“The Nightmare Before Christmas” turns 30

Being the brainchild of visionary storyteller Tim Burton and dynamic director Henry Selick, it is hard to picture a time when “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was not a universally-known classic. However, upon the film’s release 30 years ago, it was really anything but. The film’s success and fame really only began after the new millennium, where merchandise and DVD sales launched it into its current status. Despite its delayed praise, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” stands tall as a modern classic and a staple of Halloween and Christmas for years to come.
Telling the tale of Jack Skellington, the king of Halloweentown who wants more out of his provincial place in the world, the film’s narrative explores what happens when two polar opposite holidays collide. Jack makes a misguided attempt to incorporate Christmas into Halloweentown after paying a visit to Christmastown, and the plot spirals into a series of scenes showcasing the ill-fitting combination of the two holidays. The story is incredibly simple, and it works extremely well as a result. Despite having some pacing issues, especially towards the final 20 minutes, the movie stays consistently entertaining throughout.
The first thing that most people remember the film for is most likely its incredibly unique visual style. Although it resembles the usual Tim Burton-esque aesthetic, it is so stunningly defined in the movie, to the point where it seems to have redefined what a Halloween movie looks like. The beautiful stop-motion animation is completely owed to director Henry Selick, whose experience in the medium made the film’s look into what it is. Complementing the beautiful animation are several iconic and overwhelmingly creative character designs. I don’t think it is an exaggeration at this point to claim that Jack Skellington is one of the most perfectly-designed characters in all of fiction, going right up with Mickey Mouse and Homer Simpson in the hall of fame. In short, there are so many instantly iconic images from the film that it is truly impossible to succinctly summarize its look with just one frame.
Additionally praised is the music. Danny Elfman’s score and catchy songs are synonymous with Halloween at this point, staying on party playlists for years to come. “This is Halloween” is a pretty obvious contender for most iconic song, but the others are nowhere near forgotten. “What’s This,” “Oogie Boogie’s Song” and “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” are all bangers in their own right, with the latter even becoming the main musical theme for Disneyland’s seasonal Haunted Mansion Holiday ride based on the “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Elfman himself does the singing vocals for Jack Skellington, and quite honestly kills every song. In fact, all the actors do. Ken Page relishes in Oogie Boogie’s malicious villain song, and Cathrine O’Hara does double duty, playing the lead female, Sally, as well as one of the snot-nosed Trick or Treaters. She sings both “Sally’s Song” and “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” so distinctly you would never be able to tell both were her in a million years.
There’s good reason that the public eventually took up with the strange tale of the two most popular holidays mingling. With Henry Selick’s expert direction and Tim Burton’s unique story and visual style, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” lasts as a family favorite around both Halloween and Christmastime. To think that the film went virtually unnoticed on its release date 30 years ago is unthinkable, and is simply a testament to how predestined it was to become a classic one way or another.