Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas restores originality and daring to the Halloween genre. This dazzling mix of fun and fright also explodes the notion that animation is kid stuff. The history-making stop-motion animation in this $20 million charmer transcends age. It’s 74 minutes of timeless movie magic.
The story concerns Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of dreary Halloweentown, who finds a secret passageway to Christmastown. Enchanted by the colors and high spirits, Jack decides to sandbag Santa and deliver presents in a coffin-shaped sleigh led by skeleton reindeer. Burton hatched the idea 11 years ago as a humble animator at Disney, a Conservativetown where such deviltry was quickly squashed. His later success with Batman, Beetlejuice and the like prompted a reconsideration.
Some parents may raise hell over the film’s dark mischief. Santa is held hostage by a sack of slime and bugs called Oogie Boogie (Ken Page of Broadway’s Ain’t Misbehavin‘ does the voice). And Jack unknowingly terrifies kids by delivering such presents as a shrunken head and a toy snake that devours Christmas trees. Even Sally, Jack’s rag-doll love, thinks he may be going too far. That leaves a gloomy Jack warbling a tune — one of 10 composed by Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman (who sings for Jack) — in the arms of a statue in a graveyard.
We’re a long way from traditional Disney fare. Nightmare celebrates the joy of a good scare; it also deals with the repercussions of being misunderstood. There’s not a trace of podlike conformity in Burton’s vision, Elfman’s score or Caroline Thompson’s script. And director Henry Selick (he did the ingenious MTV logo animation) performs miracles in stop-motion; Nightmare took nearly three years to complete (over 100 crew members averaged only 60 seconds of film per week). The result has the earmarks of an enduring classic. Of all the new Halloween films, only this one has the power to truly haunt our dreams.