Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D, the - Perfect Fright
| Being both a big fan of Dr. Seuss, cheesy television Christmas specials and Tim Burton, when I first heard that the director of Edward Scissorhands was doing a stop motion feature take on the holiday special genre, I was thrilled. The little kid in me, who loved watching Rudolph and the other annual programs as a lead up to the big holiday, giggled with anticipation. Who knew that this homage, The Nightmare Before Christmas would end up becoming such a delightful classic in its own right that I enjoy each year?
Taking western culture’s festivals of Halloween and Christmas, Burton plays with the idea of how different the two celebrations are (or at least, are perceived.) He contrasts values and assumptions yet distils each to a point where they meet underneath all the trimmings. Deep down both are celebrations of hope and rejuvenation and each remain the closest thing our societies have left to the topsy-turvy tradition of carnivale. The western world stops for each and we are allowed to be something different for that short time.
This is worth celebrating. Those who bemoan the secularization of Christmas don’t really get the significance of the holiday in today’s world. The religious significance for Christians is an important aspect but the yuletide has always been something more. Truly it existed, pre-Christian and has managed to retain the spirit of the mid-winter festival that it once was.
Halloween is similar in that we can celebrate surviving our fears and overcoming that which most terrifies us. It also speaks to our connection to that which has come before and has become an outlet for exploring other identifies. Both holidays have been ravaged by consumerism but this is simply more evidence of the significance of each in western society. That’s why when these two “worlds” collide in Burton’s gleefully grey vision there is a strong connection despite their eventual dissolution.
Enough of the social commentary, let’s talk about Burton’s film. He managed to create enduring characters that stick with us as much as those eternal Seuss characters. Jack Skellington, Oogie Boogie and the rest are magical and wonderfully realised by the puppeteers. They exist in a beautiful little world that was created before Burton’s style danced on the edge of cliché. The spiral hill, for example, is romantically gorgeous yet dreadful all at once.
Then there are the songs of Burton’s long time collaborator, Danny Elfman, who is an artist who has also risked becoming cliché one too many times. Here his songs amplify the world Burton created by creating atmosphere and existing in a manner that could only fit in this creation. You recognise one immediately as being from this work. Today’s animation employs exchangeable and disposable pop rock that was not written for the screen and could easily fit into any film. Nightmare comes from time where the music was written to complete the story.
And the story is such a classic. It captures all that is both traditional and queer about the best of the holiday specials. Jack’s angst and dilemma is at once very end-of-the-20th-century and timeless. It’s also the kind of family story that treats children with respect as intelligent little sponges who have soaked up just how rich this world we live in can be.
The Nightmare Before Christmas remains one of the strongest animated films of its generation. Its connection to the two holidays is a strong motivation to pull it out each year and relive the magic whether in 3-D re-release or in DVD collection.