It’s October and Halloween is just around the corner, so what better way to celebrate than by looking at a quintessential classic!
Originally envisioned by Tim Burton (but brought to life by Henry Selick), The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993 Disney film originally released under the Touchstone label. Notice how there’s a gap between Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994)? It’s not confirmed, but I think this was supposed to be a member of the Disney Animated Canon before the executives decided the film was too dark and scary. They probably did this to avoid the same disaster with The Black Cauldron, a Disney film that bombed dramatically and earned the ire of critics and audiences everywhere.
Unlike The Black Cauldron, which only managed to gain a small following and gets a pacing glance from its parent company, The Nightmare Before Christmas has grown in stature, becoming a beloved classic for Disney fans and detractors alike and a marketing juggernaut.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with this film. Like, this movie was the Holy Grail of my childhood for a long time. It was just so creative, unique, and full of life compared to a lot of other films and shows for children being pushed out at the time. Now, even after Big Hero 6 took over my heart, I will still snatch up The Nightmare Before Christmas merch whenever I can.
Does it still hold up now like it did when I was young?
Well, while it does have some silly parts (I love how Sally just has a convenient jar of ‘fog juice’ under her floor; you know, just in case), it still holds up remarkably well. I watched it again recently and I first thought maybe it didn’t, but later that night I couldn’t stop thinking about the world of Halloweentown and the adventures of Jack and Sally and all their friends, what Jack’s origin might be…yeah, it still gets me even now.
The music rightfully gets lauded as some of the greatest ever. Danny Elfman didn’t just compose the music, he also wrote the lyrics and provided the awesome singing voice of Jack. The result is a true testament to his talent. I still have no idea why this movie hasn’t been adapted into a Broadway musical yet, it would make a fantastic show.
The animation is spectacular. The detail and fluidity is almost par for quality CG animation, but with a unique enough style to stand out/make it clear that it is still in fact stop motion. There are some truly beautiful moments, especially when the characters are on top of the spiral mountain in front of the moon (Jack’s Lament and when Jack and Sally kiss).
The characters are a lot of fun. Of course I love Jack a lot (I especially appreciate how he is able to realize his mistake and know the proper way to appreciate Christmas in a positive way without being too angsty), but I think Sally is probably my favourite. She’s very clever with just the right amount of sass and concern. But I also love how close knit the community of Halloweentown is. They all seem like one big family. I guess I like how even though they’re a bunch of scary monsters, they all have the capacity of of being loving and caring (in their own way of course).
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a short, simple, but superb story that doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. I think that’s one of the reasons that makes it so enduring. It certainly is to me. While I wouldn’t want a sequel (because it would likely not be stop motion), I would absolutely love some shorts or books detailing the world of Halloweentown. As it is, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a masterpiece of animation, rightfully taking its place as one of Disney’s most iconic classics.