Sunday 10 February 2008

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Very much a Tim Burton film even though he didn't direct, this is a feast for the eyes, and while it's a musical at least the songs are better than they were in Sweeney Todd, especially Oogie Boogie's song as sung by Ken Page and anything with the backing band that reminds of the Tiger Lillies. Actually they should have scored this film! That would be a memorable thing for sure. Maybe we'll get there one day with an animated opera version of Shockheaded Peter.

The story is a dark one, as you'd expect, but it's hardly inappropriate for the youngsters, because there's humour even in the depths of the monster filled Halloweentown where we begin. Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, as played by Chris Sarandon when speaking and long time Burton composer Danny Elfman when singing. There are many familiar names here, including William Hickey, Catherine O'Hara, Glenn Shadix and Paul Reubens, though I managed to completely miss him. It was also written by Michael McDowell, the man behind Beetlejuice.

Jack is apparently awesome at his job but he's bored out of his brain doing the same thing year after year, so after yet another successful Hallowe'en he takes off in depression and ends up in a forest glade where every tree leads to another town. Next thing he knows he's through the door to Christmas Town and finds a new purpose. He introduces the concepts of Christmas to his own people and decides to take over the holiday with his own sense of style. He has Santa Claus kidnapped and takes his place: sleigh, costume and all.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting here but this wasn't it. Maybe I was expecting something darker, something more topical and less abstract, something that wasn't a musical. The sweep of the film is fine and it's certainly cool to imagine the man behind an entire holiday going through a midlife crisis but it's a lot more forgettable than it really ought to be, given how awesome it looks. It's the details that worked best for me and there are many of them, awesome little touches that could easily go unnoticed: the three kids who behave like the Three Stooges, the mayor of Halloweentown having two faces and whole new meaning to rolling the bones and cutting the cards.

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