The Nightmare Before Christmas Review
After seeing this film a second time, I understood the appeal of it
This review comes from my Letterboxd profile, where I review all the movies I watch.
I saw this movie for the first time a couple of years ago on Halloween. At that time, I probably would have given it a solid 3.5 stars. The animation was fantastic and the design of the Oogie Boogie scenes was enough for me to say that it was worth watching, but I felt that the character arcs were incredibly underdeveloped. I felt that the chemistry between Jack and Sally was forced, I felt there wasn't enough backstory given, and I was ultimately disappointed by the way this movie told its story. Now, however, I see all of the small nuances of how they built each of those arcs up. I see how the filmmakers weaved in Sally's desperation to escape, which is so strong that she is willing to poison her captor/creator multiple times in order to do so. I see the way that Jack's enthusiasm for Christmas makes sense given how many times he's had to do the same exact thing for God knows how long, and I see all of the other little story elements that ultimately build to the final crescendo being set up so much better. They're subtle, but they are absolutely there, and I actually kind of love that about this movie now.
Everything creeps up behind you slowly, much like the citizens of Halloween Town probably would were they to get their hands on an unsuspecting victim. The atmosphere of this movie is so cool: the designs of the characters, the really creepy and creative imagery, and the intricate world building of these separate holiday towns really make this a unique experience that truly can be watched either for Halloween or for Christmas. Seriously, what other movie can you think of that can function both as a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie, two holidays that couldn't be any more different in tone? I've always respected that aspect of this movie, and I respect it even more now. I personally think I prefer watching it during Halloween, but watching it during Christmas is just as acceptable of an option, which is awesome.
The voice acting in this movie is also really great, with both of Jack Skellington's main actors being my personal favorite aspect of this movie (actually, that may be hard to choose, but you get my point). Chris Sarandon's enthusiastic yet collected delivery combined with Danny Elfman's silky smooth singing/talking tones during the musical numbers really bring out the best traits of this character. Along with that, Catherine O' Hara, William Hickley, and ESPECIALLY Ken Page really stand out to me as having really great line delivery here. Of course, that acting is helped by the incredibly innovative designs of the characters, which I guess I've already talked about but must reiterate is really, really cool. The way that both of the main towns come to life so completely in this movie makes me wonder what the other holiday towns are like and how the creative team behind this movie would design them. The warm tones of Christmas Town and the dark, oozing tones of Halloween Town capture the atmospheres of both of the holidays beautifully.
Of course, we cannot end this review without talking about the stop motion. We just can't. It still holds up pretty well today. There are aspects of it that aren't quite as smooth as some of the stop motion today like Coraline or Paranorman, but in all honesty, that roughness kind of helps this film, particularly during the second half. The animation is smooth enough for it to feel fluid, and some of the effects in this movie are still astounding to this day. The ghost effects, the fog effects, the camerawork that feels like the camera is moving in real time despite the fact that it is definitely not -- how did the filmmakers achieve some of these effects? It's absolutely astounding and beautiful to look at.
In terms of flaws, they're mostly nitpicks at this point. The ending felt a bit rushed, which is understandable considering this is one of the first BIG stop-motion animations and they may not have been ready to tackle a full hour and a half runtime. That being said, I still felt that some of the character arcs resolved rather quickly and I would have liked to see a bit more development there. Along with that, I don't get the continuity of the holidays in this universe. Do they run as their own independent towns or do they interact with the real world when it's their time to shine or... how exactly does this town system work? There are some plot holes that come along with that. Finally, there's a moment in which two characters almost die but then somehow don't. I have no idea how on Earth they didn't die because the editing of the movie didn't clue me in as to how the situation was resolved. Other than those nitpicks, though, The Nightmare Before Christmas did exactly what I hoped it would do upon re-watch: improve. Now that I see the subtle build-up of each character arc, I'm able to appreciate the atmosphere, acting, animation, and awe of this world even more. Wow, alliteration, that was fun. Okay, in all seriousness, I appreciate this movie on a whole new level now, and I definitely plan on watching this again in the future.
Letter Grade: A