About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

1990s Christmas: The Nightmare Before Christmas

This is the second piece written by Dominic from 1701 Press.  He had so much fun writing about The Adventures of Pete & Pete at the beginning of July that he wrote another one. Check out his first piece here.  Today is also the birthday of one of our past guest bloggers, John.  He wrote passionately about the Christmas episode of Living SingleCheck out John's guest post here.  Happy Birthday Wishes to John!  And, it's a merry Christmas in July as we continue with our marathon of guest bloggers writing about 1990s Christmas entertainments.  Double thanks to Dominic! Of course, this popular movie is available for viewing on DVD.  But many of us are excitedly awaiting its Blu-ray 3D release on August 30th.

Jack Skellington in Christmas Town
Even in this age of theatrical 3D wonders and lush computer animated spectacles, the look of 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is extraordinary. For me, the movie’s strength is great character design. Some characters look like carefully crafted dolls, others like beautiful tin toys, and still others like tactile clay figures--yet they all share the same wacky-goth aesthetic sensibility.

Gorgeous detail of the fish accordion
 Because the movie is stop motion animation, everything moves fluidly, organically, and wonderfully without any of the occasional stiffness that still afflicts even the best computer animated stuff. Nightmare is also filled with rich details, from the furrowed Starry Night pattern of the earth in Halloween Town, to the accordion made from a dead fish played by one of the street musicians.

Oogie fluoresces under blacklight
My favorite scene is when Santa is being tormented by Oogie Boogie. Everything glows magnificently under a blacklight like a cheap carnival house of horrors. It’s a nice visual analogue to Halloween Town: scary, a  little silly, but not mean-spirited. Except that Oogie Boogie, being the villain of the story, is sort of mean. No matter. We know he’s not going to win, even though he’s rife with loaded dice, stacked decks, and rigged one-arm bandits. Oogie is revealed to be nothing more than a sack filled with wriggling bugs. Gross, but not really threatening.

Jack enters an open door to Christmas
Except for the musical numbers, a few of which drag slightly, Nightmare is also told with a pretty good economy of storytelling. Not all of the musical performances are slow--just a couple. And of course, several are excellent--my favorite being "What's This?" Jack's awestruck song during his discovery of Christmas Town. But back to the gist of the story: the ‘king’ of one land (Halloween Town) longs for something undefinable which he stumbles upon in another (Christmas Town). How does he get there? Well, there’s a magic door in a tree on the edge of the forest. The residents of Halloween Town are scary, but not mean, so Jack the Pumpkin King stages a friendly takeover of Christmas Town. What happens when Halloween Town tries to share its version of Christmas with the world is essentially the story of Nightmare. Add a romance for Jack (i.e., maybe what he’s looking for in Christmas Town has been right here under the hole where his nose used to be all along), and the sort-of mean villain, Oogie Boogie, for a little dramatic tension, and Nightmare succeeds where so many movies fall short. Merry Christmas Santa, Happy Halloween Jack Skellington.

Santa Jack riding across the sky in his sleigh


  1. This is the Halloween/horror fan's perfect Christmas viewing movie! It is like a blended mix with the best of both worlds. Definitely a 90s classic, and a Christmas classic for the ages.

  2. I agree! I'm glad he chose to write on this--we can't cover the 1990s without acknowledging THIS movie!