Written by Vix Leyton


Rated or Dated: The Nightmare Before Christmas

In the run-up to the big tinselly bang, our writers check out some celluloid classics. Vix Leyton looks at Tim Burton’s little bit scary, little bit naughty, whole load of magic Halloween and Christmas mash-up.

Jack Skellington

Bone tired: Jack Skellington’s yearning for a career change strikes a chord with grown-ups. Photo: Buena Vista.

What and why: Tim Burton spotted a gap in the market when he dreamed up The Nightmare Before Christmas, creating his own special ‘Hallowstmas’ seasonal genre. Unlike Love Actually (which everyone knows you aren’t supposed to really watch until you’re fully synced up with the ‘five weeks before Christmas’ point it starts on), Nightmare is appropriate from mid-October right the way through to New Year.

Burton’s creepily beautiful stop-motion animation may be told through the eyes of a skeleton, but it’s packed with very human emotions.

At its heart it’s about Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, stuck on life’s treadmill doing a job he’s good at but isn’t sure is for him anymore. And there’s a bit of a love story, because there’s almost always a love story. At just over an hour long, it’s a whistlestop tour of humanity.

And it’s a musical! The incredibly talented Danny Elfman, a long-time Burton collaborator, not only wrote and composed the incredibly catchy and atmospheric songs, but also lent his voice to Jack’s numbers.

I had to Google it twice to confirm the horrible truth, but this film was actually, really, 100 per cent released in 1993.

“Make no bones about it, Jack is in the grips of a midlife crisis. But instead of buying a racy red sports car, he gets a coffin-shaped sleigh and nearly accidentally ruins Christmas.”

Rated or dated: One thing I had forgotten when I was universally recommending this to children and grown-ups is that some of the imagery in this film is legitimately terrifying. It’s like an entry-level Pan’s Labyrinth of twisty, dark characters – from our wiry, skeletal protagonist to his patchwork love interest, Sally. Halloween Town, the setting for the story, really is the stuff of nightmares.

Our hero Jack is restless. He’s been tasked with delivering a scary Halloween every year and he’s absolutely nailed the formula, but it just doesn’t satisfy him anymore. Moodily wandering in the woods, he happens upon a portal into Christmas Town and sees in it a new creative challenge and a possible change in careers.

He takes this Jerry Maguire-style epiphany home to Halloween Town. If you’ve ever tried to bring revolutionary thinking to an office set in its ways then you will sympathise with Jack when he presents his new vision of jettisoning Halloween and taking over the running of Christmas to the bemused, narrow-minded townsfolk.

Meanwhile Sally (voiced by Catherine O’Hara, Christmas movie royalty who also plays Kevin McCallister’s mother in Home Alone), a cloth Frankenstein’s monster created by a dictionary definition mad scientist, harbours an unrequited crush on Jack from afar. She longs to escape her creator, frequently poisoning him with nightshade and throwing herself out of windows to run away to town despite ultimately having nowhere to go.

Watching this objectively as an adult is a very different experience to the one I had as a child, which speaks to the multiple layers that make films like this truly special.

Child me remembers a slightly creepy love story caper, whereas adult me relates to the struggle of being stuck in a job you feel you’ve sucked all the marrow out of but not knowing what the hell to do next. Make no bones (chortle) about it, Jack is in the grips of a midlife crisis. But instead of buying a racy red sports car, he gets a coffin-shaped sleigh and nearly accidentally ruins Christmas.

The love story feels a little bit of an afterthought and doesn’t really get going (despite being immortalised in THAT Blink 182 song), but that’s forgivable in a film that only really has 60 minutes to tackle a lot of intricate issues around reinvention and being OK with who you are.

Oh god, we didn’t even get to talk about Oogie Boogie…

The Nightmare Before Christmas is beautiful but flawed – unsurprising to Tim Burton fans who know his occasional penchant for style over substance. But if you have a day where all the Christmas bling has made you feel inexplicably melancholy and at odds with the world, then this is the film for you. RATED


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Written by Vix Leyton

Vix is a financial PR and ginabler who lives and works in East London. As a result she long ago lost sight of whether riding a unicycle while wearing a monocle is par for the course on a normal day.