This holiday season, we at Psycho Drive-In would like to introduce you to the good, the bad, and ugly of not just any Holiday Films, but the Holiday Films you may have forgotten, overlooked, or just didn’t realize were Holiday Films. There’s no Rankin-Bass, no Miracles on any streets, no traditional happy family gathering fare. Instead there’s a lot of blood, violence, some terrorists, monsters, and even aliens. Plus more than a couple of bizarre Anti-Santas to go around. Twelve days, twelve films, twelve opportunities to amuse and disturb your families this holiday season. On the Seventh Day of Christmas, Alex Wolfe gives to you, The Nightmare before Christmas (1993). It’s been at least sixteen years since I last watched The Nightmare before Christmas. A favorite of mine growing up (alongside Labyrinth and The Neverending Story), it’s no wonder I turned out the way I did. Growing up, I didn’t really understand a lot of what was happening – I liked the music and the animation, it was dark and spooky and yet whimsical in its own way, but I think a great deal of the nuance and creativity was beyond me. When I moved away, my VHS cassettes (jeez, I feel old now) were left behind and lost, and a lot of childhood memories along with them. Still, it’s hard to avoid the tell-tale gushing of Nightmare fans, and even years after I had last seen the film I was still hearing about how it was a masterpiece. Not having a copy, I went along with my gut instinct and agreed, based on my childhood memories. Of course it was a masterpiece, I’d loved it when I was a kid… right? Sadly, it’s not always a wise choice to re-watch childhood favorites. When processed through our jaded, boring, grown-up, adult-ass minds, movies intended for kids can easily come off as vapid and dumbed-down. This leads not only to a disappointing movie experience, but a piece of one’s childhood being torn away – something that can never be replaced. It’s no surprise, then, that I avoided re-watching Nightmare for such a long time. But with Christmas on the horizon, the time finally came. The time for those sinister childhood memories to either sink or swim. Was Tim Burton’s classic holiday film… a masterpiece? Drumroll, please. Yes, absolutely it fucking was. Since my memory of the movie was so very fuzzy, I can’t even chock up my adoration to nostalgia or any other such fickle facets of the adult mind. I remembered only a scarce few of the songs and almost nothing of the story – indeed, the ending was as much of a surprise as it had been the very first time I saw it, if my tiny brain even understood what was going on back then. The animation is beautiful. It’s excessively rare that stop-motion has been used with this much finesse, and for exactly the right purpose. The fact that the characters are “real” (as in, not cartoons) allows them to react with the physical world in a way that brings a sort of bizarre, eerie energy to the story. The way they move is as unnerving as it is charming. The jerky agility with which they move along to the (amazing) soundtrack is enchanting and horrific all at once. Speaking of horrific, how in the world was this marketed towards children at all? Especially in the early 90’s, when guns had to be replaced with lasers, nobody could be killed except robots, and the word “die” couldn’t even be uttered aloud? On top of the creepy nature of the setting and characters (some of which are truly goddamn disturbing), this film really doesn’t pull its punches. Dismemberment, decay, undeath, and horror are all played completely straight, and what little sense of safety that comes from the casual demeanor of the residents of Halloweentown is undermined to tremendous effect in the climax, where we see the “real world” react to the titular nightmare that comes before Christmas. Every time this guy’s mouth moves, my stomach quivers. The music plays its part perfectly. While it can feel a little bit “same-y” at times, I feel that this was more or less intentional. Leitmotifs from past songs pop up when they’re needed, even popping into other songs, which creates a sense of consistency and comfort in the score. While every song is obviously a Nightmare before Christmas song, it honestly does its part in giving the film a unique and iconic sound that Danny Elfman would attempt to replicate for decades to come. There’s more to this than just its creepy atmosphere, however, and there’s a reason that it’s a holiday classic as much as it is a Hot Topic merchandising cash-cow (okay, maybe not quite as much). This does its best to explore the concept of the spirit of giving – through the eyes of someone to which the very notion of kindness at all is alien and mysterious. Jack Skellington’s attempts to grasp, explain, and even dissect the meaning of Christmas all fall flat until he finally reaches a state of acceptance, realizing that it’s not something he can pick apart and understand… only believe in. While his attempts to replicate (more like steal) the holiday still don’t go exactly the way he wants them to, his heart is always in the right place. His excellent animation, iconic design, great voicing, and tender personality make him a great character who shines in the role of the protagonist. Also a very snappy dresser. The romantic angle between Jack and Sally plays out well, even though it isn’t a central aspect of the plot. A lot of emotion bleeds through in Sally’s Song, plucking at a different chord that adds a new layer to the plot while not distracting from the atmosphere. It also establishes a sort of romantic trapdoor – when the song resurfaces, all of those emotions spring right back to life, bringing the relationship full-circle within the fairly short amount of time that it’s actually able to be addressed. Speaking of time, this flick’s actually shorter than I expected (just over an hour), especially when considering that it feels looong. I blame (not so much blame, but… award) this to the fact that Nightmare’s a musical. When entire sections of story are told in 3-4 minutes, and each of those brief segments feels significant and whole, it definitely stretches out the perceived runtime by packing in a dozen or so of these musical “chapters.” To be completely honest, the only bit of dark wonder that was lost on my adult mind was the “Oogie Boogie” character. Despite trying to accept him from what he was worth, the second he appeared my mind rejected any and all suspension of disbelief, replaced in its entirety with a stark reminder of Danny Elfman’s 30’s jazz fetish. I blame that on Elfman himself, since the goofy bastard tries to include a “swingin’” element to anything and everything he touches, including, apparently, this. While it was an alright idea and the character worked for the most part, he did distract from the overall atmosphere, making his sections distinct from the rest of the film. Also, c’mon, seriously, he’s a sack filled with bugs. I expected better of the main villain. But that’s a very small complaint, only one step above a nitpick. Overall, if I hadn’t made it clear (I hope so, since I did openly refer to it as a “masterpiece” right off the bat), I loved this movie… as much, or maybe even more than I did as a kid. It’s dark, whimsical, charming, and heartfelt. Each character design, each inspired shot, each song, each performance, reminds me of why Tim Burton and his little squadron of underlings became as big as they ended up getting. It shows what can really happen when a creator is at the top of their game and has inspiration to spare. If somehow you’ve never seen this, it definitely gets my recommendation. It’s earned its hype. See larger image The Nightmare Before Christmas New From: $8.71 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Psycho Drive-In Twelve Days of Christmas Round-Up! - Psycho Drive-In December 25, 2015 […] The Seventh Day of Christmas: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.