Christmas movie review: The Nightmare Before Christmas

13 December 2011

Written by: Mary-Lou Ciampa

It’s not often that a Christmas movie leaves you trembling in fear, clinging to your mother’s leg, crying ‘No more, mummy. No more’. However, this is exactly how I felt when first viewing Tim Burton’s unconventional holiday film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It should be noted that my first viewing of this film wasn’t just last week, although I still do occasionally like to cling to my mother’s leg. No, I was just seven years old and did not particularly appreciate Burton’s macabre sense of Christmas cheer. I’m glad to report, however, that since that fateful screening, this film has become a Christmas tradition in my household – minus the tear filled terror tantrum.

As an adult, the film has a completely different effect on my senses. Rather than filling me with horror, it baits my imagination, sucking me into the world of Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), the pumpkin king of Halloween Town.

This tortured soul is the mastermind behind each year’s Halloween festivities, yet despite this, he is plagued with indifference about the holiday. Cue a reflective walk through the woods where the spindly legged protagonist comes across an entrance to the magical holiday world of Christmas Town.

Skellington is so taken by this enchanting, snow covered world that on his return home, he convinces the inhabitants of Halloween Town to abandon their usual celebrations and start preparations for Christmas instead.

The hero of this film is without question the animation. Stop motion director Henry Selick invents a memorable and instantly recognisable style with this film that can also be noticed in films such as James and the Giant Peach and Coraline.

Selick’s interpretation of Burton’s atypical imagination results in a ghoulish world that is visually captivating – featuring zombies, werewolves and the ever popular ‘Sandy Claws’. The highlight of this unearthly brew of beings is most certainly the Oogie Boogie man, who features in a spectacular scene of black-lit bullying, preventing the real Santa Claus from his annual duties.

Burton has a unique talent of creating loveable yet misunderstood characters – think Edward Scissorhands or Batman – and Jack Skellington is no exception. He becomes even more endearing as his efforts to create the perfect Christmas go pear shaped – or jack-o-lantern shaped as the case may be.

His love interest Sally (Catherine O’Hara, a regular in Burton films) is as equally charming as the Frankenstein-like creation that dreams of a life with the pumpkin king. Whilst this film is for children, the characters and the spooky world of Halloween Town can be a little too much for some kids to handle – not unlike myself at age seven.

The music is where this film falls down. Danny Elfman takes the helm as the film’s composer – also as the singing voice of Jack Skellington – and has been a long-time collaborator with Burton. Although the songs are enjoyable, they are not particularly memorable, unlike some other children’s film scores that have you singing out of the theatre.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is definitely not your typical Christmas movie. Nevertheless, this off-kilter world filled with bugs and beasties never fails to warm my heart with its own unique Christmas charm.

Lauren Morton is in her second year of a Bachelor of Media Studies at La Trobe University. You can follow Lauren on Twitter: @Le_Morton.

upstart will be reviewing Christmas movies in December 2011. Full details for contributing and a list of Christmas movie reviews are on this page.