Sunday Movies- The Nightmare Before Christmas
"Boys and girls of every age, wouldn't you like to see something strange?"
While Tim Burton's classic begins with its famous narration from Ed Ivory, the first line of the film's opening song- This is Halloween is the perfect introduction to what to expect. It's a fantastical, spooky treat that encapsulates so perfectly what Halloween is all about, just as all the musical numbers tell this dark tale. So what is it about Nightmare that makes the story and music so endearing?
The Nightmare Before Christmas has done what few other films have done before- fitting itself perfectly into two holiday seasons. It's why it is perfect to discuss now in November, as we unwind from the spooky season and gear up for the yuletide madness.
Nightmare has famously embedded itself into an entire generation who relate to the festive film so much that it's even lapsed into their clothes, furniture, and potentially, family. Come on, who doesn't want a little white dog named Zero?
The stop motion classic is great for a Sunday movie as it not only gives us the warmth and charm of Christmas but also the fun and chaos of Halloween. All of this in 76 glorious minutes. Fairytales and children's stories are often associated with comfort and security thanks to their cosy associations of family, home, and simplicity. When discussing the possibilities of a sequel Burton said- "I was always very protective of [Nightmare] not to do sequels or things of that kind... I felt the movie had a purity to it and the people that like it."
The "purity" of Nightmare is an important aspect to remember in appreciating its simplicity and appeal. The Nightmare Before Christmas, although heavily merchandised, isn't a sprawling franchise, it's a timeless story like The Wizard of Oz or It's a Wonderful Life.
Considering Burton first penned the story as a poem inspired by the type of Christmas specials he grew up on such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, its little surprise Nightmare instils that same charm, especially thanks to its stop-motion animation.
Though let's be clear, this film is often far from sweet and fluffy, giving us a very different type of charm...
The aforementioned song This is Halloween asks if its audience would like to see something strange? A word fitting of writer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick.
"I'm from the same planet, if not the same neighbourhood as Tim"- Selick said when discussing his work on The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The film features characters and songs gleefully singing about death, torture, and disease, but all with the aim of capturing the spirit and theatrics of Halloween horror. Kidnap the Sandy Claws is perhaps the most notoriously sinister yet catchy song. Top trick or treaters Lock, Shock, and Barrel sing about how they'll hunt down and gag dear old Father Christmas.
All of this is another reason the film has stood the test of time, as many of us know, its the dark and scarier stories that stay with us from childhood.
"The old Disney movies used to give you everything: joy, happiness, sadness, death, fear. The kids would run screaming out of Pinocchio. Nowadays people go, ‘Oh, it’s still too scary.” - Burton (IndieWire interview 2019)
Just like Doctor Who was Saturday night viewing for that- hide behind the sofa mentality, Nightmare has the same appeal. In many ways, it's lack of festive joy and Christmas-ness is what propels it as a great movie to cherish at the jolly time of year, especially by the end of the film. It juxtaposes Christmas while also emboldening its ideals.
The imagery and style of Nightmare all makes it instantly recognisable and cement that storybook feel. The filmmakers were inspired by artists like Ronald Searle and Edward Gorey- creating an ink pen look, to make characters look like drawings come to life. Each world in the film was made to look like something from a pop-up picture book, especially the worlds of Halloween and Christmas Town.
Art by Robert Searle (left) and Edward Gorey (centre) compared to Nightmare concept art
The Nightmare Before Christmas offers darkness and scares, with the various characters featured in songs like This is Halloween. It shows a twisted joy and chaos from Kidnap the Sandy Claws and Making Christmas, where the characters literally claim the holiday as their own. And who could forget Oogie Boogie's song? But on the flip side of all that, the film also has a huge amount of sincerity, and deeper emotion thanks to the songs from our main protagonists Jack and Sally.
Jack's Lament, Sally's Song, and the finale all demonstrate the very relatable themes the film portrays, such as misery, confidence, and frustration. The Nightmare Before Christmas works because it works on so many levels, offering fantasy, darkness, laughs, and romance.
So while this year might offer a different type of Christmas, fans of Nightmare have always been used to an alternative take and look at the festive time of year. Jack, Sally, and all the characters of The Nightmare Before Christmas teach us to cherish those close to us, and not take for granted what you've got...
I think it’s fair to say- “this year, Christmas will be ours!”
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