Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is celebrating its 25th anniversary and in those 25 years, I had never seen it. You might think it odd since Burton is one of my favorite filmmakers (even though it was actually directed by Henry Sellick, Burton’s fingerprints are all over this thing). I guess when it first came out, I was a broody teenager who felt I was “too old” to see an animated movie. My daughter, who is nine, and is obsessed with all things stop-motion, hadn’t seen it, so what better way for both of us to experience it for the first time than in a theater?
You all probably know more about the movie than I do, but it’s all about Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon, with a singing voice provided by Danny Elfman), the Pumpkin King who lords over Halloweentown. He’s gotten bored with all the skeletons, graveyards, and ghosts and shit, so he’s become even more despondent than usual. When he finds a door leading to Christmastown, he gathers all his ghoulish friends together to do Christmas their way… which leads to some predictably disastrous results.
The world Sellick and Burton creates is a thing of beauty. It’s kind of like Mad Monster Party, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas all rolled into one. While the plot may be as thin as Jack is, the film is visually dazzling, fast-paced, and enormously entertaining. The standout sequence comes when Jack kidnaps Santa and leaves ghoulish gifts to all the girls and boys, but the throwaway moments like when he plays fetch with his dog using his own rib are equally amusing.
If there is a problem, it’s that some of the songs sound the same. Because of Elfman’s talk-sing delivery, many of the songs have a tendency to blur together. Only “What’s This” and the opening number “This is Halloween” have any pizzazz. (Part of me just wishes he was still singing the way he did when he was in Oingo Boingo, but that’s just me.)