Today, I am launching the first in a series of spooky themed posts to celebrate the month of October. This will extend across many things; movies, anime, TV shows and gaming. But I want to start with a Halloween classic that I grew up enjoying when I was younger; The Nightmare Before Christmas. This classic is a stop motion animated film produced by Tim Burton who is known for great films like Batman, Beetlejuice and others.
I want to talk about this film and some outside material using the Nightmare Before Christmas IP with this article, so I hope you enjoy this haunting trip to learn the meaning of the holidays.
The origins of the Nightmare Before Christmas date far back as the 1980’s with Burton pitching the concept to Disney after watching other Holiday classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This concept was birthed from a three-page poem Burton wrote titled A Nightmare Before Christmas.
Disney was interested in taking this concept and adapting it into a short or 30-Minute special but plans changed and the project was put on hold for a few years. Burton moved on to other projects like Batman while the idea still was in the back of his mind.
The movie went into development and released to critical acclaim…..but didn’t meet sales expectations from Disney. But the movie’s critical success made it a cult-classic. To the point where the film is still fondly remembered to this day, through merchandise being sold during Halloween and the IP even having a major role in the Kingdom Hearts series (with the Halloween Town world appearing in the series three times).
Disney expressed interest in a GCI sequel to the film but Burton said no.
Burton convinced Disney to drop the idea. “I was always very protective of Nightmare not to do sequels or things of that kind,” Burton explained. “You know, ‘Jack visits Thanksgiving world’ or other kinds of things just because I felt the movie had a purity to it and the people that like it… Because it’s a mass-market kind of thing, it was important to kind of keep that purity of it.”
The series did get a sequel of sorts with the Capcom developed title called Oogie Boggie’s Revenge releasing on the PS2 back in 2005. It got mixed reception but a major publisher having interest in making a game based off the IP shows how impact it is.
Okay, enough history! What about the movie? The plot focuses on Jack Skellington’s desire to ‘spice up’ the Halloween season. He has done his job scaring the world with great success and the town of Halloween Town loves him and his work, but he is just kinda ‘bored’ with things.
He then discovers the holiday of Christmas and wants to blend that holiday with the horror of Halloween. Of course, this spirals into chaos and he has to fix his mistake by taking down Oggie Boogie (the sand man). What makes the movie so special is three simple factors.
One of these factors is the music, with the soundtrack being composed by Danny Elfman. This was one of his strongest works, as so much emotion and heart was put into every track in the movie. Many of the songs Jack sings, that IS Elfman’s voice singing those lines. And he shows so much emotion and joy with his musical performance.
What makes the music so enchanting is how catchy and well done everything is composed. The choice of instruments, the high quality voice recordings, and the poetry-like lyrics make every track ‘stick’ in your head long after the movie’s credits roll.
Another of the three central factors is the animation. The film is hand-crafted, as the entire production is using Stopmotion. This technique of animation is where you move puppets frame-by-frame all the while the backgrounds and sets are fully constructed (no GCI in sight). By animating the film like this, we have a film that has a lot of ‘reality’ to the production. Of course moving corpses and skeletons aren’t real but they look real enough that we get more invested in the film.
Recent Stopmotion continues to impress with films like Kubo and the Two Strings being a very recent example of quality Stopmotion. But this movie was one of the first big motion pictures that played with this animation (not the first but one of them), making its impact quite major. Many studios wanted to use Stopmotion after the critical success of Nightmare after it’s release.
Lastly, the final pillar is the simple story. While characters aren’t fully fleshed out, this was originally a three-page poem. We get the characters personality and heart through the many songs sung throughout the film and just how they animated/move around.
This can be an issue for some, as the lack of depth might make repeated viewings stale. But this ‘charm’ allows the story to be ‘timeless’ and that is critical to the movies popularity after it’s release. Anyone can related to the characters in the film, making us get sucked into the movies world.
Exploring the winter wonderland of Christmas Town in wonder alongside Jack, empathizing with Sally’s desire to get her freedom, and seeing the colorful cast of Halloween Town come alive; much of the story and world of the movie is iconic and easy to understand.
I touched on the music before but I have to link to a few of my most favorite tracks in the movie. Note that all the music below belongs to the copyright of Disney Pictures, Danny Elfman and Henry Selick.
This movie is a classic I can highly recommend you consider watching to celebrate the month of horror! It does a lot right and it’s simple charm can easily suck you into the haunted and magical world that this movie provides.
I have a lot more articles in this haunted series coming in the future, so stay tuned!