Friday, September 17, 2010

The Nightmare Before Christmas: Not As Wonderful As I Expected

The Good: Imaginative, Adult
The Bad: Choppy, Simplified ending, Musically repetitive
The Basics: Occasionally imaginative, this musical quickly becomes predictable and childlike. Burton and Elfman do better in other works.

I'm a fan of Tim Burton's visual style. Especially when coupled with Danny Elfman's musical styles. The two play off each other to make something great. The team did Batman Returns which is still one of the benchmark sequels of all time. They create a place together using darkness and chords and usually they come up with a magical mood that is extraordinary.

Thus, I was looking forward to Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. I leave that endeavor somewhat saddened. I was hoping for more, especially after all the praise of it that I had heard in the eight years prior to my seeing it.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King and de facto leader of Halloween Town. Jack has become disenchanted with Halloween and scaring people that one day a year. While lamenting this, Jack stumbles into Christmas Town. Enchanted by something different, he becomes determined to replace Santa Clause and make the Christmas sleigh flight himself. To that end, he sets the denizens of Halloween Town to making gifts, abducting Santa and preparing for Christmas.

The problem is, the character never truly comes alive. Jack always seems like a type rather than an individual and the overriding question I had while watching the film was that, if everyone else was content with their performances on Halloween and only Jack was disillusioned, why Jack bothers to incorporate the whole town in his plan. Instead, why Jack doesn't simply invade Christmas Town on Christmas Eve and replace Santa Clause and deliver Christmas gifts instead of the hideously twisted Halloween Town gifts, is something I'm left wondering.

A large portion of the film is simply establishing what Halloween Town is and it becomes something of a one-trick pony rather quickly. It's all Halloween stuff, but it just keeps going on like a list. The imaginative portion of the film is in the set and character designs. The visual appeal is great in this film. The rest of the film is Jack pulling off his plan.

Save for the B-plot, which is one Halloween Town woman's love for Jack. Sally is held captive by her creator (she's a frankenstein-like monster), pining after Jack. Her part of the film is relegated to the background and that is unfortunate. The far more interesting plot is how Jack and Sally relate and come together. Instead, a great deal of time is spent with singing about who lives in Halloween Town and how they live.

The success of The Nightmare Before Christmas is that it is imaginative and creates an adult world. The characters in Halloween Town are adult and they have menace and problems adults have. Jack is essentially having a mid-life crisis. And the look of the film is a good idea.  Some of the songs are even catchy, which is good as well.

Problematic, though, is the execution. The claymation is often choppy, the speed at which some things happen is exaggerated. The worse aspect is the soundtrack. This is Elfman music I've heard before. None of it seems terribly new. And the end seems like quite a cop-out. The film starts imaginative and dark and quickly becomes repetitive and predictable.

The truth is, I hoped for better. I wanted Jack Skellington to be more defined. I wanted Sally to have more screen time. I wanted the interaction between the pair to be heightened. I wanted the film to make sense, even if it was creative and wild visually. Unfortunately, I'll hold out for better and rewatch other Burton/Elfman works I know are great.

For other weird movies, please check out my reviews of:
Land Of The Lost
Despicable Me


For more movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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