Tim Burton, who used to make interesting movies, had the idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas in the early 80s when he was an animator for Disney. In the late 80s and early 90s he made some very clever and successful films (Batman, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands) and Disney finally agreed to let him make his bizarre fantasy amalgamation of Halloween and Christmas.
The story follows Jack Skellington, a gentleman skeleton living in Halloween Town, as he tries to understand the secrets of Christmas and bestow them upon the residents of his gothic burb. Halloween Town is populated by monsters, mutants, ghouls, goblins and assorted nighttime terrors, most of whom are happy as peaches. Jack gets tired of the town’s obligatory Halloween celebration every year, and takes a walk through the woods to be alone. He stumbles upon a portal into Christmas Town, and the next few minutes are among the best in the film. He walks through the town in wide-eyed amazement, filled with the joy of discovery, singing “What is this? What is this?”
He tries to explain Christmas to the residents of Halloween Town, but since he doesn’t really understand it himself, they’re completely confused. Imagine watching your first game of Cricket without anyone to explain it to you, and then trying to teach your friends how to play it. I’ve actually done that before, so I would know. A South African friend told me my wickets were too short and I thanked him not to say that to me again.
Jack goes so far as to kidnap Santa Claus and try to deliver toys to the world’s children himself. The kiddos are less than overjoyed to find shriveled skulls and horrendous snakes under their trees Christmas morning, and the military ends up shooting down Jack’s coffin sleigh. He makes his way back to his home, frees Santa, and as the jolly elf flies away he makes it snow in Halloween Town for the first time as a parting gift. Jack and his friends play in the snow, and learn not to try to be something they aren’t. I think.
The gift of this movie is the art design. The story is amusing and the songs are fun, but the visual machinations of Tim Burton’s mind will make your jaw drop. If you aren’t a fan of gothic fantasies, this one might not be the one you put in the DVD player on Christmas Eve, or, it might. (I’m a fan of useless sentances like that). Either way, you need to watch this one at least once. And I need to watch it again.