Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is a difficult movie to review. How do you evaluate a film featuring the romantic leads of a skeleton who wants to be Santa Claus and a Frankenstein's Monster High doll? I can't even say if I liked this movie or not.
I reacted to it. It's weird, it's wacky — ten out of ten stars, I guess, for managing to be both a Halloween and Christmas classic. It's worth watching, in any case. So, instead of rehashing all the reasons why people love it or attempting to argue that it's overrated, here are simply ten random thoughts that crossed my mind when I first encountered "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
1. What's behind the other doors?
The opening scene of the movie informs us that in this stop-motion universe, every major holiday has a corresponding door leading to that holiday's "town" with its associated icons as its citizens. So, what goes on in Valentine Town? Cupid's target practice? Lovers eating their way through endless boxes of chocolate while binge-watching Hallmark movies? And what about Thanksgiving Town? Sure, it could just be a bunch of folks feeling thankful all the time, but seeing as how we're talking about Tim Burton, there's probably some existential horror, too, with Mr. Turkey trying to avoid being the main course once every year.
2. Does Halloween consist of one song?
I'm a little confused as to how Halloween works in this movie. Not only are there no humans in town for the monsters to scare, but apparently the entirety of the holiday takes place in the span of a three-minute song written by Danny Elfman. Don't get me wrong, it's a great song, but I always pictured monsters as having more to do on Halloween night than just staging a musical.
3. Favorite scene: Jack singing on Spiral Hill.
"Jack's Lament" sounds more heartfelt than it has any right to considering it's about a guy getting bored of scaring the living daylights out of people all the time. But that doesn't make this scene any less beautiful or any less iconic. Whatever else might be said about this movie, you have to admit that the visuals are one of its strong points.
4. Second favorite scene: Jack throws away "A Christmas Carol."
Look, I know it's a great story, but I had the same reaction to the original version as Jack does. By the time I got to the third iteration of "Marley was dead" in the opening chapter, I too felt like tossing the book across the room.
5. Oogie Boogie is the scariest movie villain.
Seriously, how awful do you have to be to get kicked out of Halloween Town? Forget that Oogie is a giant mass of bugs wrapped up in a Patrick-Star-shaped burlap onesie. This is a place where vampires are given an award for "Most Blood Drained in a Single Evening" and, apparently, where literal Satan likes to hang out (there's a red dude with wings and horns in a few shots), yet somehow you're the one confined to a pit outside of town? When even Jack Skellington is calling you "no-account," you might want to rethink your life a bit.
6. Santa Claus is awesome in this movie.
He doesn't even look that scared when Oogie's torturing him. And the way he squashes that bug at the end? The way he just casually deals with the demon toys that have been scattered all over the world? You go, Saint Nick.
7. So, can monsters feel pain or not?
Sally calmly sews her limbs back on after jumping from her window, yet Jack has to worry about being sliced up and/or shot by Oogie's torture devices and jumps when he's pricked by a needle. But he's also cool with setting himself on fire and being submerged in acid. So, do monsters have to worry about pain? Yea or nay?
8. This is a full-on horror movie.
Personally, I think there are quite a few times that this movie solidifies itself as something beyond just "dark fantasy," but if Oogie Boogie tormenting Santa Claus wasn't enough, there's also some extra holiday-flavored terror in the form of children opening presents that try to kill them or that make their parents faint. Honestly, Freddy Krueger's got nothing on a snake that eats your Christmas tree.
9. Oh, I guess Jack and Sally are in love now.
I can understand these two beginning a more serious relationship by the end of the movie, but as for them actually falling in love, there's about as much justification for that as there is in most other Disney films (which is not that much). Also, Jack called kissing "unique" when he came across it in Christmas Town, so how does Sally know about it?
10. Will "This Is Halloween" be stuck in my head for the rest of the month?
Yes. Yes, it will.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas" is an interesting experience. Just don't think about it too much unless you want to find yourself in some very strange places.