As with Tim Burton’s prior protagonists Pee-Wee, Beetlejuice, and Batman, Jack Skellington, the misguided hero of 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (which receives an IMAX 3-D re-release this month), is a creature whose idiosyncratic personality consigns him to being something of an outsider in his own creepy-crawly community. The Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, Skellington rules his native soil of monsters and mutants with a despondency wrought from boredom—until, that is, a morose midnight stroll leads him to Christmas Town, where his heart is set ablaze by the merry sights and sounds of the Yuletide season. Determined to have his minions supervise Christmas rather than Halloween this year, Skellington comes to learn the foolishness of striving to be what one is not, a mistake never made by director Henry Selick’s unique stop-motion animated horror fantasia, which is narratively slight but never less than aesthetically inspired. Based on a Burton story full of his trademark ghoulishness and mordant wit, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a veritable bounty of visual delights, its distinctive character models (often giant rotund bodies with slender appendages and tiny hands and feet), environments (both the gray, oblique angle-infested Halloweentown and warm, cheery Christmas Town) and animation style (graceful in a slightly unreal way) giving the film an eccentric haunted-house beauty. The tall, twiggy Skellington’s stilt-like spider movements lend the many choreographed sequences an eerie elegance, and Selick’s knack for cluttering his frame with gags is impressive, never more so than during the Pumpkin King’s Christmas Eve impersonation of Santa, who’s been kidnapped and left to the devices of burlap sack ghost Oogie Boogie, and his delivery of sinister toys to innocent boys and girls. Yet whereas the film is a marvel to look at, it’s unfortunately not much in the song or story department, as Danny Elfman’s musical numbers are—save for the opening’s boisterous “This Is Halloween”—generally banal and unmemorable, and the plot, despite only having to fill out a paltry 76 minutes, ultimately as emaciated and insubstantial as its leading bags of bones.
- Henry Selick
- Caroline Thompson
- Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, Danny Elfman, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, Edward Ivory
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: