Movie Night: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Year: 1993

Director: Henry Selick

Production Company: Skellington Productions

Leads: Danny Elfman/Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara

Tim Burton Movie BundleThis may come as a surprise for an ex-goth like me, but I had actually never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas until now. How I got through my teens without this is beyond me, but if finally got to the point where I simply couldn’t go another Christmas without trying it out.

And I’m very glad I did. It was a brave decision for Selick to make a feature-length stop-motion film; at the time, this technique had mostly been reserved for TV shorts, advertisements and special effects. The production of such a work must have required a fearsome single-mindedness and determination, requiring over 100,000 individual frames to be taken. Selick’s background as a Disney animator gave him a measure of experience in this, however, and the result became a now beloved cult classic.

Having come to The Nightmare Before Christmas after films such as Coraline and Corpse Bride, the marvel of the film’s technical aspects became more intellectual; the animation quality is noticeably lower than these other films. In such a regard, the real impressiveness of it was in the seamlessness of something that had really never been attempted before. However, the charm of the film lies ultimately not in the animation, but in the story it tells.

Made long before the formulaic Burton/Depp amalgamations that eventually came to follow this, there is a novelty and purity to the idea of a skeleton from Halloween wanting to bring Christmas back to his fellow ghouls. Far from being dark, the film in fact possesses a comforting and warm light-heartedness, a sort of innocence that so many films now greatly lack. The humor is subtle and witty; rarely drawing out-loud laughs, I instead found myself smiling throughout entire scenes, without even being aware of it. Images such as Jack Skellington looking in wonder as he first glimpses Christmastown, unaware of what snow is; the hopelessly pathetic appearance of the dismal Christmas lights strung about his home in Halloweentown; even the unexpected appearance of the Easter Bunny; these stick in the mind as much for their humor as for their emotional detail. The thought that every movement, every minute item and detail was deliberately created – even those that pass unnoticed – is simply wondrous.

There were a few bizarre problems during our screening, such as French subtitles popping up every so often, a feature that no amount of fiddling with settings was able to resolve. The film (at least the version we were able to find) was also a shade off widescreen, which always leaves me feeling that there’s a little bit of the movie I’m missing – even if it’s only half an inch from the left and right.

Altogether, this was a charming and magical evening, and I am only sorry that I waited so long to introduce this into my life. I can see this becoming a staple of our Christmas canon in years to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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