“Boys and girls of every age,
Would you like to see something strange?”
The residents in the town of Halloween take delight in fright. Each creepy and ugly, they aren’t malicious; scaring is just part of their job – in the delightful 1993 holiday offering by director (and former Disney animator) Tim Burton – The Nightmare Before Christmas. In this merging of two beloved holidays, Burton brought his delightfully macabre story to life with the utilization of stop-motion animation and a wonderful musical score by composer Danny Elfman. The result was a film that quickly became a must-see during every holiday season.
Halloweentown is one of a series of strange lands where holiday spirit reigns supreme. The town’s main enthusiast is the emaciated Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King. With an oversized softball head, this anorexic ghoul and his faithful canine companion Zero, work tirelessly to ensure that Halloween goes off without a hitch each year. And yet, these responsibilities aren’t enough to bring fulfillment to Jack’s life. Always wanting to do things bigger and better, he begins to eye the neighboring Christmas Town, envious of their own brand of festive holiday cheer.
Jack decides that if he can handle Halloween, imagine what he could do with a holiday such as Christmas? He gathers the resident vampires, witches, and sinister clowns and pitches his idea to them, one that they don’t fully get the gist of. Even his love interest, the haphazardly-stitched rag doll Sally, isn’t enthusiastic about Jack’s newest idea but he trudges forth anyway, enlisting everyone’s help to create new decorations and gifts for Christmas, each a little more scary than one might expect to receive from ol’ St. Nick.
And just to ensure that he has little competition on the festive day, he dispatches the diminutive trio of Lock, Shock and Barrel to kidnap the great “Mr. Sandy Claws.” Little does he know that they are also working for the sinister Oogie Boogie Man. Setting out on the big day in a coffin-shaped sleigh pulled by skeleton reindeer, Jack is soon in for a rude awakening – it turns out that the little kids of the world aren’t exactly delighted by the frightening chasing and screaming toys he is delivering. When his sleigh is shot out of the air by military jets, he realizes that he perhaps bit off more than he could chew. And now he must figure out a way to save Christmas from his well-intentional but misguided attempt.
Tim Burton pulled out all of the stops in his stop-motion extravaganza, which was most certainly influenced by previous work by the beloved holiday animation team of Rankin-Bass. He cited their 1969 feature film, Mad Monster Party as one on of the biggest influences on his latest endeavor. Audiences were left spellbound by the creepy world that Jack inhabited, something that one might never expected to come from The Walt Disney Company. Rated PG, it was released under their more adult-oriented Touchstone Division and immediately won the hearts of adults and children alike. As would be expected, the merchandising machine also kicked into high gear, producing numerous costumes, toys and other collectables based on the film. Elfman’s delightfully frightful score became a hit in its own right.
In 1996, Skellington Productions, Burton’s production company released another stop-motion offering, James and the Giant Peach, based on Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel. And, in 2005, another would follow with The Corpse Bride. Although both were respect-worthy films, neither managed to garner the attention or acclaim of Burton’s original masterpiece. In 2006, The Nightmare Before Christmas was re-released – this time in Disney 3-D. The updated version became the highest per-theater gross in history, averaging $3.2 million per location.
If you count The Nightmare Before Christmas as a much-watch film each time the season rolls around, we’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our Retroland hats to Tim Burton for his unique and endearing take on the holidays.