For nearly two decades of my life, I’ve been fascinated with the world of the 1993 stop-motion animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas. In it, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, has become bored with the mundane routine of annual scare tactics. On a restless stroll through the forest, he discovers doors to other holidays and accidentally finds himself in the magical land of Christmastown. Utterly mesmerized by its merriment, Jack becomes determined to hold his own Christmas that year.
Borne from the twisted mind of Tim Burton, inspiration first came as he watched a retail store employee change a window display from Halloween to Christmas. Burton then wrote a poem entitled “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which eventually became the blueprint for the film. Scheduling conflicts prevented Burton from directing the film himself, so he took the mantle of producer and handed the reins to Henry Selick, who helped create a wonderful holiday film.
Since its original release in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas has grossed over $75 million, enjoyed several re-releases in theaters, inspired a trading card game, made millions in merchandise sales, and was even recently reissued on Blu-Ray 3D in August, 2011. What is it about a 76-minute animated film that creates such an insatiable demand? I can see five overriding reasons.
1. Danny Elfman’s Incredible Music
The Nightmare Before Christmas is as much composer Danny Elfman’s film as it is Burton’s or Selick’s. A four-time Oscar-nominee, Elfman wrote the music and lyrics for the film and even provides the singing voice for Jack. While the film was still just a concept and storyboards, he had written the ten songs before screenwriter Caroline Thompson had been hired. Scenes were then written around the music.
Elfman’s poetic lyrics propel the story forward while a full, lively orchestra enhances Jack’s adventure. Mournful violins complement the despair heard in “Jack’s Lament,” bluesy horns intensify the jazz swagger of “Oogie Boogie’s Song,” and jaunty beats reflect the sensory overload of “What’s This?” Somehow haunting, grandiose, and merry all at the same time, Elfman’s score guides the audience through the foggy forest between Halloweentown and Christmastown.