[We just passed the 30th anniversary of the release of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. In honor of this, here is Mark's review from 1993.]
Capsule review: Tim Burton proves himself a creative genius with a film deserving of instant holiday classic status. Just about everything comes together and genuinely works in the best holiday film since Alistair Sim starred in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4).
From the on-again off-again career of Tim Burton comes a film so original and incredibly creative that it genuinely is unlikely to be surpassed as a holiday film for decades. While Burton did not actually direct in this outing (Henry Selick did), Burton produced and wrote the story, creating the characters. And THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS shows an unmistakable Burton style. The entire film is done in beautiful 3-D animation and is the culmination of the poetic fairy tale style we saw some of (but not enough) in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS crossed with the tongue-in-cheek horror-spoof style of "Frankenweenie" and "Vincent." This film dazzles the viewer with so many beautiful images that I found just taking my eyes off the screen to make notes meant I was missing something I wanted to see. The style the film kept reminding me of some exceptionally creative Czech films--particularly those of Jiri Trnka--and wishing more films like that could be done elsewhere. Now a visual style every bit as compelling, perhaps more, has found its way into an American film. The fairy tale style that I liked so much in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS I attributed to Caroline Thompson, a then first-time screenwriter whose talents I claimed were just what Burton needed. I am very pleased that Burton seems to have had the same insight. Thompson wrote NIGHTMARE's screenplay also and this time she and Burton have completely fulfilled the promise their pairing showed in that film. The ten musical pieces here are written and scored with the clever style and quality of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
The story takes place in a land where holidays are born. One town makes Halloween each year, another makes Christmas. The artistic genius of Halloweentown is one Jack Skellington, a sort of skeleton with a globular head. But then everyone in Halloweentown is a horror, that is the spirit of Halloween. The town is full of werewolves, vampires, bats, spiders, mad scientists, and things for which there are no names. Jack is dissatisfied with Halloween and stumbles on Christmastown. He is enchanted and puzzled by the idea of Christmas and decides he and his town of horrors can do it all better. Halloweentown starts working on putting on a horror-tinged Christmas. If that seems a silly plot, well you don't expect a holiday film is going to have a Dostoyevsky-level story. Just accept the story and watch how well it is told. Regardless of the plot this is a film that you *will* find rewarding. Take it from me you may possibly have seen a film like this before but only rarely, and you have never seen it done so well for 75 minutes. If you thought THE WIZARD OF OZ was an impressive children's film, go see THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Amazingly to me I give a Christmas film a rating of +3 on the -4 to +4.
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2023 Mark R. Leeper