It's that time of year again, where we celebrate all things spooky and re-watch the classics that make us feel all eerie inside. I for one can't cope with horror movies, so I resort to a childhood favorite, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The animated film is now celebrating 23 years of success and in my humble opinion, it's still not been bettered. The intricacies, music and plot have solidified Nightmare's influence on stop motion animation forever. So journey with me to Halloween Town as we marvel in all things creepy and explore the legacy of this cult classic.
Why The Nightmare Before Christmas Is Such A Classic
The reason this animated movie continues to live on is all down to movie maths. Tim Burton + Henry Selick + Danny Elfman = cinematic gold. The plot, as created by Burton was inspired by the cross-over of holidays in stores. Tim noticed as a child that shops would try to optimize sales by getting Christmas goods on the shelves as early as possible. However, Halloween would fall right in the middle of the festive things arriving, so the stores would be an odd amalgamation of holidays. The story mirrors this as Jack Skellington essentially steals Santa Claus's season. This mismatch often opens the debate as to whether it's a Halloween or Christmas movie. All I can say to that is, watch it twice.
The animation in the movie is still as enchanting to watch today as it was 23 years ago. Henry Selick's contrast between the dark and sinister town and the festivity of the Christmas world is almost a Dorothy in Oz moment. The more you watch the movie, the more you notice because the whole piece is incredibly detailed and rich. The movie also grows with its viewers, as a child you somewhat fear the spooky residents, but as you grow older you pity them for being trapped in such an abhorrent place:
In addition to a great story line, the movie tackles complex subjects such as identity issues, dissatisfaction in life and more importantly it's a real love story. The unrequited love Sally feels for Jack is tragic and only at the end when the Pumpkin King has found peace within himself can he love Sally for what she is.
For a supposed children's film, Nightmare Before Christmas has so many elements that speak to adults and the problematic struggles they feel in their lives. On top of that you have one hell of a soundtrack from Danny Elfman, that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Perhaps the most famous number of them all is the obscenely catchy:
This wonderful mixture of plot from Burton, direction and stylization from Selick and music from Elfman is the reason this movie is still loved all these years later, and it doesn't show any sign of going away anytime soon. The film still holds a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not bad for a kids movie made from clay.
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An Animator's Dream: The Making Of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas
The mammoth project that Nightmare was is quite an unbelievable. Due to the fact it was one of the first major stop-motion animation movies ever, there have been countless documentaries made on just how the crew managed to pull it off. Here are some interesting facts from the behind the scenes guys:
- There were 109,440 frames taken for the film.
- One minute of film took an entire week to film.
- The entire movie took three years to make.
- The filmmakers constructed 227 puppets to represent the characters
- Jack Skellington had around 400 heads in order to represent all possible expressions.
- Sally on the other hand had masks, which were changed due to the fact she had long flowing hair and a whole head would be too difficult to keep changing.
- Disney begged Selick to give Jack eyes so people would understand his emotions, Henry would not give in and as we know, Jack remained eye-less.
- The animators had trap doors and secret tunnels allowing them to navigate the set smoothly and efficiently.
Watch this clip from The Making of Documentary below to find out more details:
Knowing the effort, time and thought that went into making this movie only makes me love and appreciate it more. This labor of love has very much given a heart to the film that beats with an appreciation of cinematic trickery. The Nightmare Before Christmas has gone on to inspire many other movies such as Coraline, Fantastic Mr Fox, Chicken Run and The Lego Movie, all of which came after the huge success of Tim Burton's dark cartoon. Had Nightmare not pushed the boundaries of stop-motion animation, these beloved films might not have ever even been attempted.
Today's animators have a lot to thank this quirky movie for as it opened many doors to stop-motion creators. The importance of the creator in animation is exceedingly high and will have an impact on every last detail of the whole movie. The quote below from Maureen Furniss's book, Animation: Art and Industry explains the role the animators need to fulfil:
"Animated film is a form in which the auteur is not only dominant, but able to speak to her or his audience."
Nightmare Before Christmas created a world that many at the time didn't even think possible and, in turn, it has allowed the inventive cinema of today to blossom. If you were to watch this movie next to something like the sleek Lego Movie, yes it would look grainy and slightly clumsy, but that is the beauty of it. There's still a human element to it that gives it life, something that computers cannot fully achieve. Don't get me wrong, I love the Lego Movie, but in my opinion, it pales in comparison to Nightmare.
The Impact On Pop Culture
1. Jack's Cameo
You'll notice above that Jack Skellington has had a pirate makeover, that's because he reappears in Selick's take on James And The Giant Peach. The Pumpkin King's character is so widely known that he gets his own cameos. If that doesn't tell you how important Jack as a movie character is I don't know what will.
2. Video Games
Tim Burton's movie also went on to have it's own very series of video games, The Pumpkin King and Oogie's Revenge. The film branched out allowing its fans to explore the universe which they created adding further curiosity and fascination to the brand.
3. Stage Adaptations
As fans call out for a Broadway adaptation, some have taken it into their own hands and adapted the beloved film for the stage. The scene above was developed by the Beverly Hills Playhouse and screams for a full show to be crafted in Jack's image.
There's no denying the influence this movie has had on Halloween costumes and cosplay. On Instagram alone, there are over 800,000 posts under the #nightmarebeforechristmas, be it a gentle nod to the film with painted nails or an all out costume, the fans will not relinquish their love of the classic for anything.
5. "The Fuck" Parody
This video has been viewed over a million times on Youtube and captures the comedy and sentiment of the song in a much more NSFW way.
The effect this movie has had on cinema and other forms of media cannot be ignored. A film that was created over 23 years ago still holds a great power of it's fans and it's critics. I urge you to watch it again and allow the cinematic wonder to wash over you and truly get you in the mood for both Christmas and Halloween. Bargain!