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Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Nightmare Before Christmas

It's roughly halfway between Halloween and Christmas--there's still a lot of pumpkin spice around and people are already in line for Black Friday sales--so I thought it would be a good time to show my students The Nightmare Before Christmas. I actually found a film that many of them had not seen (it is from 1993) and one asked if it was a Halloween film or a Christmas film, and I truthfully answered, "Both."

Though directed by Henry Selick, this is from the mind of Tim Burton, and he envisioned it and produced it. It is, without much doubt, the best Halloween/Christmas movie (I think it's the only one) but it is also one of the best animated movie musicals of all time. It is kind of an anti-Disney film (interestingly, it was bought by Disney in 2006), the kind the Addams Family would love.

The conceit is that each holiday has its own town, with an entry through a doorway in a tree. We are first introduced to Halloweentown, and the first of Danny Elfman's wonderful songs (you can tell Elfman's music--I'm not a musical person but even I can hear his motifs--this song sounds a lot like the main theme from Mars Attacks!). The big man on campus is Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, who organizes Halloween every year. Only he has some ennui, and wants to change things.

He comes across Christmastown, and is amazed. In another great musical number, "What's This?" Jack's eyes are opened. He experiences snow, and joy. He wants Halloween to take over Christmas, but needs to get "Sandy Claws" out of the way. He employs three mischief-makers (Lock, Shock, and Barrel) to kidnap him, and we get my favorite song, "Kidnap the Sandy Claws," which has one of my favorite two lines of any song anywhere:

"Kidnap the Sandy Claws
Chop him into bits."

Kind of balances out all those super-sugary Christmas carols.

The three trick-or-treaters deliver Santa to Oogie Boogie, a bogey-man who is just a sack made of bugs and worms, and Jack realizes his error and saves the day, along with Sally, a rag doll who was made by the Evil Scientist, who looks like a duck.

What's great about The Nightmare Before Christmas is the complete depth of detail, especially of Halloweentown. It is a completely realized place, and despite the vampires and the monsters, seems like a place that would be nice to visit. I like the mayor, who is literally two-faced, the guy with an axe in his head, and especially the Evil Scientist, who consistently is outwitted by Sally until he finally makes his perfect match.

The sequence in which Jack fills in for Santa (which is reminiscent in a way of How the Grinch Stole Christmas) is great, too. That moment when the kid opens his present and finds a shrunken head is priceless.

The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a holiday classic, it just covers more than one holiday.

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