The Nightmare Before Christmas Review

Is it a Christmas film? Is it a Halloween film? Well, let me put this argument to bed, it’s both, there the argument is solved. Also, pineapple does go on pizza (if you want it to) and Jaffa Cakes are cakes, not biscuits.

Alternatively, why don’t we just forget restricting films to a certain season, and watch what we want, when we want? Or is that a bridge too far?

It is one of my pet peeves, the internet discourse about subjects that just don’t matter, they never go away, and they cause such VICIOUS conflict online, why does it irk people so much that other people have pineapple on pizza, to go back to that argument? No-one is forcing you to eat it too, similarly, who cares whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie? (It is. It definitely is) or whether you should watch Nightmare Before Christmas in October, or wait until November? The only reason you should need to watch a film is that you want to.

Anyway, that’s my initial rant out of the way, we might have another one before too long, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, eh?

The Nightmare Before Christmas is, of course, beloved by many, of my generation especially, that mark it out as one of the best modern (albeit now over 30 years old) representations of stop-motion animation. as well as an early indicator of Tim Burton’s talents…

…except it isn’t. As I say to many people (I imagine it sounds quite smug to others, but it sounds smart to me so shush) Tim Burton didn’t direct TIM BURTON’S Nightmare Before Christmas, the film was actually directed by Henry Selick, an experienced animator whose work varied wildly from being an in-between artist, right up to director. He’s not been a prolific director by any means, including this film, he’s only been in the directors chair four times (he does have a few projects lined up in the next few years too) unlike Burton, who, to me, is one of the most vastly overrated filmmakers of the modern era, but comes along here to take all the thunder.

In all fairness, it is Burton’s story, and he was producing, but that’s no reason for his name having pride of place in the films title. Think of all the times when a big name director has lent their name to a newer filmmaker as a producer, do you remember Stephen Spielberg’s Poltergeist? No, of course you don’t because that’s misleading, and so is this films titling. It does no favours to Selick, the actual director, who isn’t mentioned, and comes across as a real ego trip on Burton’s part.

But anyway, most of you probably don’t care about that, you want to know about what I think of the film, especially given my championing of animation on my site. Well, like many my age, I really, really like this film.

I have a few films that I watch every year in the run up to Christmas, and the first one I watch, sometime in October – as previously discussed it is both a Halloween AND a Christmas film – is Nightmare Before Christmas it really gives me that glowing, familiar feeling that your favourite seasonal films give you, something that I can only compare to a warm hot chocolate on a cold, winters night.

Sometimes I think films are a comfort blanket more than anything else. There’s a good chance that you yourself have a certain film that you’ll go back to when you’ve had a bad day, or you’re ill and need a lift, films that are just as good when watched repeatedly that leave you feeling much better after you’ve watched them. Christmas films are an even bigger example of this, because Christmas films (for the most part) are made to be heartwarming, cheery affairs; so when the nights get darker and the weather gets colder, you’re sure to find me under a duvet watching Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, or this, I am a Christmas-loving person anyway, so these are my comfort blankets.

Sadly though, this level of emotional investment does belie a certain amount of bias towards the films. I’ve said repeatedly that the easiest way to ruin your childhood is to watch your favourites from those days with adult eyes, because it does them no favours, similarly, watching one of these films, that you’ve only grown to love even more as an adult, arguably, than you did as a child, it is evident that there are probably some rose-tinted glasses at play.

I could, if I wanted to, find faults with these films, and there are faults in this film, don’t get me wrong, for one thing, the animation is starting to age now, although this is helped by the recent addition of CG effects on top, and Lock, Shock and Barrel are annoying at times, but I just don’t want to face a world in which Nightmare Before Christmas is anything less than beloved.

It has a truly unique atmosphere for an animated Christmas film, which is still ostensibly aimed at children, it engages with the macabre and surreal, it pushes at the boundaries of the scarier world around it, without ever feeling like it’s too much for a younger audience. It has an anarchic sensibility that Burton has tried for many years to recapture, and rarely gets anywhere close.

More than anything, I think this is a show of how effective Selick and Burton worked together, with Burton’s ideas being moulded by a defter hand it certainly seems to work better than most of Burton’s most recent efforts; it strikes just the right balance of Halloween and Christmas, and combines the elements that make both occasions special without sacrificing either of them, it’s an incredible balancing act really, to spotlight the highlights of both while rarely missing a beat.

The soundtrack is also something that keeps me coming back for more, somehow it just doesn’t feel like October until I’ve heard ‘This is Halloween’ at least once, or my personal favourite underappreciated villains song: ‘Oogie Boogie’s Song’ (once you have read this, I highly recommend you seek out a video of the characters voice actor, Ken Page, singing it at a recent convention, it’s heartwarming to see how much he revels in the character) which is right up there in terms of establishing a character through song alone in my book.

The film is one big collaborative effort that wouldn’t work without any of its moving parts, I think. There’s a feeling that every department is working in unison to make this the best it can possibly be, from the design of the backgrounds, to characters voices, to animation, and finally to music, what really makes Nightmare such a triumph is how cohesive it all is as a whole product; the atmosphere wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the surreal, quasi-horror visuals, the score wouldn’t hit quite the same if it weren’t delivered so superbly by the best possible talents.

I gave my position away quite early in this review, but this is a nostalgia film which I think holds up as a great film overall, I didn’t see it for the first time until I was an adult, and fell in love with it on first viewing, I didn’t grow up with it like many others, so I feel like my appreciation for it doesn’t come from nostalgia, but rather an appreciation of its overall quality in general.

So, I hope as well as putting some arguments to rest throughout this review, I have also whet your appetite for more spooky reviews this month, followed by some festive cheer in November-December, this film acts as a perfect bridge between both, and is still a fantastically entertaining experience, no matter what the month.

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