Saturday, June 21, 2014

22. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Code-name: Zero

Director: Henry Selick

Writer: Tim Burton (based on a poem he wrote)
Composer: Danny Elfman
Type: Halloween/holiday themed animated film


Jack Skellington- Chris Sarandon
Jack Skellington (singing voice)- Danny Elfman
Sally- Catherine O'Hara
Dr. Finkelstein- William Hickey
The Mayor- Glenn Shadix
Oogie Boogie- Ken Page
Lock- Paul Reubens
Shock- Catherine O'Hara
Barrel- Danny Elfman
Santa Claus- Ed Ivory
Narrator- Patrick Stewart

Notable Nominations:

OSCAR- Best Visual Effects
Golden Globe- Best Original Score- Danny Elfman



I remember wanting to see this movie when it came out on VHS, but I don't know if we ever got around to renting it. At the tender age of 8, I probably wouldn't have gotten into it or enjoyed it as much as I do now.

I have "Kingdom Hearts" alone to thank for convincing me to give this movie another shot. Now I can't get through the Halloween season without seeing it once and I have this thing where I have to see every second of it or the overall experience doesn't feel complete.

The first time I saw a run-through of the game, I was surprised that HalloweenTown was one of the worlds. I didn't remember it being a Disney movie... apparently Touchstone Pictures is OWNED by Disney and they used to distribute their darker films.

...I have mixed feelings about that :-P Disney handles some pretty dark stuff on their own

But anyway, both installments of the series handled different elements from this movie. This is opposed to one game handling a plot similar to the movie and the other making up its own storyline. That alone, I find pretty impressive.

In Kingdom Hearts, Jack wanted to use the Heartless for his yearly Halloween celebration and it has some serious repercussions. Naturally, Sally thinks it's a horrible idea and tries to talk him out of it. Oogie Boogie's roulette wheel was featured in the first boss fight.

The second game revisit the plot where Jack has Sally make him a Santa Claus costume and it's hinted that he wants to give the Christmas thing another try.

Both renderings were really well done, using a lot of the same settings in the film (KHII also has a ChristmasTown locale, which is a nice addition).

It's also nice that they brought back Chris Sarandon to perform for Jack... everyone else, they were sourced out to prolific, albeit, generic voiceover veterans like Kathe Soucie and Jeff Bennett (who I love in their own work, it's just a minor peeve of mine when other actors originate roles and sound-alikes take over for monetary reasons)...

Anyway, moving on...

The Story

Halloweentown is one of several parallel universes where holidays come from. The inhabitants include all the creatures one would associate with Halloween, monsters, vampires, werewolves and such. The most notable resident: Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King. During every year's Halloween celebration, he's at the center of its planning and staging.

This year, however, after Halloween comes and goes, Jack feels empty inside, doing the same thing year after year and wants to find something new.

What he winds up finding is the portal to ChristmasTown, leading him on a mission to explain the spirit of Christmas to the HalloweenTown residents.

This does not go over well and he soon decides the best way is to take over Christmas, getting everyone else involved.

The only person against it is Sally, a ragdoll created by the mad scientist Dr. Finkelstein. She spends much of the movie trying to get away from him as he believes she's not quite ready for the outside world. She also falls in love with Jack, despite her opposition to his idea.

What could possibly go wrong? With Christmas now under the leadership of someone best skilled at scaring people? And with Santa Claus in the clutches of Oogie Boogie, the town's Boogie Man?

How about everything? :-P
But every minute of it isn't to be missed.

Characters and Actors

Easily, the biggest stars of this movie are Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman and Catherine O'Hara.

Knowing him only as Prince Humperdink of "The Princess Bride," I wouldn't have figured Chris Sarandon had this much depth. Of course his performance is aided by dozens of expressions for Jack's figurine, but he brings so much life to it... you feel like Jack is really alive.
Not that all of the characters aren't lively, but there are so many dimensions to Jack's personality. Despite going about his good intentions the wrong way, you find yourself wanting to get behind him. He has that irresistible charm and charisma.

Catherine O'Hara previously worked with Tim Burton in "Beetlejuice" and most of us know her as Mrs. McAllister in the "Home Alone" movies. Sally is a unique character, unlike anything she'd played before and also unique among the HalloweenTown residents. She has a good heart, a conscience and probably more common sense than everyone else in the world put together.

As Santa Claus put it, "the next time you take over someone else's holiday, I'd listen to her. She's the only one who makes sense around this insane asylum"

Given the back and forth we have throughout the movie, Jack realizing his feelings for Sally and uniting with her... such a sweet pay-off.

Adults are more likely to see the humor in The Mayor. He's a man with two faces that transition based on his mood (one happy, one terrified/sad) and his shtick (probably moreso in the Kingdom Hearts series than in the movie) is saying "I'm only an elected official, I can't handle this by myself"...
:sigh: sad but true

Lock, Shock and Barrel are all minions of Oogie Boogie's, but they have their unique personalities and quirks. They're mischievous kids dressed as a devil, a witch and a skeleton. Jack hires them to kidnap Santa Claus so he can take over the holiday. They also wind up handing Santa over to Oogie Boogie, who absolutely enjoys making a spectacle of himself to horrify him.
Although Jack's plan is all kinds of wrong, Oogie Boogie's the true villain of the movie. How he's defeated is textbook horror-genre'd B-movie... about as silly as seeing the zipper in the back of a monster costume.

And of course, there's Jack's faithful ghost dog companion, Zero. So loveable, one of several dogs Tim Burton had written into his stop-motion animated films... all of which were dead yet alive in their own way.
However cheesy it is, he's there to "light the way" for Jack's sleigh when Sally tries to stop the flight with fog juice.

Yeah, they totally gave him a glowing jack-o-lantern nose for that reason :-P

The Music

Danny Elfman said writing the 10 songs in this movie was "one of the easiest jobs I've ever had" because he had a lot in common with our anti-hero, Jack Skellington 8-)

I got to know "This is Halloween," the opening musical number of this film, as the musical score of HalloweenTown in Kingdom Heart... meaning I didn't know there were actually words attached.

Whenever I watch the movie, for whatever reason, my sister will come in and sing along with the song... the only part of the movie she will watch with me...

But yeah, it's a pretty kick ass song and I can play at least the first couple bars on keyboard.

Actually, all of the songs in this movie are really good with the exception of "Kidnap the Sandy Claws," sung by Lock, Stock and Barrel. Not that it's bad songwriting, it's just hard to listen to and enjoy it, especially with the childish sounding vocals.

Right after "This is Halloween," we have "Jack's Lament" where he moans about not feeling the Halloween spirit and not understanding why.

One of many songs where Danny Elfman does melancholy so well.

So naturally we had to follow it with something happier and more upbeat.

"What's this?" where Jack is running around ChristmasTown trying to make sense of everything, how this world is so different from his.
It's so much fun, seeing his flexible body weave in and out of the town, the expressions on his face, the range of his vocals. He's so captivated and overwhelmed by every little detail.

Another fun song, if you're into the demented side of fun, is Oogie Boogie's song. For a younger audience, it might be deemed a little creepy with all the crazy colors and patterns appearing throughout the number.

It also prominently features the roulette wheel that was part of the first HalloweenTown boss fight in Kingdom Hearts, as does the epic battle scene in the finale between him and Jack.

A great moment that was parodied by Nostalgia Critic was in a song called "Poor Jack" where Jack's plan literally blows up in his face and he wonders why.

Then he realizes the error of his ways, puts an optimistic spin on things and resolves to come up with something better for next Halloween.

Nostalgia Critic put his some of own lyrics to this song after a vlog of him reviewing old commercials at a time where he was questioning why he was doing what he was doing.

He then proceeds to end it the same way:

"I hope there's still time to set things right... Sandy Claws"... he goes off screen and comes back on, "Sandy Claws?" and quickly corrects himself.

I just find that hilarious.

Aside from "What's this?," my favorite song is the one sung by Sally and later by her and Jack. The chord progression is all over the place, but that's part of its charm.

Another melancholy track done really well, but it's so beautiful, especially when she and Jack get together in the end.This part especially is where I feel it's crucial to not miss a second. One time I missed hearing the final notes of the song at the end of the movie and I wasn't entirely satisfied at the end because of it. Mainly because one of the many things in music I go crazy for is having a song ending on the perfect note. That just makes me so happy 8-)

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