October 27, 2013

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Henry Selick, 1993

From the mind of Tim Burton comes a story about Halloween Land and its inhabitants. After another successful holiday, Jack Skellington expresses his boredom with the repetition and looks for something different to reinvigorate his interest in Halloween. He ventures to a crossroads that has a doorway to Christmas Land. There, he finds a completely different world... one that he becomes quite enamored with.

This film was made in a time when Burton used to make good films. Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman. Back in a time when Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter weren't fixtures in every piece of work. And despite the fact he didn't direct this one, his personality is all over it. The film is basically a Tim Burton PCP trip laid out before your eyes. A glance into his younger, more creative brain. Bizarre, odd-shaped claymation with an impressive amount of detail. Headless creatures, windy roads etched with curvature, circular tree branches. Everywhere you turn, there's a ghost, ghoul or vampire lurking ready to pop out and go into song. And there's plenty of song. A bit much, actually. In front of Elfman's catchy score are lyrics that end up feeling repetitive and tiresome. It's an eerie musical with Jack Skellington at the forefront. He plays the curious one, the seeker, the explorer. The inhabitants of Halloween Land are satisfied with their existence but he grows hungry. The film plays on the dichotomy of Halloween and Christmas, and reinforces a sort of alternate dimension approach to them where one world isn't aware of the other. When Jack's cross-pollination occurs it's quite artfully done, with the Christmas set pieces almost coming off as a satisfying Candyland game board. But the simple message takes a long time to get delivered as it heads down its predictable path. It's certainly not rich in story as it's a feast for the eyes. While Burton's characters are uniquely constructed, the film could be watched with the volume down. Probably at least worth a single watch to see Burton's art at work, at the peak of his career. 

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