Sunday, October 29, 2017

Disney: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

You're probably surprised that this isn't an installment of Stuff I Grew Up With and, when I think about it, it is amazing that I never saw this movie when I was a kid, aside from very brief clips and the marketing, since it was pretty much geared towards the type of kid I was. I was six years old at the time and I absolutely loved Halloween; in fact, it was my favorite time of year. I loved everything about it: the cooler weather, the falling leaves, the jack-o-lanterns, all of the creepy decorations, trick-or-treating, etc. Some of my fondest childhood memories have to do with driving by houses and checking out all of the decorations and lights they'd put up, as well as dressing up and going out amongst all the other kids, filling up this plastic jack-o-lantern bucket I had with candy. Plus, like every kid, I also loved Christmastime, particularly in the getting out of school for two or so weeks and the presents, and, wouldn't you know it, here's a movie that combines both of those holidays! It should've been something I watched all the time but, nope, aside from some very brief bits of it one day at a cousin's house, it passed my childhood by. That doesn't mean I didn't know of it, though. How could I not? This movie got marketed like crazy and what I saw of it in advertisements (particularly in the previews of the Homeward Bound and The Return of Jafar VHS' that I owned around that time), picture books at my elementary school, and toy commercials really captured my imagination. I can remember those commercials and really liking the figure of Oogie Boogie that was shown, as he looked kind of like the classic, stereotypical ghost, but with rubber bugs and snakes that came out when you squeezed him, as well as looking in those books and getting into the images, especially the one of Jack Skellington's ghost dog, Zero, floating around the headstones. And I always remember that image of Jack on that curled hill, silhouetted against the moon, which has to be the most iconic visual from the movie. So, in retrospect, the characters and world did leave an impression on my Halloween/Christmas-loving young life, especially the former, but the film itself did not. Moreover, I didn't see it for the first time until I got it for Christmas in 2008, when I was 21. I was fully prepared to absolutely love it, for the reasons I've mentioned and also because of how much I love animation in general, but, as luck would have it, that wasn't exactly the experience that I had with it. Granted, when I first watched it, I was a bit distracted since someone else was in the room, doing something on my computer, but upon subsequent viewings, I had pretty much the same feeling: this... isn't the great movie I expected it to be. It has a lot of superlative ingredients, like the very skilled stop-motion animation, the voice-acting and characters, the incredible world and visuals it creates, and such, but the story just doesn't connect with me. James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd, did a video about popular movies that he doesn't absolutely love and The Nightmare Before Christmas, which he does love, is an example for me. I'm not going to say it's bad by any stretch but there are many other Halloween and Christmas-centered movies that I'd much rather watch.

Another way in which The Nightmare Before Christmas was important in my life was that it was the first time I heard the name Tim Burton. The preview for it on that Homeward Bound video I mentioned talked about how, after running down some of their landmark achievements over the years, Disney was joining forces with Burton, who they actually showed and described as, "The creative genius behind Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands," to make the film. Aside from the latter, those were definitely things I was aware of, although I thought they were talking about the Beetlejuice cartoon, which was still being rerun around that time, and I wasn't sure exactly what they meant when they just said Batman (for a little bit, I thought they meant the character in general!); regardless, even at that young age, I was able to recognize that this guy did have some credentials to his name. And later in life, when I had really come to know who he was, I, like many other people, assumed that he directed it, especially since so much of its identity has to do with him, from his recognizable style and striking visuals, down to the fact that the actual title on the film itself is Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. I was very surprised to learn that, while he definitely did create the story in a poem that he wrote while he was working as an animator at Disney and tried to get it developed into some type of form over the years (be it a short or a television special), the film itself was directed by Henry Selick, who was also a Disney animator around the same time as Burton. Burton couldn't direct it himself because, at the time it finally went into production, he was busy with Batman Returns, and he also didn't want to deal with the tough, time-consuming process of stop-motion (although, he would eventually co-direct a stop-motion film with Corpse Bride), so he left it up to Selick. In a 1994 issue of Sight & Sound, Selick described his relationship with the project and Burton as, "He laid the egg, and I sat on it and hatched it. He wasn't involved in a hands-on way, but his hand is in it. It was my job to make it look like 'a Tim Burton film', which is not so different from my own films." (Which is true, if you look at his other stuff; he's kind of like, "Tim Burton-light.") In the same article, he elaborated on just how little Burton was really involved with: "He was not in San Francisco when we made it. He came up five times over two years, and spent no more than eight or ten days in total." Selick hasn't done many other movies since Nightmare, which isn't surprising given how long stop-motion takes, but those he has done are memorable in one way or another. I haven't seen James and the Giant Peach in a long time but, even as a kid, I remember thinking it was just okay; I've never seen Monkeybone, as it just looks a little too weird for me; but Coraline, on the other hand, is probably my favorite stop-motion movie period, mainly because it has something I feel Nightmare lacks, which I'll try to explain later.

Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King leader of Halloween Town, has often been cited as being more complex than your average animated film lead but, while he definitely has some meat to his characterization, he's not that hard to figure out. He's become bored and weary of organizing the same old routines for the town's annual Halloween celebrations and desperately wants some change, which is something I think a lot of people can relate to (I know I can). Jack gets his wish when he stumbles across the portals to other holiday-themed worlds and ends up in Christmas Town. Both perplexed and enthralled by the completely new surroundings and traditions, he becomes intent upon sharing it with the citizens of Halloween Town. Unfortunately, they're unable to comprehend what the holiday is about, since all they know is creepy and morbid stuff, and Jack himself goes into seclusion for a period to try to figure it out in scientific terms. After wracking his brains about it, he ultimately realizes that it's not something you can explain rationally but you just have to believe and experience it. As such, he decides that he and his townspeople should be able to enjoy Christmas just as much as everyone else and, therefore, plans for them to take it over for the year. This is where you get into the real heart of Jack's character: he is a good guy overall, with pure intentions, but he's very misguided in implementing them. His biggest mistake is having Santa Claus abducted from Christmas Town and brought to Halloween Town so he can take his place. He sees it as giving him the year off, as well as a means for him to experience something new, but doesn't understand that Santa didn't ask for his intervention and doesn't want it, either. This mistake is further compounded by him getting the trick-or-treaters, Lock, Shock, and Barrel, to do the deed and ordering them to keep Santa safe in the meantime, even though he knows that they work for Oogie Boogie. He should've known that, despite his telling them not to involve him, that they were going to let Boogie know what was going on and take Santa to him. That's another flaw with Jack: whenever he becomes enthusiastic about something, he gets really impulsive and doesn't stop to think or acknowledge anything that's contradictory to how he feels. As he himself doesn't really understand Christmas, being the "Master of Fright" and all, he doesn't get that the way the townspeople are going about preparing for it, especially in the gift-making department, isn't the right way. And he also doesn't listen to Sally's trying to warn him about the premonition she had about the plan going horribly wrong, being too intent on getting her to make a Santa Claus costume for him.

Again, Jack's heart is in the right place and his enthusiasm and zeal for what he's doing is undeniable. He really does think that Santa Claus will appreciate being given a year off from delivering presents to the world, as can be heard when Santa first sees Halloween Town and Jack happily asks, "Surprised, aren't you?", and, when he's preparing to head out, he tells Sally that he hasn't been this happy and excited in a long time. Plus, when he's delivering the presents, he's having the time of his life and relishing every second of it, unaware that the macabre, unsettling, and, in some cases, downright dangerous gifts he's leaving in people's homes are wreaking absolute havoc. He's so blinded by it that, when the military puts up spotlights in the sky and begins firing at him, it takes a few minutes for him to realize what's going on, as he thinks they're thanking him for doing a good job. When he's finally shot down and crashes in a cemetery, he realizes the full extent of the disaster he's caused and laments that this isn't what he intended at all. Initially, he feels like complete garbage but, when he thinks about it, he comes to think about how much he enjoyed it while it lasted and that he gave it his best shot. Having experienced something new, his enthusiasm and joy for his true calling comes back full-force but then, it hits him that he'd better correct his mistakes and get Santa back in the air before it's too late. With that, he saves Santa, and Sally, from Oogie Boogie and, despite the verbal lashing he gets from him, he's assured that things will be put right. Once all of the horrific presents are replaced with true ones and Santa allows Halloween Town to experience Christmas themselves with a snowfall, Jack recognizes Sally's feelings for him and the film ends with the two of them getting together.

It's interesting how Jack's design is pretty simple, as he's just a traditional white skeleton in a black pin-stripped suit and a bow tie (the ends of which, if look at them, resemble big bat wings), and yet, is very iconic. The same goes him when he's wearing his Santa Claus outfit, which is complete with a fake beard: again, very simple, but instantly recognizable, which is something of a Tim Burton trademark. What's more, it's impressive how they managed to get a lot of expression out of his face, including blinking and brow movements, when it's nothing more than a skull but, indeed, you can see how he's feeling every time you look at him. His voice, though, is where I have some issues, though not with the performances, as Chris Sarandon does well in speaking and Danny Elfman in singing; the thing is, I don't understand why they couldn't just get one person to voice him in both ways. I find it distracting how much the movie flip-flops between the two of them, since Sarandon and Elfman's voices sound nothing alike (I heard they cast them because it was felt they did sound similar, which I don't get at all), and also because it seems like Elfman gets a lot more given the number of songs there are. Again, in that case, why not have Elfman voice him in all respects? If it was because he had too much on his plate since, as often with anything Burton is involved in, he did the music along with writing the songs, then get someone else who can do both (interestingly, in other media where Jack has been involved, Sarandon has both done the voice acting and sung). It's possible I'm the only who's bugged by this but I can't help it; it really sticks out to me.

The one character in Halloween Town who's capable of understanding how Jack feels is Sally (voiced by Catherine O'Hara), the rag doll creation of Dr. Finkelstein's, as she's also in her own private trap. While Jack's is being stuck as the organizer of the annual Halloween celebrations and unable to do anything else with his life, Sally's is much more pronounced, as Finkelstein keeps her locked away in his gloomy tower and laboratory because he wants her exclusively for himself. Sally, however, longs to experience the wonders of the outside world, as she's a very curious creature, and has a habit of slipping deadly nightshade into his drinks and food, which puts him out, so she can escape. Her hearing Jack's lamenting in song about how he wants something more in life causes her to develop feelings for him and, when she finally escapes Finkelstein for good, she tries to help him when he's trying to understand Christmas. However, she then has a vision of a Christmas tree bursting into flames (you never know if this was a random, one-time thing or if it is an inherent power of hers), signifying that Jack's plans to do Christmas himself this year will end in disaster, and she tries to warn him but he's too wrapped up in the preparations and excited to listen. She's also far too shy to make him listen and, instead, tries to deter him from taking off in the sleigh by creating a thick fog that envelops the town but when that doesn't work, she can only hope that her premonition doesn't come to pass, as well as lament that Jack doesn't realize how much she cares about him. Sally then gets caught up in Oogie Boogie's lethal gambling game when she tries to rescue Santa Claus from him so he can stop Jack, with the Pumpkin King ultimately have to save both of them. Once everything is made right and Halloween Town gets to experience Christmas itself, Jack then realizes how Sally feels about them and the two become lovers, although I must admit that it doesn't do much for me, as their relationship had very little to it, aside from Sally being able relate to Jack and their few interactions consisting of Jack being too excited and impulsive to listen to her warnings. Overall, Sally is a likable enough character and she's the closest this film gets to an anchor character the whole audience can relate to, but I still think it'd be better if her and Jack's relationship got more development.

Sally's design is just as iconic and memorable as Jack's: she's basically a living rag doll, created by Dr. Finkelstein in a manner involving stitching and sewing, which is no doubt meant to be another nod to the classic Frankenstein. She most definitely has the trademark Tim Burton "look" to her, with her pale skin and big eyes, and while there is an element of prettiness to her, her face mainly exudes sadness and melancholy, added to by her soft, demure voice, kind of stringy hair, and raggedy clothing. While her stitches have a tendency to come undone, causing her limbs to fall off and forcing her to initially have to go back to Finkelstein for a repair job, I like that she's smart enough to start carrying needles and thread with her so she can repair herself and also figures out a way to take advantage of this handicap to distract Oogie Boogie while she tries to help Santa Claus (granted, it ultimately doesn't work, but at least she was clever enough to think to try it). Although, thinking about it, it's odd how, in that instance, she's able to control her hands when they're detached from her to try to get Santa loose, whereas before, she had to go back to retrieve her missing arm from Finkelstein instead of having it crawl to her. I guess it's because she didn't have any way to sew it back on at that point and, besides, this is a world where logic obviously doesn't exist at all.

Dr. Finkelstein (voiced by William Hickey), who's simply identified as "Evil Scientist" in the ending credits, created Sally ostensibly for companionship but he acts far too possessive and controlling over her, keeping her locked up all the time and not allowing her to experience the outside world. He says that she's not ready for so much excitement but when he tells her, "You're mine! I made you with my own hands," it seems much more like he's just selfish and doesn't want to share her with anybody; he also tells her that her being restless about what's out there is just a phase that will pass but he soon learns that's not the case when she escapes even after he looks her up in the highest room in his place. Getting fed up with her constantly getting out and slipping deadly nightshade in his food, causing him to fall unconscious (as well as experience something akin to a hangover, given how he's complaining about his head hurting after he locks her up), Finkelstein ultimately decides to let her go and creates another female companion in his own image and using part of his brain, saying that she'll be somebody who's worth having conversations with. He also plays an integral part in Jack's Christmas plan, as he creates some skeletal reindeer to pull his sleigh, and like everyone else in Halloween Town, he's obviously quite fond of the Pumpkin King and willing to help. I've always found Finkelstein's design to be really interesting: chalk-white, with a lab coat, black gloves, and dark shades, an oversized head, and a mouth that's shaped like a duckbill and full of sharp teeth. I also like how he can open his head like a hinged can in order to rub or scratch his brain and, for whatever reason, he's disabled and has to get around through the use of an electric wheelchair, which is an interesting little touch.

Like I said in the introduction, Oogie Boogie (voiced by Ken Page) was the character who really caught my attention when I was a young kid because of his design. Something about how he looked like the traditional sheet ghost but in the form of a burlap sack with legs, a long, pointed head that flopped backwards, a big, dark mouth, and two small, black eyes appealed to me, and I also thought it was interesting that, according to that toy commercial, he was full of bugs and other creepy-crawlies. I especially like how, when you first see him when Santa Claus is pushed down into his lair, the black lights make him look green and I wished that was how he actually looked, instead of being a simple brown when they're turned off. In any case, little did I know that he was actually a pretty entertaining villain as well. While he is genuinely malevolent, unlike all of the other monsters and ghouls who inhabit Halloween Town, and likes to play deadly gambling games with his victims, admitting in his song that he doesn't play them fairly, his voice, based on that of Cab Calloway, is so over-the-top and funny and he has such a sense of humor that it's easy to forget. His song, where he's making fun of Santa Claus, about how he can't be the person everyone's talking about, is especially entertaining, like when Santa asks him what he's going to do and he says, "I'm gonna do the best I can!" (a direct quote from a Betty Boop cartoon Calloway did a voice for), and so is when he's distracted by Sally's leg when it sticks in through his door in order to distract him from killing Santa, prompting him to flirt and tickle the foot. To be honest, as a kid, I was frightened by the idea of the boogeyman because of this movie they made us watch at school (Mr. Boogedy... yeah, I know) but if I'd seen this movie, this would've been a boogeyman I could deal with! Even so, when he gets serious and decides that there's been enough fooling around, he proves that he won't hesitate in trying to use the traps and weapons in his lair to kill people. In the end, though, it's revealed that his sack body is not only full of bugs, worms, and snakes, but that that's what he actually is (it's shown earlier that he ostensibly eats other bugs provided him by Lock, Shock, and Barrel in order to to add to his interior support of them), with one bug in particular being the ringleader, which Santa himself squashes.

Boogie's only henchmen are three mischievous trick-or-treaters, Lock, Shock, and Barrel (voiced respectively by Paul Reubens, Catherine O'Hara, and Danny Elfman), whom Jack makes the mistake of hiring to bring Santa Claus to Halloween Town. He tells them not to involve Boogie but the three of them cross their fingers when they promise that they won't, plotting to bring him to their boss from the beginning so he can have a shot at taking control of Christmas and Halloween Town. The three of them don't have very defined personalities other than being mischievous, untrustworthy, and sneaky, although Shock is clearly the most intelligent and disdains the others' lack of intelligence, while Lock is simply the ostensible leader and Barrel is just plain dumb, even though he insists he's not; as a result of their clashing personalities, they tend to argue a lot, and it undoubtedly led to them initially capturing the Easter Bunny instead of Santa by mistake. One thing I don't like about them is how, after Boogie has been dealt with and Santa has saved Christmas, they're never punished or even called out on all of the trouble they caused. Instead, they guide the mayor to where Jack and Sally are, deciding to help them now that their boss is no more, and the last time you see them, they're enjoying the snow that Santa brought to Halloween Town like everyone else. The notable thing about their designs are that they're always wearing their Halloween costumes and their masks mirror their real faces: Lock is basically the traditional red devil, with horns, a pale face with blue lips, and a pointy tail, Shock the stereotypical witch, complete with the hat and broom, and Barrel, who carries around an orange and black jack-o-lantern lollypop, has a wide, pale, skeletal face with sunken eyes and a nearly permanent grin. The vehicle they use to get around is, of all things, a bathtub that can actually walk and run like a horse after being cranked up from behind. I have no comment.

The most pitiable character in the film, aside from Sally, is poor Santa Claus (voiced by Ed Ivory), as he's just planning for his Christmas Eve deliveries like usual when Lock, Stock, and Barrel show up at his door, put him in a big bag, and cart him off to Halloween Town, where Jack tells him that he'll be taking care of Christmas this year. To make matters worse, instead of keeping him safe, as Jack tells them to, the three troublemakers instead take him to Oogie Boogie, who ties him to this giant roulette wheel and plans to play a deadly game of chance with his life, which Santa is destined to lose since Boogie doesn't play fair. When Sally tries to help him escape but is captured as well, the two of them come close to buying it and all hope seems lost when they hear that Jack was blown out of the sky while posing as Santa but, fortunately, he shows up, defeats Boogie, and rescues them both. Understandably, Santa, who himself finishes Boogie off by squashing the lead bug, is not at all happy with Jack and the trouble he's caused both him and the world at large. He angrily tells him, "Next time you get the urge to take over someone else's holiday, I'd listen to her (Sally). She's the only one who makes any sense around this insane asylum!" This is where I don't understand the thinking of Doug Walker who, in a Nostalgia Critic video he did called The Top 12 Santa Clauses, put Jack on the list instead of the real Santa here, saying that he feels Jack made a better Santa because the real one, "Is always kind of grumpy and pissed off." He does acknowledge that's understandable, given what he's been put through, but his argument why Jack is better is the fun that he has in his place, despite the havoc he caused and the ill-advised methods he used to take his place, and adds, "Even when Santa's released, he still seems kind of cranky to return to his job." Um, Doug, of course he's cranky! Because of Jack, he not only nearly got killed but is also way behind schedule and is probably going to have to blaze in order to set things right! I like the Nostalgia Critic and all but sometimes, Doug's rationale perplexes me. Regardless, I digress: Santa does assure Jack that he can fix the damage he's caused and proceeds to do so, as well as bury the hatchet with him and Halloween Town at large by giving them a taste of Christmas with a snowfall. As for his design, while I wish they changed it up a little bit and didn't make him look quite as odd as the other characters, especially in the face (they probably didn't want to change the art style very drastically but, since he's from another world, I feel Santa should have a cuter and friendlier look to him), it's still a simple but effective design with him basically being a big, round ball, short, stumpy arms, and small legs, dressed in the traditional Santa attire and with the classic long, white beard.

The biggest strengths of The Nightmare Before Christmas have to do with the visuals, particularly in the world it creates. It's an interesting concept to have the various holidays originate from fantastical worlds based around them, the portals to which can be found within doors on a specific circle of trees in the forest. Halloween Town, of course, is to be found behind the door with the jack-o-lantern on it, and can be best described as the absolute dream of every little kid who loves the holiday. It's a small, spooky village, with creepy, strange architecture to the houses and buildings all-around (a nod of the hat to the German Expressionism film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, as well as to that style in general), a muted, gray color palette to everything (the only instances in Halloween Town where the colors become very vibrant is when a close-up of Jack's face is suddenly lit bright red and the black lighting in Oogie Boogie's lair during his song), days that are either overcast or bathe the landscape in rich, yellow, autumn-esque sunlight (I kind of wish it were always nighttime, given the nature of the place and its inhabitants), and such. The town square, which is officially called "Guillotine Square," has a fountain in the center filled with green water, there's a gate entrance to the town with an arch over it, the only apparent vehicle in the town is a hearse-like car that the mayor drives around in to make announcements over a loudspeaker and a loud, cranking siren at the tipe of the hood that's shaped like a hissing black cat, and the town hall, where Jack tries to explain the idea of Christmas to everyone, is a large building with columns out front and a clock that counts down the days leading up to Halloween (which they modify later for Christmas) but what we of the inside is a tad bit small, with a little stage, a dark curtain, and a podium. However, more interesting to me than the town itself is what you find on the outskirts, which are the types of locations I always associated with Halloween when I was a little kid. There's a really cool-looking, classic-style graveyard with a bunch of old-fashioned tombstones and the spire-gate entrance to the place at large is beyond it. It's also where Jack's ghost dog, Zero, hangs out, as his doghouse/tombstone is there, and the whole spot looks amazing with the glowing full moon in the background. There's also a pumpkin patch just beyond, most iconic of all, Curly Hill, which uncurls for you when you walk down its length (again, when you see it up against the full moon, it's nothing less than a work of art). And at the end of the movie, you get to see what the town looks like in the snow, with Curly Hill becoming covered in it and ice sickles hanging from its underside.

There are a few notable buildings inside the town associated with the main characters that also deserve some notice. Jack's house sits behind a gate with a jack-o-lantern pattern to the bars and a twisted, suspended stairway that leads to the patch of ridge where it sits. The house itself has a thin base with a much larger section on top of it, an exaggerated, elongated look to everything, from the roof and antennas to the windows, and a separate tower that juts upwards from the left side of the roof near the back. What we see of the interior, other than Jack's small bedroom, is a large study and observatory full of books, a big window with bat and spider web designs on the glass, an electric chair, and a desk, which is where he tries to rationally explain Christmas. Dr. Finkelstein's laboratory is inside a large, imposing brick tower with an enormous, circular section up top with a ring around it that makes it look kind of like Saturn, and it's also noticeably bent backwards. The interior is just as large as the exterior and includes Finkelstein's laboratory, which is a big, gray room with the stereotypical mad scientist equipment that you've seen in countless old horror films, particularly the original Frankenstein, right down to the slab he has Sally lay on while he's repairing her; a couple of rooms with a green light to them where Sally prepares a soup tainted with deadly nightshade and serves it to him on a table; and a dark, dank, dungeon-like room in the upper section of the place where he imprisons her after that last aforementioned poisoning. Finally, Oogie Boogie's lair is beneath Lock, Shock, and Barrel's place, which is best described as a kid's tree-house gone berserk, with twisted walkways, pulleys, and elongated, curved sections of the house itself. Along with all sorts of junk, weapons, and their riding bathtub, there's also a metal chute shaped like the mouth of a crazy monster face with spiral eyes (which isn't unique, as they're to be found in a lot of locations in Halloween Town) inside the main hub of the tree-house that leads down through a similarly-designed opening to Boogie's lair, which is a big torture chamber and dungeon, with an enormous roulette wheel, the center of which can open up into a lava pit and the rim sprout enormous playing cards armed with swords, slot-machines that are shaped like gunslingers with real guns, lots of chains, enormous, toothy vices, skeletons of all colors and shapes, and bats that appear to be painted with skeletal patterns on their bodies. During his introductory song, the place is lit with black light, the bright, glowing colors making it look a lot fancier than it actually is, like the inside of a psychedelic circus and, ironically, making me think of what Joel Schumacher did with certain parts of Gotham City after he took over the Batman movies from Tim Burton.

The citizens of Halloween town are quite interesting collection of monsters, creatures, and ghouls, all of whom, save for Oogie Boogie (who it seems is banished from the main section of town into his underground lair), are actually benign and scare people just for the fun of Halloween. The most notable one, and one of the most unique in terms of his look and gimmick, is the mayor (voiced by Glenn Shadix), who's best remembered for literally being two-faced: one which is colored that of normal-looking skin and has a big smile, while the other is chalk white, with a toothy frown, and his head constantly swivels around to reveal whichever face corresponds to his current mood. It's meant to be a literal representation of "two-faced politicians," and that notion shocks me to think that they actually slipped a bit of political commentary into a movie like this. Moreover, they put another one in when the mayor, at one point, says, "I'm only an elected official here! I can't make decisions by myself!" Yeah, despite his having the title of mayor, he doesn't have that much power of organizing Halloween or apparently even running the town; when they refer to Jack as their leader, they appear to mean that when it comes to everything. Another one is Zero, Jack's faithful, ghost dog who has a design I've always liked: a glowing, white sheet with a dog skull and glowing, pumpkin-shaped nose. He also acts as this film's answer to Rudolph when Jack uses his nose to guide his sled through the fog Sally creates to try to stop him. And at the end of the movie, Dr. Finkelstein shows up with his new creation: the female version of himself with half of his brain. There are so many different characters in Halloween Town that it'd be impossible to name them all, as some of them only appear very briefly either during the This Is Halloween opening song or at random other points during the film (like a Grim Reaper, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Monster Under the Bed), so I'll just point out the most noteworthy ones. There's a fat, unicycle-riding clown with a tearaway face who can disappear in a puff of smoke; a big, gray, overall-wearing ghoul with an axe stuck in his head and a dumb expression on his face, who scares the crap out of the Easter Bunny when he's brought to the town; a living tree with skeletons hanging from its branches, much like a typical Halloween decoration; a bizarre creature with three horns on his head that move. an enormous, toothy mouth that, when opened, separates completely from the top of his head, and a somewhat effeminate voice; a thin, dark-colored cyclops with pointy ears and something of a nervous demeanor; a tiny mummy kid who appears to have only one eye; four vampire brothers, two fat and two skinny, who use umbrellas when they're walking around in the daylight and are also kind of effeminate; a flannel sweater-wearing werewolf; two witches, one being short and the other tall; a creature that's like a cross between a mermaid and the Gill-Man; a short, ghoulish assistant for Finkelstein who speaks in a stereotypical, Peter Lorre voice and who, indeed, is named Igor; and a three-member, zombie street band who play an accordion, a bass, and saxophone, the latter player telling Jack after This Is Halloween, "Nice work, bone daddy."

Given their inherent nature and what they know, the Christmas presents that the townspeople come up with are anything but family-friendly. The most innocuous ones are this shrunken head that Jack gives to this one kid personally, the sight of which causes his parents to pass out in horror, and a Christmas tree that's filled with bats, but the rest of them are destructive and potentially deadly. There's a pumpkin-headed jack-in-the-box that chases after this little chubby kid; a vampire-like teddy bear with a big mouth full of teeth and a mean-looking toy duck with teeth in its beak that chases after a couple of unlucky, terrified kids; a wreath that comes to life and sprouts tentacles that it uses to attack the old lady whose door Jack hung it on the inside of; and a big snake with yellow and black stripes that swallows a Christmas tree whole in front of a terrified child.

Christmas Town is the absolute antithesis of Halloween Town in every way. Instead of being dark, gray, and gloomy, it's bright, beautiful in its colors, cheerful, and very welcoming, located in the middle of some large hills in a snow-covered landscape, which is a very picturesque sight in and of itself, and, according to Henry Selick, is based on the work of Dr. Seuss, as well as the popular conception of Santa Claus' workshop at the North Pole (it personally reminds me of this Christmas-themed shop up in Pigeon Forge in the Smokey Mountains). In fact, that's pretty much what it is, as the only inhabitants, aside from Santa and Mrs. Claus (who's only seen in the background the first time you see Santa himself), are elves, penguins, and the reindeer, and it's clearly a place where people both work and live, as the elves are shown to be playing, decorating, and having fun when they're not making toys and treats for Christmas, and you see the inside of their homes as well. The place doesn't feel as big as Halloween Town, tucked away rather snugly in the middle of this expansive field of snow, but it has plenty to offer regardless, like a carousel, a miniature train, snowmen, Christmas trees, and a lot of lovely decorations and bright lights.

There were talks of a sequel in the early 2000's but Tim Burton very quickly put the kibosh on that (particularly because they wanted to use CGI instead of stop-motion and also to maintain the purity of this film) but, while I do think that was the right decision, I still think it would've been interesting to see what they could have come up with for the other worlds, since we know the doors to them are out there in those woods. However, I do find it a tad bit confusing how the first thing we see are said doors on the trees in the middle of the woods, including the one to Halloween Town... and yet, after wandering around all night, Jack somehow comes across that spot himself, as if the places are somehow connected. Given that it's a fantasy, it's not something to wrack your brains over, and, thinking about it, I guess if you walk far enough in any of those worlds, you'll come back around to those woods, but it's just something I had to bring up, as well as the fact that Jack is somehow able to cross over into the real world when he takes off in the sleigh and then back down to it through a door at the base of a statue in a graveyard. How does that work? Speaking of the depiction of the real world, it's definitely the most straightforward part of the movie, with normal-looking houses, actual vehicles, and the presence of the police and military, although the stop-motion and the character designs still lead up to it feeling not quite like reality. The latter is particularly noteworthy, as the kids are designed in a caricature look, particularly the one really fat kid with glasses, that make them feel along the same, odd lines as everyone else, and the adults' faces are never seen, either being chopped off by the framing or obscured by foreground objects, which is probably meant to be a reference to old cartoons where the faces of humans or adults often weren't shown. And isn't it rather convenient that, when Jack is shot down by the military, he crashes in, of all places, a cemetery, moreover one that serves as a route back to Halloween Town?

That leads me into one of two major things about this film that keep me from loving it as much as so many other people do: it depends on the film but, for the most part, whenever you're going to take me on a journey to a crazy, odd world like this, I'd like for there to be a central character who looks and acts normal, who can be my anchor and act just as perplexed at everything going on around them as I am. In other words, every Wonderland needs an Alice, and that's a big reason why I love Coraline so much: the title character is an everyday, relatable person who gets pulled into this really bizarre world that she finds. A lot of the other characters around her either look or sound really strange but she herself is the one that we can all relate to; The Nightmare Before Christmas is kind of missing that element for me. It's to be expected, since nearly all of the major characters are inhabitants of the strange world of Halloween Town, including our lead, and they do give Jack a dilemma many can relate to, as well as make him likable, but regardless, he's still a living skeleton that's dressed up in a pin-stripe suit, has a quirky personality, and often breaks into song. Sally, as I said earlier, is more akin to this type of anchor character I've been describing, as she has the most down-to-Earth personality and also has an understandable conflict, but she's still an odd-looking, stitched up, rag doll-like creation of a mad scientist. Even Santa Claus, the character who's dragged into Halloween Town and reacts to its insanity the way a normal person would, has a bizarre, caricature look to him and the same goes for the odd way the world that's meant to be our reality is depicted. I'm well aware that I'm part of a very small minority here and that some may say that the issues I've mentioned are exactly the point of the movie, which they could be, but it's something I needed that the film didn't provide.

I might as well give my other big problem, and this one is all about perception: I feel that the story runs out of steam pretty early on. When you break it down, it's a very simple plot, even though the motivations behind it are very complex, and while it is initially interesting to see a being like Jack trying to figure out something that he inherently can't understand and also that can't be explained rationally, after a while, as he tries to explain it to the other monsters and performs experiments on it to try to understand it himself, it starts to wear thin. Plus, once he accepts that it isn't something a person can't just figure out and decides to take it over himself, the preparations for it feel endless to me, especially since we know well in advance that it's going to be a complete disaster. And finally, I just don't get into the story the way other people do. I get the morals and messages behind it, that trying new things doesn't always mean success but doing so reinvigorate your passion for what you do know, and it is a unique take on well-known Christmas stories like The Night Before Christmas and such but, ultimately, no matter how likable he is, I always find myself not being that invested in watching a guy who's associated with Halloween try to take on Christmas in the only way he knows how.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's get back to acknowledging the high-points of the film, particularly its technical achievements. There's a reason why stop-motion animation went out of style around the 80's and 90's: it's time-consuming and extremely arduous to do it even halfway decently, and that's simply when you're doing it in order to integrate it with live-action in movies like King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, and all of Ray Harryhausen's films. I can't imagine how difficult it is to do a movie that's all stop-motion and, therefore, the fact that any of them come out looking as good as they do is a miracle. The Nightmare Before Christmas was particularly ambitious in its scope, ultimately requiring twenty sound-stages for the sheer number of miniature sets, which were often all being used for filming at the same time, and nearly 230 puppets for all of the characters, which individual heads for each nuance of emotion. Jack Skellington himself had nearly 400 heads, and Sally, in addition to having ten types of different faces, had to have her mouth animated through a different type of process altogether. Combine that will all of the other numerous characters in the movie and you can imagine what an ordeal it must have been for the filmmakers, but their efforts really paid off because there's no denying that this is a true technical marvel. Not only is the stop-motion absolutely flawless and a joy to behold but it's just as effective as bringing the characters to life as anything that Harryhausen or Willis O'Brien ever did. Every single one of the characters, even those in the background who don't get to do or say much, if anything, feels like he or she is alive, breathing, and thinking. None of them are neglected, even in the many big crowd scenes where they're all moving individually, which must've been quite a feat to keep track of. Jack, in particular, is a true character and you can see and read every expression and emotion he's feeling, which is even more amazing given that his head is nothing more than a skull and yet, you can see him blink, frown, smile, and everything in-between. But emotions and simple movements are only part of the equation, as these characters are often running, jumping around, and doing all sorts of crazy actions with a ton of energy, particularly Jack and Oogie Boogie (the puppet for whom was much bigger than the others) in their respective musical numbers, and it all looks and feels like there's absolutely nothing to it. Walt Disney Feature Animation also contributed some instances of traditional animation along with the stop-motion, like the ghosts during the opening This Is Halloween song, Boogie's silhouette on the moon that turns into a bunch of bats, the shadows, Zero's ethereal, ghostly body, the flames Jack's body is engulfed in before he properly introduces himself, and the fog and mist in certain scenes, like when Sally tries to stop Jack from taking off in the sleigh.

As with any animated film produced by or at least affiliated with Disney, this is most definitely a musical and there are indeed some songs, along with the numbers around them, that I find to be catchy, although I do also feel there are a few too many, with some popping up where I don't think they're needed. This Is Halloween, however, which opens the film, is a very memorable way to establish the world of Halloween Town, as you're literally plunged through the door in the tree and bombarded with fast, crazy images as the monsters sing their song. The camera passes by a pumpkin-headed scarecrow that points the way and then pans through the graveyard, as singing shadows appear on the headstones, before it goes through the gate that leads into the town. Singing ghosts swirl around the spires on a fence near the town, with jack-o-lanterns falling through them, and we follow them into the town before heading through a window and into a bedroom, where a creature with red eyes and sharp teeth is seen hiding underneath. It transitions to another creature hiding beneath a stairway, this one brown with a long snout and black-and-white stripes going down his long neck, with snake fingers and, as he says, spiders in his hair (to clarify, his hair actually looks like a spider). You then get a shot of wind blowing the pages of a book in the room and several pieces of furniture behind it, including a supposed grandfather clock, opening to reveal themselves to be coffins with vampires inside them. The four vampires go outside and then, you see the mayor for the first time, before the camera shows a black cat running down some stairs and jumping onto a trashcan, when the creature with bendable horns and that strange mouth comes out, along with the werewolf out of the wall beside it and a zombie out of the sewer. The two witches then come flying right at the camera as it pans over to show flying up out of a tunnel and up to the street, where the living tree with hanging skeleton decorations approaches the camera and it zooms into an opening in its trunk. The clown with the tearaway face is seen, demonstrating what he can do before disappearing, and Sally is seen brushing her hair on a ledge before the camera pans to the moon, where Oogie Boogie's shadow appears and dissipates into some bats after he signs his verse. The characters come marching through the gates while continuing to sing, as a guillotine slices open a pumpkin and a zombie family sings about how it's just their job to scare people, although they're not malevolent by any means. The mayor sings again, as the ghoul with the axe in his head comes in leading a horse into town square with that scarecrow seen earlier, for it to grab a torch from someone, stick it in the jack-o-lantern's mouth, and set its body ablaze. After dancing around on the horse and blowing fire into the air, the scarecrow does a somersault into the fountain, only to emerge to reveal itself to have actually been Jack Skellington all along. The song ends as he rises up and the ghouls, include Sally, who sneaked into the town square all clap happily over another Halloween well done.

In start contrast to that, the second song, Jack's Lament, is a much slower, solemn, and melancholic number, beginning when Jack wanders into the cemetery on the outskirts of Halloween Town following the end of the celebration. After he walks Zero's doghouse/headstone and motions for him, he simply leans on a statue and then ducks behind it and pops his head out as he sings about how he's considered a master of surprise far and wide. He hops across some tombstones and continues to sing about his undeniable talent but, in-between two statues, he becomes much sadder and slumps away from them and against another statue, lamenting his weariness of the same thing year after year. As Sally listens and watches from nearby, Jack climbs up to the top of Curly Hill, the full moon in the background, singing about the growing emptiness within him and his longing for something outside of Halloween Town. He then begins singing again about his being the Master of Fright, summoning some ghosts out of the pumpkin patch beneath the hill at the same time, going on about how he's known worldwide, and then demonstrates that he can take off his own head to quote Shakespeare, as well as mention that no one can scream like he can. It doesn't take long for him to go back to how he wishes he could give up his crown as the Pumpkin King and that he feels there's no one in Halloween Town who would understand. As Sally ducks behind a tombstone to avoid being seen, Jack walks down the uncurling hill, continuing to sing about the empty feeling within him, which he doesn't know how to fill, and as he walks out of the gate, says that all of the praise he gets does nothing for how he feels. Once he's out of sight and earshot, Sally thinks to herself about how she does understand what he means.

Upon reaching the forest where the doors to the various worlds are, Jack becomes intrigued, as this is someplace he's never been before, and curiously opens up the door to Christmas Town. Looking down into the depths of the opening, he initially doesn't see anything, but when he turns around and shrugs at Zero, he's suddenly pulled backwards by a vacuum of air and falls down a swirling, white spiral intermixed with snowflakes. Finding himself sitting atop of a snowbank, he sees the brightly lit, colorful town nearby and tries to get a closer look, when his hand plops through the snow. Scooping it up in a ball, he tastes it and then looks down at the town again, seeing a small train and elves skating around a large Christmas tree. As he leans over, he loses his balance and slides down the snow-covered hill, landing within a snowdrift. Popping up, he begins singing the song, What's This?, a fast, bouncy, wondrous number, as he notes all of the color, the snow in the air, and comes across a snowman, thinking that he must be dreaming. Hiding himself within the snowman, he watches as a sled full of singing elves, being driven by a penguin on a hamster-wheel type of device on the back, passes by him and then, from the other direction, more elves riding on a big, wind-up polar bear, which he hops after, wondering in song if he's lost his mind. He jumps out of the snowman and watches from a streetlight as kids throw snowballs at another inside of a fort made of snow, which Jack notes (he now knows what a snowball is, even though just a minute ago, he mentioned, "White stuff in the air,") they're doing rather than throwing heads, as he's used to, mentions them building toys, and uses the snowman's umbrella, the handle of which is a candy-cane, to pull down some Christmas lights to look at them. After he mentions a feeling of warmth inside, the song gradually slowing down and becoming more peaceful, he looks through a window and sees two elves kissing under a mistletoe before moving over to another and, rubbing away the frost, sees other elves decorating a Christmas tree. Climbing and running across some rooftops, Jack mentions that what they're doing looks like fun and wonders if his wish for something different has been granted. Looking down to the window below the roof he's on, he crawls through it and sees some elf children sleeping in bunk-beds and others in another bed across from them, noting the lack of any monsters and how peaceful and cozy they seem, things again slowing down to a very mellow sound. He nearly wakes up one of the kids but runs back outside, across a windowsill, singing about how different this place is from Halloween Town and slides across a row of pine-covered lights, smelling the scent of pies and cakes in the air. Jumping down on a carousel and then riding atop the small train before jumping off and sledding down the hill, running across more rooftops and singing about how he must know whatever this is, the song getting faster and faster. That's when he slams into something and looks up to see the sign that reads, Christmas Town, and after the song ends, he gets his first idea of who Santa Claus is when he sees his shadow after he opens up a nearby door.

Later, after returning from Christmas Town, Jack holds a town meeting and, inside the town hall, up on a small stage, he walks out and steps behind the podium, telling them what he intends to show them, as the mayor switches on a spotlight (a couple of bats fly off the front of it when he does so). He sings to them about how he saw things there that they wouldn't believe but, to prove to them that it is real, pulls back the curtain to reveal a very skinny Christmas tree and some presents; most of the monsters aren't sure what to make of what they're seeing but Sally, who's also there, lets out a very curious, "Ooh!" Picking a present up off of a stool, he tries to explain it to them but the others ask if there's anything macabre about it, with the one creature if it contains a pox. He resumes trying to explain, when the two witches butt in, asking what's in the present, and when he tells them that the point is not to know, the tearaway face clown takes it and he and the creature beneath the stairs argue about what could be in it, be it a bat or, as the Gill-Girl suggests, "The head I found in the lake." Jack takes the present back, telling them they're missing the point, and then tries to explain the concept of hanging a stocking on the wall. Of course, he's asked if there's a severed foot inside and he goes on to explain that there can be either candy or little toys inside and the younger monsters wonder if they do anything like attack or scare people. The mayor then proclaims that Christmas sounds like fun and insists that they try it, but Jack tries to get things back on track, telling them they still don't grasp the concept. But, seeing that it's a lost cause, he figures, "Well, I may as well give them what they want," and proceeds to sing about Santa Claus, whom he calls "Sandy Claws," describing him as a big, red, fearsome ruler of the town who flies around on a dark, foggy night, which gets them all to clap and cheer. The curtain closes and Jack acknowledges that they're at least excited but they don't understand the feeling that Christmas Town gave him, leading to him trying to really figure out what it is for himself. This scene is more like the characters talking in rhyming verse with only hints of singing and, while it's fine and all, I wonder if they could have just done it normally, with comedic dialogue and gags. Maybe they did it this way in order to make it feel special but this is one instance where I don't think the musical approach was completely needed.

As Jack spends time locked away inside his study, trying to figure out what Christmas means, the townspeople begin to wonder what's going on with him, singing an apprehensive but somewhat bouncy song about how strange he's been acting, with Sally showing herself to be just as concerned due to the vision she's had of his Christmas plan being a disaster. Jack is then shown pacing back and forth in his study through the window and as he does so, sings about how he can't stop thinking about Christmas or understand what it means, building a house of holiday-themed cards on a table that then falls apart and he swipes it off. He goes on about how it confuses him, looking at objects like Christmas cookies and toys, and then sings about how he's gone over many books of songs and stories, knowing them by heart now, but still nothing clicks and he feels like his head is going to burst. But, when Zero gives him a drawing of himself with a jack-o-lantern in his hand, Jack begins to think that he may be simply trying too hard and sees a vision of himself wearing a Santa Claus outfit, holding a present in its place. He then hits on the idea that just because he can't rationally explain it doesn't mean he can't believe and starts dancing with his skinny Christmas tree, spinning it and sending the ornaments flying onto the floor while declaring that it should belong to everyone or, more specifically, him. He slides across the floor, holding the lights that were tied around the tree, and lassos a nearby electric chair with them, declaring that he could probably improve Christmas if he did it and decides that's what he'll do, as he switches on the chair and activates the lights. As they explode from the surge and he cackles, he flings open the window and shouts, "Eureka! This year, Christmas will be ours!", much to the applause those down below and Sally's continuing chagrin.

Next, after they're tasked with abducting Santa Claus from Christmas Town, Lock, Shock, and Barrel head to their insane clubhouse and take a makeshift, pulley elevator up to it, as they sing an upbeat but macabre song about how they're going to pull it off. Shock talks about baiting him into a cage, while Lock suggests, since Jack has described Santa as being red as a lobster, that they should throw him into a pot and boil him up. They go onto a chorus about trapping him in a box and burying him for 90 years (which they'll add different suggestions to throughout the song), before Shock tosses a caged bug down the chute to Oogie Boogie's lair, talking about how once Santa's out of the way, Boogie will take the whole thing over. You then see the bug land in the lair and Boogie, still seen only in shadow, sucks him right out of the cage to devour him, while up above, Lock mentions blowing Santa away with a cannon but then, he and Shock mention such an idea wouldn't go over well with Jack. Going back to the chorus, this time about trapping Santa in a bag and throwing him the ocean, they then mention Boogie again, who's the meanest inhabitant of the town, as he lets out a loud burp from below and sends the empty cage back up. The three little troublemakers jump into their moving, cranking bathtub, singing about how Boogie will reward them for their job and that they do whatever they can to please him and stay on his good side. Shock then mentions she wishes her cohorts weren't dumb and all three of them then argue about who is dumb before she sings about a plan to send a box full of scorpions to Santa's doorstep that'll enable them to get ahold of him once he opens it up. With that, they get what they need and depart, singing their chorus about other horrible things to do to Santa as they ride off in the bathtub into the woods, while down in his lair, Boogie has heard them and curiously says, "Sandy Claws?"

Up next is the song, Making Christmas, a memorably rhythmic piece as everyone prepares for Jack's Christmas Eve venture by creating gifts for him to deliver. As the countdown to it is shown on the front of the town hall, the inhabitants are either walking around the square with decorations or opening boxes, with Sally sewing Jack's Santa outfit, per his instructions. Three ghosts come out of the well carrying buckets of paint and tools, followed by a zombie pushing a wheel-barrel full of jack-o-lanterns, as the mayor drives around in a small vehicle with a Christmas-themed paint job, as others lay down a makeshift track for him, singing about how it's going to be theirs this time. A little zombie kid is shown smashing a toy car with a mallet, the mummy kid beheading a doll with a little guillotine, and the witches stirring a pot, with the gill creature inside it, singing about how people will talk about this for years to come. The mayor is hit from behind and flipped over by his own vehicle being pushed by the kids, as the vampires put the finishing touches on the sharp-toothed, toy duck, who actually joins in the song, and wrap him up, while the werewolf, devil, and ghoulish clown are seen making the fearsome-looking teddy bear. Jack, coming through the gate leading to his house, is ecstatic about what he's seeing, as various monsters pass by him carrying different types of decorations and tools, culminating in him cackling happily. The weird monster with the horns and bizarre mouth turns a dead rat into a hat and puts it on the head of the zombie saxophone player, whose head and hands are stuck in an old-fashioned rack. Jack compliments the monster on his creation but suggests a bat in place of the rat, and also stops a guy who's oozing slime from wrapping up a roadkill turtle, suggesting he try something "fresher." A scorpion is then shown being hit with a mallet and put up as a gift, as the camera pans to the town hall clock and then transitions to the Christmas Town equivalent, with now only eleven days left, and the lyrics stopping for a bit as the elves are shown preparing the toys and treats in their factory. Back in Halloween Town, Dr. Finkelstein and Igor bring to life Jack's skeletal reindeer, the former finding a skull like his that gives him inspiration for creating Sally's replacement, while in Christmas Town, Santa's sleigh is being waxed down and the elves prepare jack-in-the-box for delivery. The tearaway face clown is shown making his own macabre jack-in-the-boxes, and while the elves fill stockings with presents, a zombie is nearly devoured by the enormous snake they plant to deliver. A bag of presents is shown being lifted up with a crane and then, a coffin is shown being lowered onto a stand in the Halloween Town square, to become the main part of Jack's sleigh, as the inhabitants resume singing about how Christmas is theirs this time. Ghosts and monsters carrying presents enter the square, passing them along to storage, while Jack declares it to be Christmastime and cackles, as his skeletal reindeer float down and the town hall clock reveals there's now only one day left.

When Lock, Shock, and Barrel abduct Santa Claus from Christmas Town and bring him to Jack, who tells him that he can just take it easy and not worry about Christmas this year, they're told to keep him safe in the meantime but, instead, they cart him over to their tree-house and shove him down the chute leading to Oogie Boogie's lair. He lands on a pedestal with spikes along the rim and the whole place is bathed in black light as he looks around, turning his head to the sound of rattling dice, which come flying through a door that opens up. The dice land next to him on the pedestal on snake eyes and, looking back up, Santa sees Boogie standing over him, back-lit by a spotlight. He mockingly says, "Ooh, I'm really scared! So you're the one everybody's talking about!" before laughing and getting bugs on Santa's beard, which then crawl into it. Dancing around him, Boogie sings an energetic, nightclub-like song about how Santa can't be the one everyone's referring to and mocks the way he looks, a spider at one point coming out of the tip of his pointed head and hanging there for a little bit. After spinning Santa around on the pedestal, he picks him up and dances with him, saying that there's something wrong if he isn't scared by now and this may be the last time he hears this song, going, "Whoo-oh," to some red skeletons on puppet strings that are manipulated into doing the same. He does the same thing with some skeletons in this sharp-toothed vice and some hanging bats, spiders crawling out of his eye-sockets as he proclaims himself to be the "Oogie Boogeyman." Santa actually joins in the song, trying to make him understand what will happen if he can't make his Christmas Eve flight, as three slot-machines in the guise of gunslingers roll towards him and fire, although Boogie pulls him out of the way at the last minute. Boogie dances with him again, singing about how hilarious he is and then, with a snake coming out of his mouth, says he's going to do his stuff. Things then get even more psychedelic as Boogie dances around on the large roulette wheel, tosses some dice through the air, which hit the head of a skeleton and bounce back to him, bouncing off his side and hitting Santa in the face as he proclaims himself to be a gambling boogeyman who doesn't play fair. Singing about how he finds it to be more fun with lives on the line, he hooks Santa's bound hands up and hoists him up into the air, as he again demands in song that he be released. Boogie sings that he doesn't comprehend his situation, telling him that he's finished and isn't getting out of the lair, as animated images of animals on the wall converge on Santa and Boogie then walks up to him, putting his arm around his shoulders and laughing evilly, as Lock, Shock, and Barrel do the same up in their clubhouse.

In a last ditch effort to stop the impending disaster, Sally uses a chemical called "fog juice," which she pours into some water and, like dry ice, creates a thick mist that obscures the town. Initially, it seems like she's succeeded, as Jack realizes that he can't take off in a thick soup such as this, but when he notes Zero's bright, glowing nose, he realizes he can use him to light the way and, having him lead the way out in front of the reindeer, they take. The citizens of Halloween Town are ecstatic, except for Sally, who hopes that her premonition is wrong. She then wanders through the mist-covered town and up to a gate, singing a very solemn song akin to Jack's Lament about how she can't shake the feeling that she has, that he doesn't understand how she feels about him, and, as she walks through the bent bars, wonders what will become of Jack and ends it with the sad notion that she's not the one meant to be with him. Although it's beautifully sung by Catherine O'Hara, by the time we get to this song, I'm thinking to myself, "Do we really need another one at this point? This is getting a tad bit egregious."

Following that, Jack begins delivering presents to the world, heading down towards a town and gleefully "ho-ho-hoing" while also letting out his trademark cackle. Landing roughly on a roof, knocking some angel decorations off, he awakens the little kid there, who gets out of bed and runs downstairs to find Jack after he's come down the chimney and is placing the presents. Asking, "Santa?", Jack, upon seeing him, acts just as charming as ever, asking the kid what his name is, but he's too stunned at the sight of him to answer. Jack gives him a present anyway and heads back up the chimney, laughing, while the kid opens his present as the parents come downstairs and ask him what he brought him. The kid then shows them, pulling out a shrunken head, causing them to scream in horror. As Jack flies off, proclaiming, "Merry Christmas!", the police department gets a call from someone who claims to have been attacked by Christmas presents, which is the second type of complaint they've received that evening. Jack then continues on, his progress watched by everyone in Halloween Town by a special well, and delivers a wreath to an old lady, hanging it on the inside of her front door. However, the thing comes to life, sprouts eyes, and growls. Afterward, Jack delivers a large snake to one house and some other toys to another, the latter of which are scooped up by a couple of excited kids. Their elation soon turns to terror, though, when the teddy bear and the toy duck both come to life and chase them upstairs, forcing them to close a door behind them and hold it to keep the little monsters out. Jack is seen delivering more presents, dropping them down chimneys, which is then followed each time by the sounds of fearful shrieks. Bats are seen exploding out of an aluminum Christmas tree (a similar thing happened in Batman Returns, interestingly), the wreath he delivered earlier sprouts tentacles and attacks the old lady it was delivered to, that snake is seen swallowing a Christmas tree whole in front of a terrified kid, and a little, fat kid is shown being chased by a cackling jack-in-the-box with a jack-o-lantern head. Everybody begins locking up their houses and fireplaces, some turning the latter up to maximum heat, while Jack, obliviously, walks across the rooftops, shouting, "You're welcome, one and all!" The police station is then deluged with more calls about Jack and a radio announcer reports the chaos over the airwaves across the world. In Halloween Town, said news is greeted with cheers, unaware of what it really means, and when Sally hears the radio announcer mention that the military is being mobilized to confront Jack, she runs off to try to find the real Santa before it's too late.

But, it turns out to already be too late, as sirens blare and spotlights are pointed upwards towards the sky, illuminating Jack. He doesn't think much of them, and when enormous guns are pointed up at him and begin firing, the shells exploding in the air around him, he gets the wrong idea that this is a celebration about the "good job" he's been doing. The sleigh is then grazed by one of the shells and Jack shouts at them to be careful down below. He then has Zero lead the skeletal reindeer higher into the clouds. Meanwhile, back in Halloween Town, Oogie Boogie decides to play with Santa's life, rattling some dice, only to notice a nice-looking leg stick through a nearby door. Elbowing Santa about what he's seeing, Boogie slicks back the tip of his head and heads over to the leg, while a pair of hands slide down the rope attached to the hook Santa is tied to. They land on his beard, one immediately covering his mouth before he can yell and the other pointing up. Looking up, he sees Sally looking down through a barred window and she tells him that she'll get him out. As Boogie takes off the leg's shoe and tickles the bottom of the foot, Sally's hands manage to untie Santa and she then sends down a rope-ladder for him to climb up. But, at that moment, Boogie pulls the leg all the way through and realizes he's being tricked. Turning around to see Santa climbing up the ladder, he lets out a loud yell and inhales so deeply that he creates a powerful vacuum of air, pulling both Santa and Sally down to the floor of the lair. Back in the real world, Jack continues his Christmas Eve run, looking over his list of children to visit, when his sleigh is illuminated and fired upon again, taking off the head of one of the undead reindeer. He then realizes that they're being shot at and yells at Zero but, before they can escape, a gun locks on and scores a direct hit, destroying the sleigh and sending Jack, Zero, and its remains tumbling down to Earth. Seeing this in Halloween Town, the monsters are horrified at the apparent demise of their leader, with the werewolf letting out a mournful howl and the mayor getting into his vehicle, using the loudspeaker to announce to everyone else what's happened.

As the police announce to the citizens of the city that Jack has been shot down but, regardless, Christmas will probably have to be cancelled since there's no sign of the real Santa, Jack is shown lying in the arms of an angel statue in a cemetery. Zero floats in and gives him his lower jaw, which was missing, Jack begins to sing another very sad, solemn song, as he looks at the trouble he's caused, as well as the heartache, as he looks at the charred toys littering the graveyard around him. He then sings about wanting to crawl into a cave and stay there until he withers away to dust, leaning back in the statue's arms again for emphasis. But then, the song starts to slowly but surely become more hopeful and cheery, as he thinks about how, even though things didn't work out, he tried his darnedest and, as a result, was able to fly through the sky and left everyone with some memorable stories to tell. He goes on to sing about how he feels like himself again and, declaring himself to be the Pumpkin King, tears off the tattered remains of his Santa outfit, revealing his more familiar one underneath, and laughs, saying that he can't wait until next Halloween and that he has some great new ideas. However, it then hits that first, he'd better try to fix the mess he's made and heads through a door at the base of the statue, on his way back to Halloween Town.

In Boogie's lair, both Santa and Sally are strapped to a large slab, as the boogeyman prepares to dump them into a lava pit. Sally warns him that he'll be in big trouble when Jack shows up but then, they hear the mayor's announcement that he's been blown out of the sky. As Jack and Zero arrive back in town and rush to the lair, Boogie taunts Santa and Sally about Jack's being able to save them, rattling the dice in his grip. Up above, Jack and Zero arrive at the above-ground opening and Jack slowly climbs down, as Boogie cranks the slab up, inching them closer to falling into the lava. Jack makes his way through some grating into the chamber, while Boogie prepares to roll the dice once more to finish his victims off. Throwing them into a skeleton's eye-sockets, they tumble out through the head, only to irritate Boogie when they land on snake eyes. Again showing that he doesn't play fair, he slams the table, causing them to roll over to eleven, and proclaims that he's won the jackpot. He cranks the slab until it's completely vertical and Santa and Sally appear to slide to their doom, but when he doesn't hear or see anything, he turns the slab back over and comes face-to-face with Jack. Not expecting this, Boogie seems genuinely frightened, backing away from him as he gets off the slab and storms towards him. He says, "But they said you were dead. You must be... double-dead," when he hits a switch by his foot with a spider on it, causing the platform to begin rotating quickly, throwing Jack off-balance as large, sword-wielding playing cards pop up around him. Boogie runs to safety and Jack ducks down, as all of the blades begin whirling in the air, including the two in the middle that were stirring the lava. Santa and Sally watch from nearby as Jack nimbly navigates through the blades, much to Boogie's chagrin, but he then pulls a lever that deactivates the cards and puts Jack in the sights of the gun-toting slot machines. He manages to jump up, onto the gun barrels when they fire, which further horrifies Boogie, who tries to run but runs in place because of the rotating platform. He then hits a button in a skull-shaped contraption in the floor, sending an enormous saw-blade swinging right for Jack. Sally warns him of it and Jack jumps out of the way, the saw slicing off the slot machines' arms, and he jumps back on the platform, preparing to face Boogie. The boogeyman then uses a springboard panel on the platform to get himself onto the device that was stirring the lava and prepares to ride it up into the ceiling and escape, cackling evilly. However, Boogie doesn't know that a string has come loose in his stitching and Jack grabs it and pulls, admonishing him for how he's treated his friends. Unraveling Boogie, Jack then purposefully gets the string tied up in the rotating blades, ripping the burlap off completely and revealing the mass of insects, worms, and snakes within. As the mass falls apart, Boogie continuously yells, "My bugs!", the voice shrinking in sound and becoming thousands of tiny, shrieking voices. Some of the bugs fall into the lava pit while others scatter across the floor, the main one being crushed by a stomp from Santa himself.

Jack then apologizes to Santa for the disaster he's caused, handing him his hat, and Santa, in turn, admonishes him for it and tells him that he should listen to Sally once in a while. Walking away, he does reassure Jack that he will be able to fix Christmas and then floats up to the ceiling and out through the chute he was dropped down. Sally tells Jack that Santa knows what to do and Jack, in turn, realizes that she ended up in this situation because she was trying to help him. Before he can confess how much she means to him, a blinding light illuminates them both and the mayor is seen in the opening up above with Lock, Shock, and Barrel (again, why aren't they called out for their part in causing all of this trouble?!) The mayor throws a rope down to them and they're both hoisted up, while in the real world, Santa, traveling at supersonic speed, sets everything right, replacing the creepy and dangerous toys Jack delivered with benign ones, to the relief of the kids. Jack then rides back into Halloween Town on the mayor's vehicle, as the citizens celebrate and you hear a very short reprise of This Is Halloween. Jack tells everyone that it's great to be home, when they hear a, "Ho, ho, ho!" up in the sky, as Santa passes over. Snow begins falling over the town and the monsters sing another short reprise, this one of What's This?, as they try to figure out what the snow is before deciding to just enjoy it: the vampires play hockey with a pumpkin on a small, frozen pond, the axe-head ghoul and the gill creature make snow angels, and as Sally picks a flower out of the snow, a short mixture of the two aforementioned songs is heard when Jack is hit in the face with a snowball by Lock, Shock, and Barrel. The zombie kid is shown being rolled through the snow and Dr. Finkelstein arrives, being pushed along by his new creation, Jewel. Jack notices Sally walking through the gate by herself and, in a dissolve, she's shown walking up the frozen, snow-covered Curly Hill, sitting down and picking the petals off the flower, as the instrumental of her song earlier is heard. Jack then makes his presence known by singing about how he'd like to join her and the two of them join in a duet to the tune of that song, though now much more happy and hopeful, as they sing about how they're meant to be. The last shot of the film is them embracing and kissing atop the hill, as Zero watches from nearby before flying off into the sky, becoming a sparkling, star-like light in the distance.

As this is a musical, there's not much to be said about the actual score, since there aren't many instances where it is simply music, but what is here is most certainly the unforgettable style Danny Elfman brings to any Tim Burton project. It's otherworldly, often simultaneously whimsical but kind of eerie, and when things get a little more fast-paced, it becomes pretty bouncy and energetic. Having just done the music for Batman Returns, which also takes place at Christmastime, you can tell that Elfman was still kind of in that mindset when he did this score, as there are some cues and pieces here that sound very similar to parts of that score, especially in the more holiday-themed aspects. Other than that, all I can say is that Elfman's music does fit the film, as his music often does, and in creating the songs, he went through a lot of different styles and moods, a feat that's quite impressive when you stop and look at it. However, the pressure of doing the music for Batman Returns and everything he had to do here shortly afterward put a strain on his relationship with Burton, to the point where, when Burton did Ed Wood next, he had Howard Shore do the music; of course, he and Elfman would reunite on Mars Attacks! and, with a few exceptions here and there, have continued to frequently collaborate since.

In terms of technicality, inventiveness, and imagination, The Nightmare Before Christmas is absolutely superb, with exquisite stop-motion animation, along with some well-done pieces of traditional animation mixed in, wonderfully detailed and creative worlds, especially in the case of Halloween Town, and some memorable, fitting songs to go with the nice music score. But, all that said, for me, while the characters are definitely memorable and likable in their own ways, you don't have one that I can 100% relate to; instead, you have oddballs with fragments of that relatability in their personalities. Also, I feel that the story doesn't have enough meat to stay interesting for the length of a feature film (even one that's only 76 minutes) and probably would've worked better as a half-hour television special or a short, as was suggested. As much as I like some of the songs, I feel that the sheer amount of them gets to be a bit much, especially given how many there are and how short the movie is, and Danny Elfman's presence as Jack Skellington's singing voice feels so much more prevalent than Chris Sarandon that it makes me wonder why they didn't have Elfman do everything with the character. Finally, I think my not absolutely loving this movie comes down to the simple fact that I didn't see it numerous times when I was a little kid like so many other people, even though I was the right age for it when it was released and it was tailor-made for the kind of kid I was. If you're one of those people, that's great. Believe you me, I wish I could be a part of that club. But, as it worked out, my childhood passed The Nightmare Before Christmas by and, by the time I finally did see it, it was far too late for it to make any kind of lasting impact, which saddens me in a way.

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