Shiny Shelf

SHINY ADVENT: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

By Mark Clapham on 15 December 2006

Jack Skellington is the pumpkin king, skeletal monarch of Halloween Town, where ghoulish creatures spend all year planning for the one day they get to go out into the world and scare children.

While brilliant at his job, Jack is depressed, in a rut. He wants something new. When he takes a long, lonely walk into the woods and, having discovered the door to the towns of all the other holidays, he steps into Christmas Town and finds what he believes is a new way of living. Halloween Town is going to take over Christmas, and do it better than Santa ever did.

Imagined and produced by Tim Burton, but directed by Henry Sellick, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is a late relic of stop motion animation, an art now almost entirely eradicated by CG animation which, to be fair, can create a similar 3D effect at a fraction of the cost and production time.

The plot, in which Jack hubristically usurps Santa and in the process of failing finds himself again, is a strong central thread to the movie surrounded by a raging torrent of visual gags, songs, and cool details. Sellick brings Burton’s sketched characters to delicious life, filling each frame with funny and creepy details. Notably, Christmas Town with its blank eyed elves is actually slightly scarier than the Halloween population of werewolves, witches and vampires. Each creepy character has a character of their own, and in skeletal Jack and patchwork Sally the movie has cinema’s most unlikely, and surprisingly touching, lovers.

Danny Elfman’s excellent score and songs have enough hooks to be memorable, but are also spiky enough to avoid falling into the whimsy of most songs for kids’ films. The lyrics are packed with gross and grim little references, which lie at the heart of the film’s success – that the horrors of Halloween undermine and underpin the warm imagery of Christmas, resulting in a deadpan treat that has a quirky charm all of its own.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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