Disney Marathon: ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’


The last entry was an outlier in the Disney canon for being an indistinct and forgettable film. Now we’ve got another outlier for its unique style and being a cult favourite. It’s also a personal favourite, and I enjoy obnoxiously telling people it’s directed by Henry Selick and not Tim Burton. This is Halloween!

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess wannabe) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Released: 1993

Director: Henry Selick

Cast: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Ken Page, Ed Ivory, Paul Ruebens

Plot: Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, home to the monsters who come out for their annual holiday. He’s grown disillusioned with his role and, after discovering Chritmastown, he decides to take over the festive season for himself.

Review: I can say without a doubt that even if you haven’t seen this movie you recognise Jack (Sarandon and Elfman). Tim Burton caught lightning in a bottle when he sketched out Jack Skellington, as he’s become a pop culture icon. The movie didn’t do especially well on release, but over the years (and with the emergence of mainstream goth culture) it’s become a favourite to many. Not that Burton’s concepts and characters are alone in driving this cult success, as Henry Selick’s phenomenal stop-motion animation brings it to life in an extraordinary way.

The movie sets the scene with the immediately catching Danny Elfman number ‘This is Halloween’. In the first scene we learn about Halloweentown, the role it plays in Halloween lore, meet almost all the denizens and establish the tone of the story. Jack Skellington is the local celebrity, but he yearns for something more. While exploring the woods he finds and become entranced by Christmastown. He sets his people to work taking over the holiday, right down to abducting Santa Claus (Ivory) in order to take his place. Jack ignores the portents from Sally Ragdoll and pushes ahead with his version of Christmas, only to be met with disaster. Upon realising the error of his endeavour, Jack rescues Santa from Oogie the Boogie Man and begs forgiveness for his misdeeds.

There’s not much to the story, instead the movie is propped up on style and the music. Tim Burton’s characters practically created their own fashion craze and firmly established his unique visual style of spirals and pinstripes. Even though Selick did the hard work on the production, this is Burton’s creation. It wouldn’t be anything without the songs written and (when it comes to Jack) performed by Danny Elfman. If you don’t already have ‘This is Halloween’ or ‘Jack’s Lament’ stuck in your head than you somehow haven’t seen the movie yet.

As mentioned, there’s some flabbiness to the story. Oogie Boogie is forcibly inserted into the story with no explanation or motivation. Jack tasks three monsters – Lock, Shock and Barrell – with kidnapping Santa, and they leave him in the hands of their boss Oogie Boogie. The Boogie man likes to gamble and is…bad? Jack doesn’t like him and that’s all we get on the character. Why Jack entrusted Oogie Boogie’s minions with a key part of his plan is also unclear and makes no logical sense, even in this universe. Send the witches, or the vampires. The ONLY reason Oogie Boogie gets involved is because Jack opens the door for him.

There’s also at least three back-to-back scenes, each involving musical numbers, about Jack trying to explain Christmas to us, his people and then himself. The script writer explains with pride that Burton green lit her first draft into production. She did an amazing job, and the movie is endlessly quotable, but it could have used another one or two runs to tighten it up.

Best Song: There are so many bangers in this movie. We can’t even shortlist things because that would just be the track list. So we’ll take the easy route and land on the iconic ‘Jack’s Lament’. It’s got the bit where Jack walks down Spiral Hill.

Coolest Easter Egg: Jack Skellington made his film debut several years before Nightmare in Tim Burton’s classic Beetlejuice. He appears on top of the title character’s carousel costume.

Weirdest Trivia: Disney censored one scene for horror elements. During the end montage we see the vampires playing ice hockey with a pumpkin. It was originally a severed head that flies face first at the camera. The head was modelled after Tim Burton.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

We don’t do Elf on the Shelf here. In our house there’s Jack Skellington who gets about at night. That should be a clue as to how much I love this movie. As to the ‘Halloween or Christmas’ debate…why not both?

Click those titles if you want to see what we said about the other movies.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Robin Hood
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  5. Wreck-It Ralph
  6. Alice in Wonderland
  7. Beauty and the Beast
  8. Moana
  9. Big Hero 6
  10. Frozen
  11. Tangled
  12. The Sword in the Stone
  13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  14. Mulan
  15. Emperor’s New Groove
  16. Fantasia
  17. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  18. The Three Caballeros
  19. The Princess and the Frog
  20. Hercules
  21. Oliver & Company
  22. The Aristocats
  23. Dinosaur
  24. The Fox and the Hound
  25. A Goofy Movie
  26. Treasure Planet
  27. Chicken Little

AMELIA

Amelia has always taken a liking to this one, although some of the characters are a bit spooky. I think Ragdoll Sally’s rebellious tendencies appeal to her.

  1. Frozen
  2. Emperor’s New Groove
  3. Zootopia
  4. Moana
  5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  6. Mulan
  7. Hercules
  8. Alice in Wonderland
  9. Wreck-It Ralph
  10. Tangled
  11. Dinosaur
  12. The Aristocats
  13. The Princess and the Frog
  14. Robin Hood
  15. Beauty and the Beast
  16. The Three Caballeros
  17. The Fox and the Hound
  18. Oliver & Company
  19. The Sword in the Stone
  20. Aladdin
  21. Treasure Planet
  22. Big Hero 6
  23. A Goofy Movie
  24. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  25. Chicken Little
  26. Fantasia

JOSHUA

Joshua did not have a strong emotional response to the movie…he considered the characters to be badly behaved.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Aladdin
  4. Emperor’s New Groove
  5. Treasure Planet
  6. Moana
  7. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  8. The Three Caballeros
  9. Wreck-It Ralph
  10. Frozen
  11. Mulan
  12. The Princess and the Frog
  13. Robin Hood
  14. The Sword in the Stone
  15. Beauty and the Beast
  16. Oliver & Company
  17. Tangled
  18. A Goofy Movie
  19. The Aristocats
  20. Fantasia
  21. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  22. The Fox and the Hound
  23. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  24. Dinosaur
  25. Hercules
  26. Alice in Wonderland
  27. Chicken Little