Nightmare Before Christmas: Revisiting An Old Bony Friend (part 1 of 2)

This post was supposed to be my first initial entry for this blog, aside from my introduction post, but after seeing THE INCREDIBLES the other night, it was immediately bumped from my list. Something to be said for gut reaction, I guess. But I must say that it seems appropriate to write about NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS right after writing about Pixar's newest flick because I had the exact same gut reaction back in 1993 when Tim Burton released this wonderful little gem to the masses.

When NIGHTMARE came out, I was working as a booth projectionist at our local movie cineplex, and I was the only one there who had any remote knowledge of this film and what it was all about. We did a big promotional campaign, complete with a 14-foot Jack Skellington towering over the hallway entrance (constructed by yours truly, of course). Anyway, on opening weekend, the film actually SOLD OUT several evening shows, which blew us all away. No one saw that coming. It was such a different movie that no one expected it to do so well opening weekend. Looking back on it now, I can see that it probably did so well because it was so different. Nothing was quite like it at that time, and now, I can honestly say that there is still nothing quite like it.

Time to revist an old bony friend. Once NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS came out, it immediately became one of MY movies. A movie that friends and family members would know right away that, yup, that's a Ward movie. Unmistakably quirky, wonderfully designed and completely full of heart, I knew right away that this movie was going to be one of my personal favorites. (I ended up seeing that film in the theater about 8 times.) So why am I taking this trip down memory lane? Well, you can thank Ava for that one. Last year I introduced her to the movie, but being just 3, she didn't get past the first 10 minutes. Bored immediately. Round two, I showed her the DVD box of NIGHTMARE this year, and she's interested. Yes, it's a go! She liked it so much, she ended up watching that movie about 5 times a day up until Halloween. (Sorry, Andrea.) This gave me a chance to take a really good second look at this gem of a film, one that I've held so close to my heart for just over a decade.

And what is it about this movie? Why is it a slow evolving cult classic, now being shown at various theaters across the nation during Halloween? Why is there more merchandise now for this film than when it was first released? Well, I would say that the allure of NIGHTMARE is strong on two fronts: design and overall look of the film, and the endearing quality of the characters.

The Design.

Coming from the mind of Tim Burton, from an old short poem he wrote while at Disney in the 80's, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS has the unmistakable style that is pure Tim Burton: creepy and macabre yet filled with wit and whimsy. As a child, I LOVED Halloween. Not just for the candy alone, but for all the ghouls and ghosts, the creatures, the skeletons, the horror, the blood! I got overly-creative in some of my costumes at times, but what 8-year old does not go over-the-top for Halloween? It was all in good fun, of course. And here, Burton was able to retain that very same enthusiaism and fun that 8-year old boys have for the holiday and convert it into a full length animated film. Having Henry Selick direct the film was a very wise decision, with Selick sharing some of the same quirky ideas towards Halloween and animation in general as Burton. (Selick did a lot of those odd stop-motion animated intersitials for MTV back in the 80's, and Burton, of course, started his career in stop-motion animation. Kindred spirits, indeed.) With spiral hills, tendril-like trees, wonky buildings, character-shaped homes, all have that classic Burton style. The production designer for the film was Deane Taylor, and he, along with Barry E. Jackson and their crew were able to incorporate a graphic black and white storybook style into real, three dimensional sets and characters. No small feat. And they made it look so authentic, that I swear this world of Halloween Town and Christmas Town could actually exist. So believable and so tactile. And every single prop, character and set was made exclusively for the film. Nothing was ordered or bought from a speciality store, everything was handmade! (I guess there is no Stop-Motion Mart around.) There's something to be said for good ol' fashioned ingenuity and talent, huh?

End of part 1. Click here for Part 2.


  1. James again...

    When I first told a friend that I was excited about seeing this movie their reply was, "But it's a PUPPET movie!" Well, yeah... Here again, there are moments that absolutely bring tears to my eyes--like when jack descends the "curly hill" and the camera is doing a subtle tracking move as the hill un-curls. Hey, you might check out www.rustboy.com

    It's a similar feel, all CG but totally independently produced--just a guy in his spare time with a computer and a story. Pretty inspriring...

  2. hey, ms. ward-o-matic here. just so everyone doesn't think I'm like THE WORST MOTHER EVER: ava never did watch 'nightmare before christmas' five times in one day. she wanted to, though. we did watch it almost everyday for a week and she continues to pine for it on most days.

  3. Maybe it just felt like 5 times in one day. You never can be too sure, you know?