THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: A FILM BY HENRY SELICK

November 15, 2012 Film Reviews

You could be forgiven for thinking that Halloween and Christmas are two diametrically different festivities. Heck, one is a garish, gaudy and perversely delicious celebration of the macabre and the morbid. The other commemorates the star-crossed birth of a virgin child reared in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths and blessed by native fauna, local folk and foreign aristocracy. But they have more in common with one another (and with Pagan, Celtic, Roman and Mexican traditions) than one might think.

And in Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Crīstesmæsse and All Hallow’s Eve collide and combust with explosive brilliance. This is largely thanks to Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King of Halloween Town; a dark dream world inhabited by ghouls, goblins, ghosts, monsters, vampires, werewolves and witches. Every year, Jack leads this motley crew in commemorating their namesake celebration with song, dance, tricks and frights. But familiarity breeds discontent and our skeletal antagonist finds himself longing for a new routine, an alternative celebration.

Wandering the forest with his ghost dog Zero, Jack encounters four trees with brightly coloured doors symbolising different holidays. Attracted to the tree with the iconic, evergreen conifer-shaped door, Jack is transported to Christmas Town, a parallel world of light, colour, snow, elves, tinsel, trains, toys and lavishly wrapped gifts governed by the mythical figure of ‘Sandy Claws’. Returning to Halloween Town, Skellington embarks on a mission to bring Christmas to his fellow inhabitants, a disastrous plan that leads him to usurping the role of Santa Claus with ghastly but hilarious results.

Nightmare is an ingeniously conceived and splendidly crafted animated film that appeals to kids and adults alike with its sumptuous, dazzling sets and lavish array of oddball characters (including demented clowns, evil professors and a gambling-addicted, bug-infested, rag-doll boogeyman). Co-writer and Producer Tim Burton weaves delightful references to fables and fairy tales (Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, The Brothers Grimm’s Red Riding Hood, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) in this delightfully creepy story about the synchronicity, coexistence and commonalities of festive seasons.

– Dr. Varga Hosseini