Whenever I think of stop motion animation, the first film that always comes to mind is The Nightmare Before Christmas. I’ve always found this film to be such a blast, and it fits well into my lifelong fascination with bizarre cinema. Often many people (I included) act as though it’s the Citizen Kane of stop motion. This has recently got me thinking if all the praise is really warranted?
Our story takes place in the world of Halloweentown, where Jack Skellington (Danny Elfman), the town’s beloved pumpkin king, has simply grown tired of Halloween. Yearning for something new, Jack stumbles upon the world of Christmastown, a warm and happy place dedicated to Christmas. Jack then decides that he will kidnap Santa Claus and, with the help of the Halloweentown residents, steal the holiday of Christmas for his own.
The soundtrack, composed by Danny Elfman, is one of a kind. The songs are catchy, fun, and highly memorable. It doesn’t feel like the songs were written as a side note to the story, as some Disney soundtracks often do. It’s feels more like the songs were written side by side with the story, so that they may aid in developing the plot. Each song has a very important and specific place it goes in the progression of the film.
Most of the characters, while possessing unique designs, remain pretty undeveloped the majority of the film. We see the characters interact a good amount, but never do we learn anything about them. Out of all the inhabitants of Halloweentown, there are only two or three individuals with distinct personalities. Even the main protagonist Jack Skellington has little to him. I find this to be a real shame, because there is obviously a lot of potential here for interesting, developed characters. Instead, Tim Burton and director Henry Selick obviously focused their efforts on the visual aspects of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The stop-motion animation used here, still holds up nicely today. The various shades of gray that Burton is famous for using, mixes very well with the animated element. As I mentioned before, each and every character you see has a very distinct design. Even characters you see only once or twice you can still remember fondly because of how distinguishing they are. Visually, I think this is one of Tim Burton’s strongest films, even compared to the likes of Batman and Beetlejuice.
Another argument you could make against the film is that, there really isn’t any message being given to the audience. The characters just go through the motions of the story without ever conveying anything. You could argue that the film is saying, “be satisfied with what you already have”, but I think that’s stretching it.
However, I don’t really think that was the intent of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I believe this film was just meant to tell a simple little fairy tale. No more, no less. The sights and sounds were meant to carry the story along, not any number of characters or dialogue. The Nightmare Before Christmas accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, and I highly respect it for that.
When all is said and done, I still love watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. This film had a profound effect on me as a kid, and I get as much enjoyment out of it now as I did years ago. I love the distinct style Tim Burton gives to all the characters and the world of Halloweentown. The beautiful stop-motion animation still holds up great, and the soundtrack tells a nicely simplistic tale. It’s a film that I will continue to cherish for many years to come.
The Verdict: A