As the Halloween decorations and pumpkins are replaced by Christmas stockings and candy canes in true Jack Skellington fashion, it’s the perfect time to watch that good old Tim Burton movie–The Nightmare Before Christmas–that so many of us love. But what is it about this stop-motion cult classic that has such great replay value for its fans?
Need I say more? I get the impression that he was meant to be created with as much charisma as possible. Plot wise, it’s to demonstrate how loved he is by the residents of Halloween Town. But it’s not only the characters in the film that fall head-over-heels for the Pumpkin King. He’s attracted many female viewers over the years and it’s one of those phenomenons where his appeal is difficult to determine. Is it his personalty? The hopeful misunderstood dreamer that feels happiness and sadness deeply. Is it the animation? His elegant movements and long arms that can envelop Sally so perfectly. Is it his voice? Chris Sarandon’s (The Princess Bride) gentle silky voice combined with Danny Elfman’s more crusty passionate vocals for the songs. Whatever it is, I doubt this movie would be even half as popular if a generic less charming character took the lead.
There are so many exceptionally creepy and fascinating characters in this world that I’ll never be able to mention them all. There’s the Mayor, Oogie Boogie, Zero the dog, Sandy Claws, the Clown with the Tear-away Face, the trick-or-treaters Lock, Shock and Barrel, the Werewolf and the Vampires. My personal favourite is the The Melted Man with his dripping tar-like face. The animation of that guy still amazes me today. My apologies if I’ve missed one you love.
And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten Sally (voiced by Catherine O’Hara). This ragdoll patched together by the evil scientist Doctor Finklestein is more than just a love-interest for Jack. She’s caring, smart and independent. She’ll use clever escape attempts (including dropping herself from a tower and then stitching her own body back together) to gain freedom. She even goes out of her way to help Jack amend his mistakes. And let’s face it, her design is awesome too. It’s no surprise her costume is such a popular choice for Halloween.
I have always been taught in writing that “character is plot”. This is why the film’s story works so well. The cause and effect is so simple yet so believable. Based on a poem by Tim Burton, our protagonist, Jack Skellington, grows weary of being the “master of freight”. He searches for something different and his outlet comes in a chance discovery of Christmas Town. Liking what he sees, he takes it upon himself to deliver the presents to the children of the world.
And that’s another bonus to this film, you can still enjoy this movie when Halloween is passed and when Christmas is on its way. I’d even like to go so far as saying that The Nightmare Before Christmas can be seen as a feel-good and heartfelt movie. Dark and creepy, yes, but at its core it’s about a man trying to find meaning in his life again. And who can’t relate to that? This is why I feel it reaches beyond its demographic of goths and horror-lovers. It doesn’t play for creeps. There is real heart and care put into the animation and story that fans find simply irresistible.
How can I not mention the music? It’s a big part of the movie and, arguably, some of Danny Elfman’s best work. Elfman claimed the songs were easy to write since he “had a lot in common with Jack Skellington”. And it certainly shows. When Jack falls into Christmas Town and bursts into the song “What’s This?”, you understand in heartbeat just how awed and excited he is. When the film kicks in with “This is Halloween”, you get an instant feel for the spooky and surreal plot that follows. There’s such a story-telling “musical” feel to the music that I’m surprised there hasn’t been a stage adaptation yet.
Of course it is the combination of characters, story and music that make this move so popular amongst its faithful followers. But I’ve barely scratched the surface. So I invite you to have a think for yourselves why you love it. Or maybe you don’t understand the hype and think it doesn’t deserved the praise that it gets. Which ever side of the fence you like to sit on, there’s one thing that’s certain, this movie has been pumping out merchandise and gathering fans for over twenty years now and it has no signs of slowing down.