The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stop-motion horror-comedy(?) movie from the early nineties conceived by Tim Burton but not starring Johnny Depp. The movie, aimed at kids but hoping to appeal to adults, follows Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween, as he tires of his holiday, tries to co-opt Christmas, and learns a valuable lesson. The trailer is below if you haven't seen the movie before, and our review is below.

 
 

Jake: The Nightmare Before Christmas. Or, I guess I should call it Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, as that’s what it said on the movie cover and poster and bullshit t-shirts all the weird girls in high school wore, nahmean? This is a 1993 animated family/fantasy/holiday/horror??? movie. Maybe? Just what in the shit is this thing?

Jack: First of all . . . Yes. Oddly, I know exactly what you mean. And I wanted to bring this up: It was your week to pick the flick (can’t tell if that sounds dirty or disgusting . . . or both (ladies)), and you picked a decidedly non-horror movie. So, to put in the original Shakespearean English: the fuck up wit’ ‘dat?

Jake: Okay, fine, so this is by almost no means a horror movie. However, that does not preclude it from containing elements of the genre. Just what exactly qualifies as horror is a difficult task, and is something best left for another discussion at another time. Basically, this movie is being included in our blog for two reasons, because here’s why: Reason 1 - it is important. I probably owe more credit than I give to this film for being an influential piece of my introduction to the horror genre. A lot of its characters are classic. Werewolves, vampires, skeletons and ghosts. You know. Horror stuff. This movie wraps all that up in a way that is accessible for kids, and I remember being fascinated by it when I first saw it as a child. Fast forward 20 plus years and here I am. Reason 2 - it’s almost Christmas and this is a horror blog and it makes sense. You know what? Fuck you, I don’t even need a second reason.

Did you catch that quote? I bet this picture is confusing if not.

Did you catch that quote? I bet this picture is confusing if not.

Jack: You actually defended that better than I expected. Damn, most of my notes now are ways to make fun of you for failing to defend your choice well rather than, you know, actual content. And you’re definitely right. It’s inarguable that this movie wouldn’t exist without the horror genre, and it does incorporate many of horror’s beats. Plus, when I was kid, I was legitimately scared by some of the stuff in the movie: a couple of those under-the-bed-type monsters in the opening number (I know all the lingo) were actually creepy, and Boogey’s death was downright gruesome.

Jake: Regardless, the most important thing, and one I think we can agree on, is that this movie deserves praise for being part of the Burton catalogue which omits Johnny Depp from its cast list. Hallelujah.

Jack: You speak the truth. Nothing against Johnny Depp, but fuck it’s almost oppressive at this point. While we’re on casting, can I bring something up?

Maybe something against Johnny Depp . . . 

Maybe something against Johnny Depp . . . 

Jake: *Sighs* If you must.

Jack: Paul Reubens.

Jake: Just, in general? As an artist? As a pervert? Where are you going with this?

Jack: Paul Reubens as a character in this movie. Specifically what a small character he played in this movie. Paul Ruebens plays Stock, one the three creepy kids who kidnaps Sandy Claws. That character has what, eight words total? Plus this is on the heels of Burton liking working with Reubens so much on Pee-Wee’s big adventure that he cast him as the reasonably-named Tucker Cobblepot in 1992’s Batman Batmans Harder This Time or whatever the fuck Batman did in that one. What happened that Burton wanted to give Reubens a role, but not a role that was on screen for any reasonable amount of time?

Jake: I don’t know, but are you claiming that Tucker Cobblepot was anything more than a cameo? Because no, you aren’t. We’ve already talked about how Tim Burton gets off on putting the people he likes in his movies regardless of literally any other consideration, this was probably just a stepping stone on the road to that. I know that Paul Reubens is often foremost in your mind, but probably the most notable aspect of this movie is its absolutely stunning aesthetic. Damn, is it pretty. Viewing a film 22 years after its release, one expects at least a cobweb or two but goddamn, the stop-motion approach to this movie was and is amazing. Also notable, the thing is a musical. I always forget that. Then I watch it and immediately remember because the whole thing is a string of songs, and I am non-plussed. Then all of a sudden, it’s an hour and a half later and I just watched The Nightmare Before Christmas again and don’t know what the hell happened.

Wait, he wasn't the main character? 

Wait, he wasn't the main character? 

Jack: If you want to use fancy words, you’ve got to at least actually use the word. Nonplussed. One word. Tell your friends. But the movie is gorgeous. The stop-motion is consistently great, but there is still CGI used a fair amount. What struck me right away was how good the animation looked interposed with the stop-motion. For instance the ghosts at the beginning of the movie, floating around all cartoon-y. They look like they belong somehow, and it means the use of the technology, while clearly outdated, holds up and still looks pretty seamless.

Jake: Why is the technology outdated? And love how you shit on my hyphenation and then immediately use it yourself. I feel like we either establish a hyphenate at will type situation, or it’s “cartoony”. As for the story, it’s actually pretty clever. As the audience, we get to see what happens when holidays cross-contaminate. In this case, we follow Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween. He has grown restless with his own holiday and is looking for something to break the monotony of Halloween. He stumbles into and becomes obsessed with the concept of Christmas, but when he then tries to explain it to his horrifying haloween-y friends, they just don’t understand. To get his point across he tries to take over the holiday. Calamity ensues. It’s basically the concept of “do one thing and do it better than anyone else” wrapped up in a stop-motion musical about magical holiday beings connected to other magical holiday beings via a mystical forest. I’m really not here to talk about the plot… help.

Jack: No buddy. You opened the door. And now here we go. I have so many issues with the plot of this movie. Sure, the overall plot is good and clever, and well-executed. But it left me with so many questions.

Jake: This is a kids’ movie, so stop foaming at the mouth. Not only that, it’s a stop-motion farce set in a literal fantasy-world. So I don’t want to hear it.

Jack: This train’s already left the station, so put sixty seconds on the clock and let me fire off a quick rant.

Jake: Fine. Sixty seconds. On the clock. Which measures written language apparently.

It really was a hell of a clock. The ancient Greeks knew their shit.

It really was a hell of a clock. The ancient Greeks knew their shit.

Jack: *Deep breath* How does the power structure in Halloweentown work? The elected mayor (subtle social commentary there by the way “I’m elected, I can’t actually make decisions”) answers to a king who still has to follow the mayor’s orders sometimes? Next, how the hell did he get back out of Christmastown? When he went through that door he didn’t come out a door in Christmastown, just fell into the damn snow. Where was the portal back to Halloweentown? Next, it is not at all clear what Jack knows or does not know about Christmas: he seems to understand it well enough to know the feelings it intends to impart and to understand why the monsters need to be lied to because they can’t grasp it, but then when he’s in the lab, he seems to only intellectually know the traditions without being able to understand why those traditions impart certain feelings. Next, why does Sally hide innocuous fog juice in the most secret compartment since every Mighty Max, but chooses to put the literal poison just in the medicine cabinet?

Jake: Jesus. That felt like way longer than sixty seconds. Again. Farce. Kids’ movie. It all adds up if you just do the math. I can’t believe there wasn’t a sequel to this movie. I mean, come on. The material was right there, and considering the shit that gets made these days, I don’t understand how Burton was even allowed to remake Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory as opposed to making another Nightmare movie. Just pick any holiday and have him go and cause mischief. They could even teach valuable lessons. Thanksgiving. Jack learns the drawbacks of gluttony as he faces health complications due to becoming morbidly obese after bringing a killer holiday spread back to Halloweentown. St. Patrick’s Day. Jack develops a drinking problem and the gang has to stage an intervention to save him from the brink of self destruction. We’re talking about quality, wholesome, American family viewing.

Jack: I’m not feeling so great about the pound and a half of hot wings and several beers I had for dinner all of a sudden.

Jake: Because this is a horror blog, let’s at least try to talk a bit of horror. Some of the characters are really interesting. The mad scientist is one of the best. He even has a sidekick named Igor, just to make sure the audience knows Burton wasn’t fucking around. He is using the straight up classics. The boogeyman is there too, as are witches, a mummy, and even a swamp-thing-type creature. One of the characters, or groups of characters, I can’t help but focus on when I see them is the weird family. There is a tall, skinny Bob Ross looking father, a gigantic elephantiasis-stricken looking mother, and they have a fat little kid who they keep on a leash. It’s fucking bizarre. It’s the fringe characters like this that really add to the film.

Actually, Bob Ross was the guy who created him. You're thinking of Bob Ross's monster.

Actually, Bob Ross was the guy who created him. You're thinking of Bob Ross's monster.

Jack: Yeah, it’s a regular mid-90’s civics textbook cover of diversity for the monster-world. And since you brought up Boogey, can we talk about how good the voice-acting for him was? Very good. So good it didn’t seem like the weirdest thing in the world that he at one point says “You try to make a doop out of me?” like it’s a totally normal thing to say. Doop? What is a doop? Now that I’ve heard it I do think it’s evocative and will be using it, I've just never heard it before. And did you think it was weird that Burton conspicuously never shows the adult human faces? He shows the adult monster faces, the kid monster faces, and the kid human faces, but every time there’s an adult human there’s a lamp or a bannister or something absurdly obvious in the way. It absolutely must have been for something, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what.

Jake: I just kind of thought it was an homage to Charlie Brown. Now that I reflect on that I do not know why that would be the case, but there you go. In addition to the weird scenes like those, there are some classic scenes in this movie. One of my favorites is when the vampires are playing ice hockey with a pumpkin. It’s so simple but so visually appealing. There are tons of these little touches in the film that make it a pretty clutch option for background play at any Halloween party. Which is weird considering how much of the movie is at least kind of about Christmas.

Jack: I completely agree. But the key to what you just said is background play. Because the movie itself is kind of depressing. Think about it, Jack hates his life, tries and fails to shake things up, and ultimately his big revelation is that he absolutely is resigned to the life he found unfulfilling, but he got a band-aid to temporarily fix the problem in terms of some new excitement about next Halloween. These aren’t long-term solutions Jack, you’ll just end up depressed again. Though it does make your St. Patty’s day sequel and the intervention therein more likely.

Jake: Nah man, Jack’s changed, he can be excited about next Halloween because now he can celebrate Christmas too (just not take it over). Speaking of Christmas, and keeping with the horror topic, let’s talk about my favorite gift that the Halloween gang rigs up. My favorite is the jack-o-lantern jack-in the-box toy that is seen hopping after a child so fat he can barely waddle down the hall in a feeble attempt to escape. There’s actually a lot of pretty horrifying shit Jack Skellington drops down people's’ chimneys while pretending to be Santa Claus. Like a demonically possessed doll, a severed head, and a snake that immediately begins engulfing everything in its path. That’s horror movie stuff right there. Anaconda.

Pictured: Terror incarnate.

Pictured: Terror incarnate.

Jack: And it’s great stuff. Terrifying stuff. With one exception. The snake. I completely agree with you that the rest of them are dark, but for some reason, a really slow-moving brightly-colored giant snake that’s just going to consume your entire Christmas tree over the course of like eleven hours is funny to me. Very funny. And the visual came across as more slap-stick than horror.

Jake: Overall, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a genre bending, holiday twisting experience that really has to be seen to be understood. While it isn’t a horror movie, it is clearly influenced by and pays homage to many of the classics, and, at least for one kid, sparked an enduring interest in the horror genre.

Jack: Nightmare definitely gets a nostalgic rise out of me, and it’s a good enough movie that the nostalgia isn’t the only thing keeping it going at this point either. Pretty enjoyable all around. Ratings?

Jake: Hold on a damn second. You've got something to account for. Last week, you debuted a "new segment," and after hours of heated negotiations between our people, it looks like it's sticking. So, go . . . what's Jack's incomprehensible Bullshit of the Week or whatever its called?

Jack: First, you butchered the name, expect a call from my crack team of attorneys. Also you forgot the gameshow music. Also I . . . don't have one this week. All my notes were comprehensible. So there's that.

Jake: The amount of disguises your attorneys use makes me uncomfortable. And fuck you. One week, that segment lasted.

Jack: Well it'll be back, when you least expect it. Kind of like Halloween when your expecting Christmas huh?

Jake: Fuck you. Ratings?


RATINGS (1-10)

For 1, think of how Balki Bartokomous would rate ducks (or maybe pterodactyls? that was never clear):

For 10, think of what Dave Chappelle thought of Pepsi before that vacuum cleaner went to town on him:

 
 

STORY

Jack: 5 - I really like the overall story, but Burton’s got a lot to answer for vis-a-vis Halloweentown civic structure and world-to-world transportation mechanics.

Jake: 6 - Pretty interesting idea for a story and still feels unique. It is only ankle-deep as it’s a family oriented musical, but deserves a nod for what it is.

WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION

Jack: 6 - The movie looks great and the characters, though not human, are still relatable. Even Zero felt like he had lots of personality to me.

Jake: 6 - For the visual quality of the world, especially considering how novel it was at the time. The musical element really makes this something that I cannot personally be immersed in though. I kind of just look at the pretty animations and tune out during the songs.

SCARE-FACTOR

Jack: 1 - Would be 0, but it sneaks some creep in.

Jake: 1 - Nope.

EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF)

Jack: 8 - The only thing keeping this from being perfect is the fire animation ages way less well than the rest of the movie, and thus stands out quite a bit more.

Jake: 9 - This type of animation is pretty rare these days and it is as good as it gets. Cannot give the effects enough praise.

OVERALL

Jack: 5 - Not a horror movie and definitely kid-oriented, but well-made and pretty enjoyable.

Jake: 5.5 - The rating gets killed by the lack of any scare-factor but this is a movie everyone should see at least once.