Craggus’ Christmas Countdown Day 5: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
It was a bit of a coin toss as to whether I included this in the countdown. Is it a Christmas film about Halloween or a Halloween film about Christmas? Tricky one, but I decided it qualifies as a Christmas film as it’s ultimately about Jack Skellington discovering ‘the true meaning of Christmas’.
Way back in 1993, when Tim Burton’s trademark aesthetic still felt fresh and different, not tired and utterly played out, he crafted this little tale which he had been tinkering with for over ten years. Starting as a poem inspired by, amongst other things, ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’, Burton’s fable is an unashamedly creepy visual treat, overflowing with lovingly crafted details both in the production design and the storytelling. Unlike yesterday’s movie, “The Grinch”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” shows just how to balance bright and cheery with dark and spooky without compromising either.
When Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, grows disillusioned with Halloween, he stumbles across Christmas Town. Enchanted by the style and feel spirit of Christmas, Jack makes plans to usurp Santa Claus, believing that he can deliver Christmas as successfully as he deliver Halloween. When Jack’s plans go awry, he decides to try to put things back as they were but, Oogie Boogie the bogeyman has plans of his own.
The character design is exquisite, both in terms of Halloween and Christmas and the finale where Santa shows there are no hard feelings is a lovely, feel-good moment. Despite the grim, surreal Burton-esque design everything – even the vampires and werewolves – ends up being adorable.
It may not be everyone’s cup of mulled wine, but there’s a deceptively festive spirit behind the cobwebs and tombstones and the Jack Skellington song ‘What’s This?’ may be one of the most perfect encapsulations of a child’s reaction to Christmas ever created.
ReasonableCritic December 7, 2013
It would not be Halloween without this wonderful segue into winter. TNBC is the definition of a classic. It actually gets better each year, as movies in general grow more and more dependent on CGI.
Burton’s whimsical gothic aesthetic IS played out, but I don’t think the state of his career is as dire as some people say. It’s true that, given the subversive source material, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland were disappointingly safe and frustratingly slick. But Sweeney Todd has that whole gothic thing going on, yet it’s one of Burton’s very best, a visionary film that is far darker than his usual work, and exudes total commitment and sheer creative willpower. And I don’t think he could have made it during his “golden period” (Beetlejuice through Ed Wood). I do think that, after his failure in triplicate last year (Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Frankenweenie, and Dark Shadows) he recognizes that he needs to shake things up, which is why he’s tackling Big Eyes. I would like to think that he’s just been in a rut for the past few years, stuck in his comfort zone, and that he will bounce back and grow as an artist in the process.
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