The Nightmare Before Christmas Review: A Halloween…or Christmas Classic

Matthew Deckers, Entertainment Analyst

Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the most oddly disturbing children’s movies I’ve ever seen. When I was a young kid, I remember seeing a few parts of this film on TV years ago, but never I haven’t gotten the chance to fully watch it until recently. This stop-motion adventure tells the tale of the Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, a popular resident of the gloomy Halloween Town. After years of putting on the same charade of scaring humans every October 31st, his enthusiasm for the holiday has grown more fatigued. But when Jack accidentally stumbles across the land of Christmas Town, a new idea forms in his brain to take over Christmas for himself.
Visually, The Nightmare Before Christmas is filled to the brim with charm. I absolutely adore stop-motion animation, and it’s clear that this film’s dedicated artists worked tirelessly to make every frame look dazzling. The opening scenes perfectly establish Halloween Town’s spooky atmosphere, with every building covered in dark shadows and orange candlelight. This location is host to a variety of kooky creatures, each having completely unique designs or gimmicks. My favorite example is the Mayor, who’s head has two different faces that turn around when the character feels a certain emotion. This creates a stark contrast with the snowy Christmas Town, along with its joyful residents, where the bright colors create a sense of warmth in the audience as well as Jack Skellington when he first visits.

The stunning visual work is paired phenomenally with Danny Elfman’s stellar music. This film’s story is built around the variety of songs written and composed for it, most of which are thoroughly entertaining. The opening sequence of the movie where the characters sing along to “This is Halloween” is an excellent introduction not only to the location of Halloween Town, but also the creative visual style that will be present throughout the runtime. “What’s This?,” the song where Jack Skellington first discovers Christmas, is another highlight that captures an important transitional moment for his character. These two pieces of music in particular are still stuck in my head, but the rest of the soundtrack is just as valuable.

Unfortunately, I felt that the storytelling outside of the musical sequences could have been much stronger, considering how engaging every other element of the film is. While the concept of blending Halloween and Christmas was well-developed, it made every other side plot feel unnecessary. For example, the relationship between Jack Skellington and Sally, a rag-doll science experiment who escapes from her creator, is completely forced into the story without much meaningful chemistry throughout the runtime. It seems as though writers Tim Burton and Caroline Thompson placed this into the script to try and form some additional conflict, but the payoff is too predictable from the very beginning. Like many moviegoers, I’m not fond of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope at all, and Sally unfortunately falls into this category. I’m not expecting The Nightmare Before Christmas to be a complex film, and I can recognize that the familiar structure of the narrative is much more accessible to families. But I just personally felt that the plot was largely forgettable compared to how fantastic the visuals and songs are.

Despite these problems, The Nightmare Before Christmas remains to this day an enjoyable film for all audiences. The stunning stop-motion animation and catchy music are truly the heart of this movie, and elevate an otherwise unoriginal plot into a unique holiday experience. Many fans argue whether this is truly a Halloween film or a Christmas film, but with October 31st just around the corner and a spooky feeling in the air, I would personally side with the former.

Score: ★★★1⁄2