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The Nightmare Before Christmas

  • 1993
  • PG
  • 76min
  • 94%
  • 8 / 10

Jack Skellington - Halloween Town’s Pumpkin King - has become tired of Halloween and no longer sees his purpose in scaring the ‘real world’ other than being a yearly routine. He wanders off into the forest to contemplate but stumbles upon a door leading to Christmas Town. Amazed by the holiday’s over-the-top decorations and festivities, he runs back to Halloween Town to announce that he not only plans to improve the holiday but to kidnap Santa Claus. He must then face the consequences of messing with the natural order of the holidays.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas’s composer, Danny Elfman, is actually Jewish. In an interview with Little White Lies, he says that Christmas was a time of isolation and exclusion. He goes on to say “Christmas was a terrible time for me and I dreaded it coming each year. It was a period of real alienation.” In addition to his Jewish roots, neither Elfman or Burton had any experience in musical animated films. Elfman described their creative process as ‘backwards’ but that it all made sense to them as they started telling the story through songs first then inserted the dialogue later on.

The Nightmare Before Christmas movie review

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The Night Before Christmas is a Halloween movie. It is the dark and lurid qualities of Halloween that permeates Christmas - not the other way around. The story follows the 'Pumpkin King' of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington. He - despite his disturbing peppy demeanor - knows he is in a rut. He finds it pitiful that the sound of horrified children has lost its meaning. In a stroke of what he would call genius, Skellington decides to kidnap Santa and take over Christmas. Viewers will see that Santa's suit doesn't fit him - a visual metaphor for the disaster that follows. It is troubling as it is humorous because Skellington has no idea what he is doing. It is also an irony in that the 'Pumpkin King' is the first Halloween townie that puts on a costume.

It is clear that Halloween Town's ghoulishness juxtaposes the gentleness of Christmas Town. Yet - in Tim Burton's mind - they are two sides of the same coin. Both are overly-decorated holidays rooted in pagan traditions whose primary audience are children. It is the duality of the two that Skellington finds creative expansion that can only be offered by a different perspective. Unfortunately, his creative endeavor ends in disaster. It is a bittersweet feeling for him as he did not deliver the holiday he had promised. He is also aware of the valuable lesson his own failure provides him and uses it make himself a better Pumpkin King. He, in a bittersweet glee, sings, “I’ve got some new ideas that will really make them scream! And by God, I’m going to give it all my might!” In the end, Skellington did not let his failure define him, rather, it inspired him.

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about the movie

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is an American stop-motion animated musical based on a three-page poem written by Tim Burton during his time as a Disney animator in the early 80s. After the success of Burton’s short animated film, Vincent, he was offered a development deal by Walt Disney Pictures. Burton collaborated with Danny Elfman to conceptualize the film’s storyline and compose most of the film’s songs, while Henry Selick was tasked to direct the film along with his team of animators. The voices featured in the film include Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Ken Page, Paul Reubens, Glenn Shadix, and Ed Ivory. The film became a sleeper hit - earning $50 million in the United States alone despite having relatively little promotion. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film praises by saying it was “filled with imagination that carries us into a new world.” Another film critic, James Berardinelli, stated 'The Nightmare Before Christmas has something to offer just about everyone. For the kids, it's a fantasy celebrating two holidays. For the adults, it's an opportunity to experience some light entertainment while marveling at how adept Hollywood has become at these techniques. There are songs, laughs, and a little romance. In short, The Nightmare Before Christmas does what it intends to: entertain.'

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