With the advent of video/DVD, certain movies lend themselves to annual viewing during specific holiday seasons, especially Halloween (It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown'), Thanksgiving (`Home for the Holidays'), and of course, The Big One, Christmas (Insert your own favorites here); specific films that for whatever reason manifest the spirit of their respective times of the year, and they generally match up one season per film. Filmmaker Tim Burton, however, has the distinction of having created a singular film to add to this category, unique in that it is suited equally to both Halloween AND Christmas. And it tops the entire list of the titles of which that can be said; in fact, it IS the list-- there simply are no others. Burton's brainchild, which had a gestation period of many years before at last being realized in 1993 is, indeed, in a category of it's own. It is, of course, `The Nightmare Before Christmas,' directed by Henry Selick.
Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, can put the scare on like no one else. But after years of doing what he does best-- scaring the wits out of children of all ages, everywhere, every Halloween-- he's bored; depressed, even. There's just no `rush' in it for him anymore. So, after a particularly unfulfilling Allhallow's Eve, Jack wanders off alone into the night to contemplate his circumstance and his future, whereupon he inadvertently stumbles into `Christmas Town,' and discovers something new (`What's this? What's this!')-- a different holiday, as well as the celebration that accompanies it. Most importantly, though, he also discovers his counterpart, the one who is to this holiday what he is to Halloween. `And they call... him... San-Dee CLAWS!' And Jack, his eyes and ears filled with the sights and sounds of Christmas, is more excited than he's been in a long, long while. He doesn't know, yet, what all of this is about, but he's going to find out; and he's already made up his mind: Whatever it is, it's going to be his! Sandee Claws, step aside-- Jack Skellington is here!
Through the magic of stop-motion animation, Burton's vision-- his story and the characters who populate his `nightmare'-- comes vividly to life, the process of which is guided along nicely by director Selick. And what a bunch of characters there are! Besides Jack (who is, without question, the star of the show), there is the two-faced (literally) Mayor (Glenn Shadix); Dr. Finklestein (wonderfully voiced by William Hickey); Lock, Shock and Barrel (Paul Reubens, Catherine O'Hara, Danny Elfman), the unholy trio who work for the dreadful Mr. Oogie Boogie (Ken Page); and, last but not least, gentle and compassionate Sally (Catherine O'Hara), who cares for Jack and so badly wants to help him find whatever it is he's looking for. Intriguing characters for a highly original story, imaginatively drawn and presented with care and an expertise that really makes this one work.
Another element that sells it is the engaging score and original songs by Danny Elfman (who also supplies Jack's singing voice). And Selick uses the music wisely to create an appropriate atmosphere and mood conducive to the storyline. The songs, especially, are haunting, hypnotic, upbeat and theatrical, and combined with the magic of the splendid visual content, helps set the tone for a rich and thoroughly entertaining experience.
The supporting cast includes (the voices of) Ed Ivory (Santa), Susan McBride (Big Witch), Debi Durst (Corpse Kid/Corpse Mother/Small Witch), Greg Proops (Harlequin Demon/Devil/Sax Player), Kerry Katz (Man Under Stairs/Vampire/Corpse Father), Randy Crenshaw (Mr. Hyde/Behemoth/Vampire), Sherwood Ball (Mummy/ Vampire), Carmen Twillie (Undersea Gal/Man Under the Stairs) and Glenn Waters (Wolfman). There's a decidedly dark side to this film that may be disturbing to younger viewers, but for those to whom the monster-in-the-closet no longer appears, `The Nightmare Before Christmas' is good for TWO of your favorite holidays (or actually, for any time of the year, for that matter). Unique, to say the least, this is a fun foray into fantasy that can be enjoyed time and again. The story, the characters, the images, the songs; it's all magic. It is, in fact, the magic of the movies. Tim Burton style. I rate this one 10/10.
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