Movie Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skellington pumpkin at Big Thunder Ranch Halloween Roundup

Boys and girls of every age, would you like to see something strange? Come with us and you will see–this, our town of Halloween…

There’s something deliciously exotic about Halloween, given that it’s not really celebrated in Australia. I think my cul-de-sac is one of the few exceptions where parents actually bother taking their children trick-or-treating up and down the street. Certainly, no one bothers with house decorations or anything elaborate. The most we do to prepare for it is head out to the local grocery store and buy a pack or two of chocolate.

What we do celebrate, however, is Christmas. (Of course!) Though I expect it’s far different to how most of America does it–we celebrate by heading to the beach, having pool parties, and, of course, the ubiquitous barbeque. It’s not really Christmas unless you’re sweating like a pig despite your shorts and thongs. (Flip-flops, not the other kind you’re thinking of!)

So The Nightmare Before Christmas, produced by Tim Burton, was a wonderful mix of the unfamiliar. The movie tells of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King (voiced by Chris Sarandon), who is a well-respected member of Halloween Town. (Can any Americans explain if this is a common Halloween beastie?) The town’s nightmarish-looking residents spend all year preparing for Halloween, upon which they put on a huge spectacle (and presumably scare a great deal of people as well).

But Jack is bored. And I, Jack, the Pumpkin King, have grown so tired of the same old thing. His wanderings lead him to discover a place in the forest where there are portals to all the other holiday worlds, and he happens to choose the one that takes him to Christmas Town. So begins an offbeat, charming story told in a mix of dialogue and song, about what happens when creatures who only know about scaring humans decide to take on Christmas.

The movie has a very typical Tim Burton feel to it–dark, slightly creepy and twisted, but so full of charm and heartwarming moments that it still appeals to kids–and the softies among the adults! Although Jack is a walking, talking skeleton whose life’s purpose is to scare children, he exudes a child-like exuberance and infectious innocence. And even his dilemma, feeling stuck in a never-ending rut surrounded by people who continue to praise him for doing the same thing well, over and over again–surely that’s something many people can relate to, especially those stuck in jobs they care little for.

Then there’s Danny Elfman’s score and lyrics. He’s the guy who wrote the theme song for “The Simpsons”, and his tunes are earworms. I guarantee you’ll be humming or singing the songs to yourself for days to come after you watch the movie. And his lyrics! He manages to not only capture each of the characters’ feelings perfectly in rhyming verse, but also shows perfectly the confusion of Halloween Town as its residents try to understand this whole “Christmas” idea that Jack’s returned with.

This is a thing called a present–the whole thing starts with a box.
A box? Is it steel? Are there locks? Is it filled with a pox?
A pox? How delightful, a pox!


Making Christmas!
Snakes and mice get wrapped up so nice with spider legs and pretty bows.

See how I transform this old rat into a most delightful hat!

And, of course, there is the beautiful art. It’s a stop-motion animated film, and you can see the painstaking detail that has gone into creating the sets and the puppets. I can only imagine how many different ones with varying stances and expressions would have been required!

It’s a holiday film that combines a quirky yet heartwarming story with great music and art that pulls it all together. It makes me want to experience both Halloween and Christmas a child, either being scared by make-believe ghoulies while dressed up as one myself, or hunkering down in my bed and trying to stay awake to see Santa. It brings back the joy and wonder of being a kid again.

And that, I think, is what makes it my choice of holiday viewing.

This article is the second in a series of holiday movie reviews.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

Photo by Loren Javier, via Flickr


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