Halloween is scary. Halloween is spiritual. Halloween is counter-culture.
It’s also really fun.
Such is why The Nightmare Before Christmas is a necessary film in the canon of Halloween, as it brings the childlike sense of fun back to the symbols and phobias of the Day of the Dead while also exploring very adult themes.
Jack Skellington, the Pumpking King of Halloween Town, has grown bored with Halloween. Every year it’s all spooks, hauntings and screams, and Jack is tired of the same thing year-in and year-out. Such an existential complex is well-trod territory to adults but not to children. Framing Jack’s internal conflict as boredom is a necessary bridge of familiarity.
Part of the charm of Nightmare is the colorful supporting cast around Jack, all of whom have detailed models despite maybe having a few lines of dialogue or only participating in the chorus of the movie’s many great songs. Subtle ticks like Dr. Finklestein scratching his brain while thinking or The Mayor humming the song ‘This Is Halloween’ give each character life, although the stop-motion animation is to this day of such high quality that these character quirks are almost unnecessary. Such is the talent and craftsmanship of director Henry Selick and his animation team, who together made a new kind of movie that had not been seen quite like this since the days of Ray Harryhausen and his walking skeletons.
In that regard, the disparate parts of Nightmare wouldn’t work together if not for the music of Danny Elfman and his vocal performance as the singing voice of Jack. Elfman is a composer whose legacy was already solidified at the time by composing the scores for Beetlejuice, Batmam, and Edward Scissorhands, not to mention crafting the theme to the The Simpsons. Yet it’s likely his work on The Nightmare Before Christmas that will be remembered a generation later. Honorable mentions go to Catherine O’Hara as Sally, Dr. Finklestein’s monster-with-a-heart-of-gold-and-a-brain-to-match, and Ken Page for his brassy and jazzy villain Oogie Boogie.
Much of producer’s Tim Burton current filmography doesn’t compare to the halcyon days of the 90’s, yet The Nightmare Before Christmas holds up incredibly well. The real question is whether or not the movie is actually a Christmas movie instead of Halloween? I mean, the song isn’t called ‘This is Christmas’, right?
Read about our other Halloween favorites on our 31 Days of Halloween list here.