Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Movie Review: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun music and great gags for adults
Cons: Too dark for young kids, one dimensional characters
The Bottom Line:
Halloween movie
Sights might frighten little kids
Adults will love gags

How Jack Skellington Stole Christmas

I must confess I've always wondered a little at the love many people seem to have for Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I'd seen it once on TV and didn't think much of it.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either.  I wound up getting a free copy, and I thought I'd give it another chance.  While I still wouldn't call it a favorite movie, I did enjoy it more.

In a time long forgotten, various towns were responsible for giving our holidays their cheer.  One such place was Halloweentown.  Jack Skellington (voiced by Danny Elfman and Chris Sarandon) was Pumpkin King and the reason the holiday was always so successful.

However, he was bored with his job.  One day, he stumbled upon the entrance to Christmastown and was immediately captured by the happiness and good feelings he produced.  He immediately decided that this year, he would run the holiday himself with the help of his Halloweentown cronies.  Only Sally (Catherine O'Hara) seems to think this is a bad idea.  Will Jack be able to pull it off?

You definitely have to be in the correct mood to enjoy this film.  It may have Christmas in the title, but Nightmare truly is the focus.  This is a twisted little film.  There's really no room for the warm fuzzies, making it a much better choice at Halloween than Christmas.  And some of the images are pretty disturbing.  This movie could easily give small kids nightmares.

Old kids and adults will enjoy the humor to it.  Watching the residents of Halloweentown create their version of Christmas really is rather funny.  And there is lots of creativity shown here.  Frankly, I can picture the pitch meetings as those involved tried to top each other.  These gags are perfect for the intended audience.

The movie is over half music by composer Danny Elfman.  The biggest stand out here is "What's This?" the song Jack sings when he first discovers Christmastown.  Not to say the rest are bad.  They really help advance the story.  But that's the one you're most likely to have running through your head when the movie is over.

The majority of the cast are unknowns, or at least aren't familiar to me.  About the only exception I haven't already mentioned is Paul Ruebens who plays one of a trio of kids.  The cast is excellent in their various roles.  I do have to wonder why they had two voice actors for Jack.  He has the majority of the songs, so he sings more than he talks.  It seems like Danny could have done the speaking parts as well, but that's just me.

So the movie does have two problems as far as I am concerned.  The first is the stop motion animation.  Yes, that's right.  As much as I love animation, I've always found stop motion to be hard to get into.  I spend more time watching the characters and their jerky movements than anything else.  Having said that, I must give them props for Jack's dog Zero.  He's a ghost dog, and the way they make the sheets flow and float is simply amazing.

Secondly, the characters are a bit flat for me.  Sally gets a sub-plot, but I still don't really come to care for her.  Frankly, no one is developed enough to make me care about the outcome.  Even in the tense scenes involving villain Oogie Boogie (Ken Page), I am just sitting back waiting for the tables to turn.

Complaints aside, I think I just might make The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween tradition.  It's just twisted and fun enough fit that time of year.

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