It was getting near Halloween when I wrote this, so that means we're getting into Halloween movies. First up, The Nightmare Before Christmas. This entry is originally dated October 16, 2010.
Well, Halloween is rounding the bend, and a friend of mine has already put in a request for a special Halloween episode of the podcast, so I figured I should sit down and watch a good Halloween movie for the Halloween Fishing in the Discount Bin. And what better than the Disney Halloween/Christmas classic, the Nightmare Before Christmas? I LOVE THIS MOVIE!! I've been trying to start a completely-made up tradition of watching it every Halloween, but something always gets in the way and I don't get to watch it. So, I guess my tradition is putting off watching the Nightmare Before Christmas on Halloween.
Like a lot of movies, it's got a neat story on how it came to be. The legendary director Tim Burton came up with the idea when he was a child. He was out shopping with his parents one November, and saw the Christmas decorations being put up while Halloween merch was still on the shelves. Intrigued by this juxtaposition, he went home and started hammering out the basic idea, eventually resulting in an epic poem entitled the Nightmare Before Christmas. Fast forward a decade or two, and Burton is a fresh-faced CalArts grad recruited to be among a new generation of animators at Disney. While there, Burton pitched to the bosses his childhood poem and turning it into an animated movie. Liking his proposal, Disney bought the pitch and filed it away in their vaults.
A few years later, Burton found working for Disney to be quite soul-crushing, so he quit and started directing live-action movies. With his tetrology of hits that were Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuilce, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands, Burton became Hollywood's latest wunderkind. And Disney wanted him back to make movies at their studios. So, in order to lure him back, Disney promised that they'd finally make that Christmas/Halloween movie he pitched 10 years earlier or so. Burton came back, Disney made the Nightmare Before Christmas, and also Ed Wood. Rather than doing it with traditional animation, they decided to go with stop-motion animation, to replicate the feel of the classic Rankin-Bass animated Christmas specials. Burton was getting quite busy with all his live-action films, though, so he turned the project over to veteran stop-motion animation director Henry Selick.
As production started winding down, though, Disney was faced with a dillemma. They started fearing that this tale of monsters doing their own take on Christmas might actually be too scary for younger children. So, Disney started distancing themselves from the film...released it under their Touchstone label instead of Walt Disney Pictures. It's only about 5 years ago or so, after the film became a certified cult classic, that Disney finally started taking ownership again.
The plot, in case you've never had the pleasure....the film posits that holidays are brought to us courtesy of these magical towns, where it's that holiday 365 days per year. Jack Skellington, the ruler of Halloweentown, is in a bit of a funk, though. After putting on Halloween year after year after year, he's starting to grow bored with it. While walking around, he eventually stumbles on the portal to Christmastown. Jack becomes filled with the Christmas spirit, and decides to attempt doing Christmas. He had Santa Claus abducted and placed in the care of the villainous Oogie Boogie. Jack sets out on his sleigh to deliver his spookier vision of Christmas to the world, but it's not well-received and he's shot down. Jack, upset that he's ruined Christmas, soon realizes that he does a kick-ass Halloween. With his Halloween spirit restored, Jack rescues Santa from Oogie Boogie just in time to save Christmas! Oh, and lovely young rag doll named Sally pines for Jack throughout the whole thing, and they finally get it on at the end.
Nightmare Before Christmas hit theatres in October of 1993. Never got a chance to see it in the theatres. I didn't get to see it until it came out on video in November of 1994. I ran down to the corner store and rented it...oh, a couple of weeks after it came out. AND IT BLEW MY FREAKING MIND. I must have watched it three more times before it was time to take it back. It just...I can't describe it. That first time I saw it, I was totally sucked in to this other world that the filmmakers had created.
And the music. For months after I saw the film, the music...it just wasn't stuck in my head. The music haunted me. How can I describe how this music haunted me? We all know how music can stir intense emotions in people, right? Sad songs make you cry and all that. However, once we've heard the song a hundred times or so, we get desensitized and it doesn't hit us as hard. But pretend that never happens. The emotion is always as intense as the first time you hear it. And the song is stuck in your head so you hear it over and over and over again, so that emotional state is preserved. THAT'S what I mean by the music haunted me. I got my first CD player for Christmas in 1994. Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack was the first CD I ever bought. When I got my first DVD player in 2001, it was among the first DVDs I bought.
Fun trivia fact: First cellphone I ever bought myself, my ringtone was "Sally's Song."
When it comes to being an afficianado of film scores, I'm still a rank amateur, but I think it's safe to say that Danny Elfman peaked with this film. He hasn't written anything that's come close to topping this in the 17 years since it first came out.
Watching it for this feature was the first time I actually watched the film with a critical eye, and some of the flaws are starting to stand out. Even though the film is a very short 75 minutes, you can feel the padding. There's, like, 3 montages focusing on Jack trying to figure out what makes Christmas tick. As much as I love the character of Sally, the romance with Jack seems very much tacked-on at the last minute. And there really isn't a villain...it almost seems like Oogie Boogie was thrown in at the last minute just so we can have an action-packed finale.
But what can I say? It's still a beloved classic that haunts me to this very day.