Friday, July 09, 2010

Christmas in July: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

As much as I love Tim Burton, I've never really gotten the whole cult of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It seems like something built as much on fetishizing action figures and T-shirts, a sort of Hot Topic holiday aesthetic, as any genuine appreciation of the movie itself. It's not cool to like Christmas, but if you dress it up in goth gear and give it a Danny Elfman score, then you can seem like a hip outsider.

Maybe that's an overly cruel assessment, and really it applies to the film's fans, not the film itself (and could probably apply to Burton fandom as a whole). But watching this movie for a second time after a number of years, I was struck by how inconsequential it seemed, how much it relied on its look (which probably owes more to director Henry Selick than to producer Burton) to make up for a mediocre story and one-dimensional characters. Other than Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town who is so transfixed by Christmas that he wants to take it over, the characters are little more than little visual gags, and the story of Skellington's Christmas debacle is slow to get going and then rushes to its end.

I had totally forgotten about the half-assed villain (Oogie Boogie) who shows up near the end to add some irrelevant conflict, and I feel like I remembered some thematic richness that just wasn't there. Make no mistake: The movie looks amazing, and its visuals are wonderfully creative. And Danny Elfman's music is delightful as always. But Selick clearly took a lot of what he learned here and went on to apply it to the much more satisfying Coraline (you can see a cat who looks exactly like the one from Coraline roaming around Halloween Town). I still find it entertaining and fun, but Nightmare might work better as a fetish object than it does as a movie.

The True Meaning of Christmas: Best to leave it to the people who know what they're doing.

No comments: