I Have Never Seen ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’

By  · Published on November 3rd, 2014

Buena Vista International

Ashe never got to see a ton of modern classics from his youth, so we’re making him watch them all as a nostalgia-less adult. Check out the inaugural article for more info.

Halloween is over, so my Halloween movie mini-marathon is at an end. And I saved the best (by which I mean my wife’s favorite film) for last: The Nightmare Before Christmas. Yes, I’ve been with her for seven years and somehow managed to never see it. I am a good husband. (I love you, honey!)

What’s weird is I’ve tried to watch it before, but something would always happen right after I started it. Someone would call with an emergency. The power would go out. One time I got insanely sick and passed out. (It turned out to be a really bad stomach flu.) This time, nothing horrible happened! That I know of.

Anyway, let’s talk about the first impressive thing about this film – it looks totally beautiful. For a movie that’s old enough to drink now, it still looks like it was made last week. Now, I have seen Corpse Bride, Coraline and ParaNorman, so I was already familiar with the style, but I expected this one might look a little dated in 2014. Not at all. If anything, the look of Henry Selick’s films (Yeah, I know, Corpse Bride and ParaNorman weren’t him) was pretty much perfect the first go ‘round, and they’ve just kept it up since. The German Expressionist influence just adds to the effect. This film is, essentially, timeless.

Speaking of Selick, let’s have some Real Talk: Tim Burton had basically nothing to do with this film other than the initial concept. He didn’t direct it. He was barely on set. He didn’t write it (and, apparently, the script they got was basically rewritten on the fly anyway). They put his name on the film to sell tickets because Disney had no confidence in it. Selick is the man to thank for this film. Feel no shame in screaming that at people who get it wrong.

Also worth nothing: Disney was afraid to release the film under their own flag, so it was put out by their Touchstone Pictures subsidiary instead. Nowadays, it’s considered a full-on Disney film, which is where the confusion comes in.

Okay, history lesson over. Let’s talk about that music. Danny Elfman was absolutely at his best here (which is saying a lot since he’s pretty much universally great). Every song is memorable and good and catchy and fits perfectly with the film. Also, I’m not sure if Chris Sarandon does a great Danny Elfman impression or if Danny Elfman does an amazing Chris Sarandon. Or they are vocal twins, separated at birth. It’s one of those things, but it’s incredible to me that Jack has two different voices. I tried to listen and tell the difference between his singing voice and speaking voice and simply could not. There is wizardry at work here, dear readers.

The plot is simple, but solid. It wraps itself up pretty fast, but that seems to be par for the course in children’s films. Maybe the climactic parts of the movies I loved as a kid are super quick, too, and I’ve just forgotten over time. I do love that Santa Claus seems to straight up think that Jack is a jerk at the end of the movie, though he seems to forgive him not long after.

Speaking of Jack being a jerk, is it just me or could you totally interpret this film as a warning against cultural appropriation (itself a sore Halloween subject – five bucks says we’ll hear of at least one blackface/Native American costume party at some college campus before the end of the day?) Think about it. Jack steals Christmas Town’s culture without really understanding it, and makes a mockery of it, offending and upsetting the people who celebrate it. Hm! Deep stuff.

Speaking of probably unintentionally uncomfortable undertones, Dr. Finklestein’s relationship with Sally is… creepy. To say the least. Abusive would probably be a better word. If this weren’t a children’s movie, that would be some Lifetime movie stuff. Domineering, insulting language, treating her like a slave, not letting her leave the house. That shit’s spooky. That’s not even touching on the fact that she has to poison him to get any sort of freedom. We’ll just leave that one alone.

For more from Ashe, check out Weird Shit Blog and his book, The Book of Word Records, available now!