The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) movie  poster

(1993) director Henry Selick
viewed: 12/12/10 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

You know what’s scary about The Nightmare Before Christmas?  That it’s 17 years old.  That’s what.  I went to see it in the theater when it came out in 1993.  And though that was a long time ago, the fact that it was 17 years ago is just plain scary.

I took the kids to see the film at the Castro Theatre where it was playing for the Christmas holiday.  I’ll take most opportunities to take the kids to the Castro Theatre.  And The Nightmare Before Christmas seemed like as good a reason as any.

I can’t recall the last time that I watched it.  But it had been some time.

When it first came out, I was a big fan of the film’s design, the extra-odd Halloween-inspired figures of Jack, the pumpkin king, Sally, the rag-doll girl, the vampires, werewolves, mummies, ghouls, demons.   And really, when it comes down to it, that is what the film has going for it.  The design is brilliant.  The film is just okay.

Director Henry Selick has gone on to greater things.  His film of Coraline (2009) has become a personal favorite of mine.   But in The Nightmare Before Christmas, while the animation and character designs are great, the characters themselves don’t have a lot of personality.  The story, about Jack taking Christmas hostage in a misguided attempt to expand his horizons beyond Halloween, is decent at the concept level, but Danny Elfman’s musical score for the film, which includes a number of explanatory songs that elucidate the narrative, is lively but flat.

In fact, the score is perhaps the film’s true weakness.  The music seems to have the right vibe at first, but then the numbers are monotonous in and of themselves and then more monotonous when piled one on top of the other.  In some ways they all sound like the same song, without a real catchy chorus, nor very witty lyrics.  It’s sort of like all the swirling fun is just a swirl.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but embedding so much of the story and drama in the musical numbers, it sort of keeps the film from having character beyond its design.  And, though I enjoy it visually, I find it a bit disappointing too.  The design is so cool, but the film just isn’t all that great.

Which was definitely the criticism of Tim Burton at the time.  This film was adapted from his concept and he produced it as well.  Burton would go on to co-direct another stop-motion animated film, Corpse Bride (2005), but his directorial efforts have fluctuated between mediocre good and mediocre bad.  Style over substance.

So, you’re probably saying, if I didn’t think that the movie was all that great, why take the kids to see it in the theater?  Well, I always did like the way it looked.  And like I said, I’ll take any good excuse to take the kids to the Castro Theatre.  They enjoyed it.  And who am I to be an utter Scrooge?

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