This stop-motion holiday merger turns 30 and still has magic in the air.
In 1993, Disney’s very own Touchstone Pictures released the stop-motion animated musical “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and within the 30 years, it has been a holiday favorite for both Halloween and Christmas (or is it mostly Halloween?). And why wouldn’t it be? It’s practically a merger on both holidays as Jack Skellington, the biggest celebrity of Halloween Town, decides to take over Christmas, and make it as haunting and mischievous as ever.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in theaters this week, and whether you see it in theaters or on Disney+ or in your home video library, it still remains as delightful as ever. It’s amazing that holiday figures can be found through tree doors, and it’s magical and fun the way Danny Elfman’s music and lyrics bring out the entertainment value of the musical numbers.
The movie was labeled “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” although, in actuality, he produced it, and Henry Selick directed it. There was even an article in Variety, titled “‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ Director Henry Selick Says It’s a ‘Little Unfair’ That Tim Burton Gets All the Credit: That’s Not What I Signed Up For.” Selick deserves to share the credit with Burton, because he brought these bizarre and magical creatures to life with his gloomy and worldly assistance.
The voice actors are universally excellent. Chris Sarandon provides the speaking voice for Jack, while Elfman does his singing voice. I’ve done a video chat with Sarandon a few years ago, and told him he was dazzling in the speaking role. Whether Jack speaks or sings, he still has a personality that makes him a wonderful and emotional character.
There’s also Catherine O’Hara as the kindest and most adventurous rag doll in Halloween Town named Sally, who tries to talk some sense in Jack, regarding his scheme. You also have the late Paul Reubens, O’Hara, and Elfman as the trick or treaters Lock, Shock, and Barrel; the late William Hickey as Sally’s creator, the mad scientist Dr. Finkelstein; and Ken Page as the evil bug-filled green burlap sack Oogie Boogie.
Stop-motion animation takes a lot of time and commitment. Nick Park proved that with “Wallace and Gromit,” Guillermo del Toro proved that with “Pinocchio,” and Selick has proven that with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Coraline,” and “Wendell & Wild.” It’s all in the attention to detail, the craftsmanship, and the lifelike appearance. And it also takes a story than can divide people or show something unique inside. It’s all about examining the smallest details from the small love story between Jack and Sally to the Oogie Boogie planning to kill Santa Clause. Kudos to screenwriter Caroline Thompson.
The running time for this gem is for 76 minutes, which is around how most Disney and non-Disney animated films ran up to the mid 90s (“The Little Mermaid” ran for 83 min, “The Great Mouse Detective” ran for 74 min, and “Pocahontas” lasted for 81 min, etc.). And yet, we’re still seeing the fantasies and tone that brings out the pure Burton/Selick splicing, and I’m using both names for praise. Even if we only get a sequel in the form of a book (“Long Live the Pumpkin Queen”), we can still watch “The Nightmare Before Christmas” over and over again without being restless.
Back in Theaters This Friday
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.