Is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? The answer is neither. It is a Tim Burton movie!
Not even past the opening credits did I realize this 1993 film was viewed by childhood Chris multiple, multiple times. Back when I was but an even younger youngster. Little Chris did not know the crowd of Tim Burton fans is probably smaller than many would admit, but regardless, “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” stands the test of time with ease, telling the creepy, yet questionably endearing tale of Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon).
Jack lives in the absurd land of Halloweentown, which for some may bring back literally distorted memories of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” or “Nosferatu” from the German Expressionism period of filmmaking. Each denizen of the dark shadowed land is stranger than the last one you saw. If the first creature you spot has snakes for eyes, the next is probably vomiting spiders. Yes, I must admit I’m not sure how my parents thought this was appropriate for young Chris to watch, yet at the same time, for some reason, it seems fine for kids; at least the older ones.
While being creeped on by the love-crazy, sewn together Sally (Catherine O’Hare) Jack laments over his denial and tiredness of being known as “Jack, the Pumpkin King”. Much to his surprise, Jack discovers a set of colorful tree doors, with one leading to the wonderful world of Christmastown. Eventually it leads to a plot to kidnap and usurp Santa, or Sandy, Claus, replacing him and his jolly toys with both Jack, and a mess of dangerous and extra-frightening, living, entertainment, with an evil spin, respectively. Woah, that was a sentence. Within time we meet the horrible sack villain Oogie Boogie, played by American cabaret singer and actor, Ken Page. Each character we meet fills us with intrigue and desire to know more about their origins.
Danny Elfman and Burton no doubt spent countless hours together securing the sound score for “Nightmare”. Sometimes musicals have pointless songs that seem to do nothing to push our story forward. Each musical number serves many purpose, whether it’s Jack’s interest and discovery in the people of Christmastown, or the misunderstanding of Halloweentown’s people over the meaning of Christmas. Every song is quite catchy and somehow perfectly melds the jingles of Christmas with the gloominess of Halloween.
On paper, the story of “Nightmare” is Jack’s disdain of who he is deep down (the Pumpkin King) and his desire to be something he is not (Santa Claus, or something like it). It’s a story of identity, and looking places you don’t belong to find it. Sally’s character strives to find the righteous and intended purposes of both Christmas and Halloween and realizes the two cannot be blended. She tries to thwart Jack’s plan, that way the elements are balanced properly and their world isn’t flipped upside down. We discover very quickly that the two holidays exist separately for a reason, and by mixing them, disastrous results ensue. Regardless, Burton, and director Henry Selick (Coraline, James and the Giant Peach) somehow manage to put the Burtonesque twist on the otherwise jolly land of Christmastown.
There is something to be said about the many odd beings living in Halloweentown and their lack of understanding about Christmas, and what it stands for. It almost seems like a call out to the many ignorant people of our society and how close-minded Burton might believe them to be. Perhaps it’s similar to how Burton thinks other people see his own strange work. He obviously doesn’t care much, since post-1993, his work has only grown stranger, or hasn’t much changed at all.
Nevertheless, “Nightmare” stands as a wonderful in-between for Halloween and Christmas. It’s something to watch with the family, with just a bit of discretion. It’s also on Netflix. Does that make it easier for you? Revisit your younger years, friends of the ‘90s. It’s nostalgia overload.