The Nightmare Before Christmas

Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara Directed by: Henry Selick

What's this?  A review of The Nightmare Before Christmas?  Quick, gather the emo kiddies around the computer in their Jack Skellington hoodies and sock hats from Hot Topic.  (Yes, I know a lot of them weren't even born when it first ran in 1993.  That's irrelevant.)  Cue the pop-punk remix of the soundtrack.  And do be careful when you're opening those presents…could be shrunken exploding heads this year.

What's this?  I'm being a little unkind.  This is true.  It is difficult to not empathize with the Pumpkin King (voiced by ol' Fright Night vamp himself, Chris Sarandon), bored with years of the same old same old at Halloween.  To quote Trainspotting, "Variety 'ay the spice 'o life."  Then as his melancholy wanderings take him into Christmas Town, he livens up like a teenage girl (or perhaps a 30-something woman acting like a teenage girl) at a Fall Out Boy concert.

It is fun to watch the (literally) animated Jack, accompanied by his adorable ghostly pup Zero, get excited about snow, presents, decorations, "Sandy Claws" and all the trapping of Christmas and want to try his hand at it.

The rest of the movie is actually kind of…meh.  Sure, the Danny Elfman soundtrack is good and there's a nice little romance between Sally  – who is kind of like a cross between Raggedy Ann and Frankenstein – and Jack.  (Which is immortalized in Blink 182's "I Miss You").  There's also some side plot about three irritating monster kids and Oogie Boogie.  But honestly these parts aren't as fun to watch in my opinion, and sometimes make the movie drag.  The sheer magic is in Jack's delight in the idea of Christmas and attempting to deliver his twisted brand of joy to children worldwide on December 25th.

Between the time I originally saw the movie and re-watching it in 2004, I believe I had pretty glorified memories of it.  Then I went to see the 3D re-release a few years after and was completely disappointed.  And a little more bored during the movie than I expected.

I visited Disney Land this year during the Halloween Celebration (which is pretty much from late September through Halloween). As one of the special holiday attractions, the Haunted Mansion was completely redone in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme.  Everything – from the pictures in the elevator to the trappings in the séance room to the ghouls that follow you home – was all Nightmare'd up.  It was ridiculously cool – and really captured the surprise and delight Jack felt at finding something new when he was a little jaded by the same old same old. Nearly every scene felt totally fresh and exciting – my favorite was them replacing the disembodied candelabra floating in the hallway with Zero waiting to greet all the mansion guests.  Actually, the very idea for this review was born while I was waiting in line as one guy behind me remarked,  "It's amazing how much they've been able to market a movie that wasn't all that good…"

I think he's only half right.  The movie in total, kind of boring.  But the ability to balance creepiness with innocence and despair with joy in just the right quantity that allows teens and adults to enjoy a Disney movie that isn't painted with the same saccharine brush as a 'happily ever after' princess flick…that is genius, and exactly why The Nightmare Before Christmas will be a cult classic for years to come.

(disclaimer:  the author of this blog once owned a pair of black and purple striped knee socks with Jack Skellington on them.  And yes, she bought them at Hot Topic). Written by Jennifer Venson