifacts taken from Christmas Town. He calls for a town meeting so he can tell everyone all about his discovery, which leads into another song titled…”Town Meeting Song” (hey, it’s either good songs or good song titles, you can’t have it both ways). Jack’s audience is enthralled by what he presents, the problem being that no matter what he shows them, they inevitably compare to their grim ideals (when showing them a stocking, they assume there’s a foot inside, and after Jack explains that they’re supposed to be filled with small toys, they ask if they explode or attack or scare children). Unable to share the sense of wonder he feels, Jack appeals to the lowest common denominator and tells them in a spooky way about the mysterious monstrous ruler of Christmas Town, a being known only as “Sandy Claws”. This wins them over, but Jack leaves wishing they could understand why he feels the way he does about Christmas.
As the night wanes on, Jack pores over many his Christmas books desperate to find a meaning to the holiday (I guess Christmas Town was so vast he didn’t think to pick up a copy of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or the Bible). Unable to find anything useful, he turns to the last possible source for answers –
Jack visits Dr. Finklestein the next morning to borrow some scientific equipment to perform some experiments on Christmas itself to come up with a logical meaning to it all. The following montage features Jack’s experiments going not quite as he hoped. It’s almost completely silent, with the animation and Danny Elfman’s score doing all the talking for it, and it does a great job capturing Jack’s mounting frustration and confusion hilariously, such as his attempt at creating a paper snowflake.
Meanwhile, Sally, who’s been locked up by the Doctor for her transgressions the previous night, makes Jack a care package of some non-poisoned food and gets it to the ground with some string from the window of her tower. But what about her? She’s so high up and far away. Seeing the glowing light from Jack’s window fills her with so much love for him that she leaps from the tower, landing in a heap of body parts (Sally, honey, you’ve got it all wrong. You have to wait for Jack to think you’re dead and stab himself first BEFORE you do something this drastic for love). Don’t worry, she survives and sews herself back together and continues on her way like nothing happened. Even the musicians on the corner who visibly winced at her fall shrug it off like this thing happens all the time.
Sally delivers the basket of goodies to Jack but is too shy to stick around. After picking a flower, she receives a strange vision – the flower turns into a miniature version of Jack’s Christmas tree, spinning and glowing brightly until it suddenly bursts into flame and burns into nothing.
Jack obsesses into the wee hours of the morning, where the citizens begin voicing their concerns over him being shut up for so long. In “Jack’s Obsession”, he repeats his yuletide conundrum, exploring every answer but hitting a wall each time. It isn’t until Zero brings Jack a picture of himself to remind him who he is that inspiration strikes. Like anyone who can’t properly explain something they don’t understand, he decides to do the next best thing – CONQUER IT!
Jack assembles the townsfolk to give them each assignments from making presents to creating reindeer. It’s here that we’re introduced to a trio of mean little trick-or-treaters, Lock, Shock and Barrel (Paul Reubens, Catherine O’Hara and Danny Elfman respectively).
Jack has given them a top-secret mission – kidnap Santa Claus so Jack can take his place on Christmas Eve. He also warns them to leave “that no-account Oogie Boogie” out of this at all costs. They promise, but with their fingers crossed. The threesome make their way to their treehouse on the outskirts of town and sing of their plans to “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” and all the fun tortures they plan on putting him through. The song is one of those speak-singy types that makes it one of the weaker tunes in the movie but the chorus is insanely catchy. Each of the devised tortures is delightfully gruesome and it also serves to foreshadow the film’s antagonist and their boss, Oogie Boogie.
Back in Halloween Town, Sally tries to warn Jack of her vision of a fiery doom-filled Christmas but Jack, blinded by his positivity, ignores it.
The mere sight of Halloween Town traumatizes the Easter Bunny and Jack orders them to take him back home (but not before he makes one helluva nightmare face to get them to stop fighting with each other). After that, we get the next big number, “Making Christmas”. This one a lot of people claim is their favorite song, but it’s a bit too repetitive for me. On the plus side, we see some darkly humorous comparisons of how Halloween Town and Christmas Town prepare for Christmas and we hear Danny Elfman sing some more (which is always a good thing). Still, I can’t help but feel the gifts that the citizens have prepared teeter on the edge of being…unholy abominations? I can’t really think of anyone or anything that would think these are good other than the citizens themselves.
The time quickly passes and soon it’s Christmas Eve. Santa’s second checking of the nice/naughty list is interrupted when Lock, Shock and Barrel come a-knocking and bag him.
You know, after all that plotting I thought they would have come up with something cleverer than just snatching him from his doorstep, but they did wait until the last minute to go through with it so I don’t blame them for going with something simple.
In Halloween Town, Sally still tries to convince Jack not to go through with his plans while making the final adjustments to his Santa suit, but Jack doesn’t listen because he’s got his costume to complete, presents to deliver, and Christmas to conquer. He’s swamped. The trick-or-treaters arrive with their hostage and everyone’s reaction to seeing the real Sandy Claws is appropriate.
Jack reassures Santa that he’s got everything under control for Christmas this year, and then he takes his hat because he realizes that’s what his costume has been missing. He asks the kids to make sure Santa’s comfortable, and they can’t think of anything more comfortable than shoving down a too-tiny pipe to the lair of the monster that everyone else in Halloween Town is too afraid to even say his name.
Oh yes, a mere fifty minutes in, we finally meet our villain, Oogie Boogie (Ken Page). He’s been foreshadowed throughout the film (and I mean literally foreshadowed; his animated shadow has appeared no less than three times before we see his true form) and his official entrance into the movie is one of its highlights. The writers and storyboard artists had nothing to go on regarding his character and were waiting for Danny Elfman to come up with a song that would set him up and introduce him, and what an introduction it is.
While the other songs up to this point have been in the vein of traditional musicals, this song is distinctively 30’s-style jazz directly inspired by Cab Calloway (they even include an exchange from one of the Betty Boop cartoons that featured Calloway – “What are you gonna do?” “I’m gonna do the best I can.”) Those heavy stripper-iffic drumbeats at the start tell you something big and dangerous is coming your way and the bluesy music is as catchy as hell. This number shows you all you need to know about Oogie – he’s a big anthropomorphic sack of insects with a knack for gambling and torture, taking pleasure in every minute of torment he inflicts on his victims and oh-so excited to get started on Santa.
And I may as well come out and say it – Ken Page’s voice is, how can I put this, hella fine. That baritone goes from purring with pleasure to roaring, teasing, sly and plotting while maintaining that air of malicious excitement. He’s so full of glee over having something to toy with that he makes all the punishments he’s about to exact sound, well, kinky (it doesn’t help that he does this whole song while Santa is in bondage). The music, the smooth animation, the transition to bright backlit neon colors and of course that (mmm) voice makes this a scene I always enjoy rewatching.
Back in Halloween Town everyone turns out to see Jack off, but Sally has a rather grinchy plan up her sleeve. She sneaks back into Doctor Finklestein’s lab, steals a jug of Fog Juice (which does exactly what it sounds) and pours it into the town square fountain. It seems as though Jack’s fate is averted and Christmas is ruined…until Zero, with his nose so bright, offers to guide the sleigh tonight.
The deafening cheers of the townsfolk drown out Sally’s protests and Jack, Zero and the skeletal reindeer take to the sky. The crowd scatters and Sally is left alone to lament in song form. “Sally’s Song” is as plain and sad a tune as they come. Catherine O’Hara is no amazing singer by any means, but the simplicity of her voice and the low-key music brings out the emotion of the song perfectly. It’s one that’s been covered by the likes of Fiona Apple and Amy Lee for good reason; it appeals to the sad loner in all of us.
Jack’s Christmas flight goes about as well as you can imagine – the toys come to life and run amok, scaring the bejeezus out of everyone and causing widespread panic and mayhem. Jack, however, mistakes their screams of terror for joy and thinks it’s all going perfectly. The amount of calls pouring in to the police finally convinces them to declare a state of emergency, which is reported on the news. The Halloweentowners watch in delight as Jack is declared a menace but Sally is the only concerned when she hears that the military is mobilizing to take him down. Instinctively, she sets out to find Santa. The army starts shooting at Jack, but he takes it as them celebrating and continues on his way.
Back in Oogie’s lair, we see Oogie is about to begin 50 Shades of Sandy when he’s distracted by a sumptuous lady leg poking out from a corner which is actually Sally up to her decapitation tricks again. She frees Santa while Oogie goes over and flirts with who he thinks is flaunting to him, whispering desires in that deep, low voice, his snakey tongue darting out ever so slightly before removing her shoe and tickling her, teasing her with a light but determined touch of one experienced in the art of arousal, all the while taunting with that baritone that could drive a woman to her knees screaming for more and not letting go until he’s made her his…
…I realized I have to go rub something. I’ll be right back.
What? My hands get all dry and scratchy this time of year and I have to rub lotion on them almost every hour because I hate that feeling. Did you think I was stopping the review for something else? You people…
Just as it seems they’re about to escape, Oogie pulls on the leg a bit too far and the ruse is exposed. Enraged, he sucks them back into the lair with his suction breath because boogeymen are the same species as Kirby, I guess?
Meanwhile, the military finally gets a good shot at Jack’s sleigh. To his horror, he realizes that they’re intentionally aiming for him. With one direct hit, Jack is blown out of the sky and falls while ironically declaring the last lines of the poem his story is inspired by (“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good niiiiight…”)
The people of Halloween Town mourn the apparent death of their beloved leader and the Mayor goes out to declare the sad news. Simultaneously the police announce the equally depressing news that with no sign of the real Santa in sight, Christmas will be cancelled. Jack overhears them calling him an imposter (yes, he survived and landed in a graveyard of all places) and his eyeholes are opened to the disastrous consequences of his actions.
This next song, “Poor Jack” is, in my opinion, the most perfectly orchestrated song in the entire movie. It starts out low-key and somber as Jack takes in the ruins of his Christmas burning around him and laments the wrong he’s done. The horns nearly overpower him as he’s nearly consumed by his shame. It all becomes quiet again as he ponders that this chaos was never what he really wanted and no one truly understood his intentions, but the music grows into a triumphant blast as he comes to the conclusion that while the whole taking over Christmas thing was a bust, he still had a helluva time doing it and it’s going down in history. What’s more, he’s feeling even more inspired for next Halloween and is determined to create more imaginative scares than ever.
Intentional or not, this is actually a pretty good moral. It’s good to try something different, though it doesn’t necessarily mean it will succeed. And when it doesn’t, you can’t let failure get you down. Something should be taken from each letdown that can pave the way for something even better. Good on Jack for picking up on that.
Jack’s revels are short-lived as he remembers that Christmas is only a few hours away and he’s the only one who can set things right. He makes his way back to Halloween Town via hidden tombstone door (our family has something like that on our burial plot). Oogie prepares to add Sally and Santa to his stew, enthused over hearing about Jack’s demise. He teases them by slowly lowering them closer and closer to their demise, declaring their screams are making him weak with hunger while his tones make me weak with…
Just as Santa and Sally are about to meet a salt-free noodle-infused doom, they’re suddenly teleported out of danger (how?) by Jack (HOW?) who shocks Oogie by appearing in their place (HOW??) while they appear in an iron maiden (HOW – oh never mind). Jack makes it clear that he’s not happy with what Oogie is doing and Oogie is more than a little afraid to see Jack. They never say it, but the way they talk about and act around each other means that clearly these two have some shared past and I’m dying to know it. Were they rivals once? Friends forced on opposite sides of a holiday war? Did Jack dethrone Oogie as de facto leader of Halloween Town and exile him to his pit, or did Oogie attempt to force Halloween back to its darker roots at some point and Jack had to come to the rescue? Surely in the twenty plus years since its release Disney’s come up with some cool backstory about them –
Oogie activates every trap in his lair to take out Jack and the ensuing battle (if you can really call it that since they never actually hit each other) is gorgeously animated. Jack’s moves are so fluid and precise that you have to watch this part multiple times to appreciate the hours of work put into it.
Oogie attempts to make a quick getaway after Jack dodges his pitfalls but Jack catches a string that’s coming off of him and pulls it, unraveling Oogie’s skin and revealing –
Oogie falls apart like an insectoid Wicked Witch of the West with most of the bugs falling into the stew and dying instantaneously (if you don’t have fire on handy to kill bugs, Campbell’s will do just as nicely) and Santa squishes the last remaining insect that’s been controlling them all. Jack apologizes and Santa tells him that if he weren’t the only one who could save Christmas he’d stick around to kick his ass and chew bubblegum and he’s all out of gum. Geez Santa, I know he may have nearly doomed you and all, but give the skeleton some credit for coming back and saving your life! He departs up the chimney, leaving Sally alone to comfort Jack. Jack finally realizes what Sally means to him but before they can say anything the Mayor arrives with Lock Shock and Barrel to bring them back to town (and they knew he was down there in the first place thanks to the power of deleted footage!).
As Santa goes about righting Jack’s wrongs in our world, the citizens wake up to find their hero has come home. Jack looks up to see Santa has forgiven him by bringing a gift of snow to Halloween. This turns into a reprise of “What’s This” where everyone finally shares in a little bit of Jack’s joy and they play in the snow together. For as frightening as the creatures are, this scene is very charming. Jack, however, is distracted when he sees Sally going off to the graveyard alone.
Atop the spiral hill in the light of the moon, Sally picks one of the flowers and does “he loves me, he loves me not” until Jack appears. In a reprise of “Sally’s Song”, the two profess their feelings and share a passionate kiss. Seeing his master finally happy, Zero flies up into the sky and becomes a star.
And that is Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, one of my all-time favorite movies. The more astute of you may have noticed that there’s not much in the way of plot or characterization, but that’s the kind of film that it’s trying to be. It’s a dark, simplistic fairy tale with more emphasis on visuals and pure visceral emotion, and it succeeds on both levels. Even so, the characters are memorable and likeable, the animation is stunning, and do I even have to say anything more regarding the music? The overall result is breathtaking. Each time I watch I find some new detail that I’ve somehow missed before. It’s a wonderful film that shows the macabre as not something to be entirely feared but celebrated as much as our more lighthearted holidays, and I look forward to every annual viewing (and this is one movie where I can say the 3-D re-release is definitely worth checking out, especially on the big screen). As a staple of both Halloween and Christmas, it is quite simply the (Pumpkin) King.
Thank you for reading. If you like what you see and want more reviews, vote for what movie you want me to look at next by leaving it in the comments or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, you can only vote once a month. The list of movies available to vote for are under “What’s On the Shelf”.
So…firework or dreidel? Your thoughts.