Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day Forty-One: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #237
Year: 1993
Diretor: Henry Selick
Starring: Danny Elfman and Chris Sarandon

I was thinking about waiting to do this one until either Halloween or Christmas Eve or Christmas, any of which would have been more relevant than August 12th, but oh well – I worked from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. today, and I did not at all feel like watching a movie when I got home. Instead, I'll be covering a movie that I've probably seen twenty times since its release. It's a minor holiday classic, and probably my favorite animated film of all time, so I shouldn't have any problem singing its praises for a few paragraphs.

The Nightmare Before Christmas follows Jack Skellington, the king of Halloweentown, as he faces a midlife crisis and finds himself questioning the merits of Halloween. Feeling empty, he stumbles upon Christmas Town and becomes immediately obsessed with that cheery holiday. He decides he and his Halloween cronies will try to pull off Christmas this year, and while his intentions are in the right place, the execution is painfully flawed, and he very nearly ruins the holiday. All this is driven by a classic Disney soundtrack written (and primarily sung) by former Oingo Boingo mainman and frequent Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman. Naturally, though, with Elfman and producer Burton pulling the strings, the result is much darker and much more tongue-in-cheek than the typical Disney fare, and it gives the film a dimension that helps to thrust it head-and-shoulders above films like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.

The most notable thing about this movie is the animation. For the first time in history, stop motion photography looked seamless and gorgeous, and actually suggested that there might be a real future in feature-length animated movies that weren't hand-drawn. (Toy Story confirmed this two years later.) I won't pretend to fully understand how stop-motion animation works, but the team behind Nightmare did an amazing job of moving their little figurines around and photographing them to create the illusion of motion. The illusion is so convincing, in fact, that the movie could pass for rudimentary computer animation – unlike the tragic current trend of making a film with rudimentary computer animation and trying to pass it off as stop-motion. 9, I'm looking straight at you.

The only real tragedy in this movie is that even though it was Tim Burton's baby – he wrote the poem it was based on when he was working as an animator for Disney in the early 1980s – he didn't get the chance to direct it because of his obligations behind the camera on Batman Returns. If he did, it probably would have been even better than it already is, and it undoubtedly would have become his best film. As it stands, The Nightmare Before Christmas is still my favorite animated movie of all time, and a true classic of the genre that we should kiss Disney's feet every day for boldly distributing.

The Good: The animation.

The Bad: A few of the songs have some laughable lyrics, but if you consider them tongue-in-cheek – which they are – everything is alright. But still, "I am the clown with the tear-away face!"

The Skinny: Way higher than my 237th favorite, probably in my top 25. But yes, it deserves to be on the list.


  1. Definitely should be higher. It has a bit of cult following, I feel. But then again, I have fond childhood memories of it, so I may be biased.

  2. Haven't seen it, but I have a question. Why do you review so many Nr.230 and lower movies? They can fall out of the top easily while you are doing this blog.

  3. I actually hate this movie. I feel like it is one of the films has no place in the IMDB top 250.

  4. @ Guntars - I'm doing the whole list from where it was on the day I started this blog, 1 through 250. Or else, nothing would stay in its position and I'd end up doing like 260 movies total, there would be no way to make sure I did exactly 250. So yeah, there won't be an Inception post, for example. It's just the only way I can really tackle this.

  5. NO INCEPTION??? :D I went into it with not that big hopes (because I ain't a big Nolan fan) but it was nothing less then AMAZING. For the first time Nolan really proved to me that he is a master.

  6. No, I think it's a really great movie and everything, I just can't do this blog if I do every movie that pops onto the list while I'm in the process, I'll never finish.

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  8. Henry Selick at his absolute best directing.
    But, of course, Tim Burton gets all the credit.
    Sad sad day.
    Henry Selick is one of the most unsung heroes of cinema. Simply because he constantly delivers great films that everyone says Are "Burton".
    I REALLY hate Tim Burton.
    Like, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd and Ed Wood are great... but what else has he done? (Big Fish is just ok in my book, and Alice in Wonderland was terrible.)
    Henry Selick FTW!!!

  9. Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd are great? I must have missed something, haha.

    I can't stand the whole Hot Topic-ready image that Tim Burton movies seem to stand for. I guess The Nightmare Before Christmas might fall under that category too, but I love it. Like commenter Cameron says above, maybe some of that is childhood nostalgia.

  10. If you can find or borrow an anniversary copy of Nightmare, they have a documentary-type short detailing the process of stop-motion animation. It was really interesting, if you'd like to learn a little more about the process. Actually, you could probably just find it on youtube if you really wanted to.

    And if it makes you feel any better, Tim Burton hand chose Henry Selick to direct Nightmare. I do believe he did an excellent job.

    My only wish is that Corpse Bride would have been half as good as Nightmare. I mean, I liked it ok, but with the promise of more stop-motion animation and Tim Burton behind the camera I was hoping for amazing. Oh well.

    I'm enjoying your blog, Brad. Keep up the good work! - Bri

  11. This is really the only Burton film I really love (I even have a 10th Anniversary shirt MAKING CHRISTMAS! MAKING CHRISTMAS!). I own Edward Scissor hands, Ed Wood and Batman, they're okay but overrated. Burton is one of the most overrated directors in Hollyweird.

  12. Maybe you don't want to finish this blog? What happens after day 250...have another movie list you want to work your way through?

  13. I know what happens IMMEDIATELY after I finish, Erin. I'm going to do a post of my personal top 25 after watching all these movies that I hadn't seen before, I'm keeping a list of what to re-watch and have been buying cheap used DVDs accordingly. After that post...yeah, the blog probably exists strictly as an archive. Some have suggested I keep going and just do movies I see and say whether I think they should be on the top 250, but I don't want to haha. My brain is going to explode if I keep thinking in the context of "Is this Top 250 good?" every time I watch something.

  14. I would say you should start whittling down other movie lists! I quite enjoy your reviews.