The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) (PG)

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is a curious movie. It has no overwhelming moral that beats you to a bloody pulp. No offensive changes are made in characters. There is no clear villain. The movie is carried out by an anti-hero who does not have a sudden revelation...he remains a anti-hero throughout the film. Lastly, for being a movie for kids, "The Nightmare Before Christmas" has some pretty grisly images and ghoulish's not something that I would show my kids while they were young.
The movie begins in Halloween town, the place where all the creepy creatures lives. This is the beginning of the movie...imagine watching it as a six-year-old in a theater. There's characters who rip their own faces off, decapitate one another, burn themselves alive (or dead as the case may demand), and do many other unpleasantries. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the opening number.
Jack Skellington (voiced by composer Danny Elfman) is the great pumpkin king; meaning that he rules Halloween. He's the central figure to the creepy holiday—the provider of nightmares for young children.
But there's something that Jack wants out of life, more than just chilling kids to the bone. He wants a good time...happiness perhaps? While Jack muses on what he wants, he meanders into the woods outside his house. There he finds doors to each holiday, or American holiday anyway—Easter, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, and (naturally) Christmas. He enters the door shaped like a pine tree and is whisked off to Christmas Town.
This place is filled with cheer, hope, candy canes, and snow. Jack marvels at how everyone is so happy and carefree...he catches a glimpse of Santa Claus. You would think that the movie would then be about discovering the true nature of Christmas and turning all the villainous ghouls into sentimental creatures.
But not so.
No, Jack does research on Christmas and decides that it should not be a festivity only for the happy. The Halloween creatures are going to throw a little Yuletide special of their own.
Kidnapping Mr. Kringle himself and filling all the presents with severed heads and scorpions, Jack brings hell to earth on Christmas Eve.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" should probably be credited with recapturing the public's eye for claymation. It's the one movie that stands as a frame of reference for all others and it proves a good point...claymation is for adults. What kid's movies have you recently seen that weren't a little dark, brought to life with clay? There's "Mary and Max", a decidedly adult movie. There's "Coraline", dark and twisted. "The Corpse Bride", "ParaNorman", "Frankenweenie", etc. If nothing else, these darker kid's tales certainly outnumber the fairy stories of Disney.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is very well done. It's a landmark in special effects, inspiring the works of those to come.
Tim Burton's name is held dearly to the picture...he is credited with the film. Yet he did not direct the movie, it was Henry Selick (who would later direct the aforementioned "Coraline"). Tim Burton was just a producer—he also came up with the story the movie is based on. Selick's keen eye is inspired by Burton, but it is he who should receive more credit.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is refreshing for its unexpected twists and turns. It never goes the way you think it might and in the end, the moral might have gotten lost. Still, it's an entertaining and eerie musical.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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