A Nightmare Town
In 1993, Tim Burton took the idea for ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ from a poem he wrote about a skeleton called Jack and transformed it into one of the most ambitious, unique and loved animations the world has ever seen.
But why did the film become so iconic and what did the story contain that others of the time did not? We can look at the story itself, the animation, the memorable characters and quirky songs.
The story focuses on the pumpkin king Jack Skellington who lives in Halloween Town. Every year the town works towards scaring children and adults alike with spooky gifts and ghoulish frights.
But Jack becomes bored and tired of ‘the same old thing’ as he sings one evening as he strolls through the town’s graveyard. He wants to experience something different and exciting, and he finds it in Christmas Town. Unbeknownst to him, Sally, a doll who is held captive by Dr Finkelstein, is captivated by Jack and falls in love with him.
When Jack returns, he becomes inspired by Christmas and wants to bring it to Halloween Town. He doesn’t realise, however, that he has no the magical power or authority to do so; jeopardizing Christmas and getting Santa Clause kidnapped by the Oogie Boogie man.
The film’s plot is wonderfully imaginative, inspiring and compelling. Jack’s fascination with Christmas gives the story a beautiful meaning and a Gothic and fairy-tale aesthetic.
There are elements of the story that an audience can relate to; feeling uninspired, trapped in a small town with only routine and tradition to keep you company and the feeling of longing for someone who doesn’t even notice you.
It’s no secret that the animators of the film mostly lived at the studios as they delicately moved an arm an inch forward and plan to
film a two-second shot that took hours to plan. The nightmare world the animators worked on were small and fragile. But, they proved with passion and creativity they could achieve the ambitions of the film.
The characteristics of the animation gave the characters a disjointed movement. Jack walked gracefully and his limbs operated like a spider.
Sally moved like a human but still expressed some form of uncanny physicality. Others, such as, the Oogie Boogie man moved like a snake and Santa Clause bounded around with a belly full of mince pies.
But, their expressions did bring the character’s emotions to life. They are vivid and strange. Sally’s sadness is reflected in her eyes and Jack’s curiosity is communicated by his gleeful grin and widened eyes.
Oogie Boogie’s expressions are scary and somehow adorable (even when his face becomes a conglomeration of bugs). Dr Finkelstein is intimidating and the Harlequin Demon’s jaws chatter and snap, reflecting her spiky personality.
Song and Dance
Composer Danny Elfman sung many of the songs featured in the film. ‘Jack’s Lament’ and ‘What’s This?’ are two of the most well-known because of their emotional quest, strange rhythm and the meaning behind the lyrics.
‘Sally’s Song’ and ‘This is Halloween’ provide the characters with a chance to sing their hidden thoughts and express their hopes and fears.
Sally’s recollection on how her experience of being a prisoner and her hope that Jack will notice and love her is expressed with a soft piano tune and elongations of the lyrics.
‘This is Halloween’ is bouncier and rhythmically alert and playful. It incorporates the characters’ voices into a melody full of delightful diversity and weirdness. Danny Elfman’s imagination for compelling and strange sounds benefits the aesthetic and genre of the film.
A Spooky Spectacular
‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is a film full of dazzling imagination, mysterious and fascinating characters, beautifully poetic and joyful songs and animated with the upmost dedication and creativity.
It’s a film which will always be remembered for being one of a kind. And for those who can’t decide if it is a Halloween or Christmas film, let’s just say it’s both!
Have a very memorable and joyful Christmas and Fantastic New Year!!