Where exactly do you file the animated triumph that is Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas? Because there’s a strong argument that it’s more a Hallowe’en movie than a Yuletide extravaganza. However, given the lack of edgier Christmas material, it’s one of the discs that I give a spin to at this time of the year anyway.
Originally released under Disney’s Touchstone banner in 1993 (in the wake of The Lion King), and taking nearly a year to reach UK cinemas the year after, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the story of Jack Skellington, who year in year out puts together Hallowe’en celebrations of sorts. Only when he gets a bit bored, he finds himself in Christmastown, and hatches a plan to kidnap ‘Sandy Claws’ and take over Christmas for a year.
The story and characters are, of course, the brainchild of Tim Burton, and this is his brain very much on fire. From the mayor with the two faces, through to the wonderful Dr Finkelstein, the devilish Oogie Boogie and the sad figure of Sally, it’s an eclectic collection of characters, knitted together by a quite inspired story.
But it has so much more than that to it. Firstly, Danny Elfman’s music is quite brilliant, and rarely has it been more so. Songs in animated movies tend to be mawkish affairs, but not here. Elfman’s work matches the tone damn near perfectly, and he even lends his dulcet tones to Jack when he breaks into song.
The animation though, coming at a time when stop motion was regarded as all but dead, is stunning. It’s still stunning too, adding to the feeling that Burton and director Henry Selick have created a timeless, unconventional fairy story that’s going to live on for a long time to come (particularly if the burgeoning collectables market for it continues).
Burton, of course, returned to stop motion animation in 2005 with Corpse Bride, but couldn’t rebottle what he and his team had captured over a decade before. Because whether you class The Nightmare Before Christmas as a Yuletide or Hallowe’en film, it’s nonetheless a superb one.