‘There’s children throwing snowballs / instead of throwing heads / they’re busy building toys / and absolutely no one’s dead’ sings Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town who, after having gone for a walk in the forest, accidentally stumbled into Christmas Town.
Masterfully directed by Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a journey into the vividly gothic imagination of Tim Burton (producer here) accompanied by very memorable songs and a suitably apt musical score from long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman.
The story introduces us to Jack Skellington, the unofficial leader of Halloween Town who has become tired and bored with his annual task of planning a bigger and better Halloween than the one before. However he is invigorated with a new lease of life upon his discovery of Christmas Town: a joyful, happy place, full of laughter, with snow, glitter, and colourful lights everywhere. Jack is mesmerised by the surreal atmosphere. He races back to Halloween Town anxious to tell all of his findings who cannot fully comprehend the concept. Jack then decides to kidnap Santa Claus and organise Christmas himself with the help of all the frightful inhabitants of Halloween Town. Needless to say the ghouls and ghosts do not get the understanding of Christmas quite right.
Of course the actual plot, while well developed and satisfactory in itself, is not entirely that important to the proceedings as the real experience comes from the beautifully designed stop motion animation, the cleverly bizarre characters (look out for the two faced city mayor), the haunting backdrops and the accompanying songs. The film is not necessarily a children’s movie, with some scary images and genuinely menacing characters such as the Oggie Boogie, but neither does it ever try to leave the childish world in which it belongs and where all these fantastic places and original characters are completely believable. And while the world might not be exactly a nightmare it certainly feels like a fantastic dream!