An animated Disney production from 1993 directed by Henry Selick (Coraline, Wendell & Wild), The Nightmare Before Christmas follows "Pumpkin King" Jack Skellington's doomed adventures from Halloween Town to Christmas Town and back again.
Based on a story and characters by Tim Burton, the film is a stop-motion animated musical featuring the singing voice of Danny Elfman, who also wrote the score. While it wasn't a huge hit initially, it soon achieved cult classic status and is seen, to this day, as one of the best animated features of all time. Two holidays are cleverly intertwined here as Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon), a Halloween hero, grows tired of entertaining his usual ghoulish crowd, delivering the same spooky thrills year after year. When he discovers a place called Christmas Town, he becomes enamored with the entire concept and so decides to... take it for himself.
A loving yet twisted pastiche of classic Rankin/Bass specials, as well as Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas and other classic cartoons, The Nightmare Before Christmas lures you in quick with its delightfully macabre "This Is Halloween" tune and it never lets go as Danny Elfman offers catchy song after catchy song, making the most of each one in his own unique style. This may have been Tim Burton's idea, and it may be Henry Selick's masterpiece, but it is, first and foremost, Elfman's baby: his work here is nothing short of genius and deserved a lot more recognition back in the day. From the lonely "Jack's Lament" to the bombastic "What's This?", the beautiful "Sally's Song", the playful "Making Christmas" and the devilish "Oogie Boogie's Song", the movie never missteps and is singalong-worthy from start to finish.
The animation here is, frankly, incredible. This is stop-motion at its best with every shot carefully composed, Tim Burton's art style perfectly captured and the emotions of all these bizarre characters conveyed with great care. The character design is unique, the settings are appropriately gothic and countless inventive techniques are used here to make the animation flow in harmony with the music. The film looks gorgeous, of course, but it also has a timeless, nostalgic feel that'll make you want to watch it for both aforementioned holidays every single year. We care about these characters, feel for them, and can't wait to see them naively attempt the impossible in true Halloween Town style!
Few animated films manage to get everything right: The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of those rarities. Hugely entertaining, a visual treat, a truly fantastic musical and, despite its frightening look, very very funny, not to mention filled with the magic that many Christmas movies promise but so often fail to materialize. It's one hell of a sleigh ride and viewers of all ages should get a big kick out of it.
Essential holiday romp.