Friday, May 25th, 2018
Home / Features  / The Beautiful Simplicity Of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS


With innocent characters and a basic plot, the beauty and simplicity of The Nightmare Before Christmas has helped it stand the test of time.


It is difficult to explain why some Christmas-related films become holiday classics while others are quickly forgotten about. Although it has been 24 years since The Nightmare Before Christmas was released, the Tim Burton production is still massively popular today. It was unlike any other animated film being released during this time; it especially differed from anything that was made during the Disney Renaissance era. Nevertheless, The Nightmare Before Christmas does not contain the most complex story or characters, and some reviewers have even criticised the film’s thin plot.

So why does it still have such a large and dedicated fanbase?

Dripping with Burton’s Signature Style

Anyone who remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s will probably recall how much of a critical and commercial success Tim Burton was; his gothic yet lively style was one of the main reasons why his directorial works like Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989) and Edward Scissorhands (1990) were so adored. While this film was actually directed by Henry Selick, who should be acknowledged more for the hard work he put into this project, The Nightmare Before Christmas has Burton’s fingerprints all over it, from the Halloween-themed character designs to the gorgeously gloomy atmosphere created by the film’s dark, melancholy setting of Halloween Town.

Arguably the most famous shot from the entire stop-motion animated feature is the spiral hill that is brightened by the moon; it is used during “Jack’s Lament” song earlier in the film, as well as during the closing shot where Jack and Sally confess their love for each other and embrace. It’s an enchanting yet haunting image, but also a very simple, romantic and deeply moving one. While The Nightmare Before Christmas is an incredibly creative visual marvel, the film never attempts to throw too much at you all at once. There are only two different locations: Halloween Town, where the main characters reside, and Christmas Town, the setting that inspires Jack to take over a holiday that has always been alien to him.


source: Buena Vista Pictures

It is this type of visual storytelling that doesn’t make the film too complicated for children to understand, but the the visuals are also smart and inventive enough to draw the attention of adults too. It certainly isn’t as lighthearted as other family-friendly animations, but none of the character designs are too scary for younger children. Both Halloween Town and Christmas Town are full of fun colours and an abundance of liveliness, heightening the film’s likeability as a result. It is no wonder why families enjoy watching it so much during Halloween and Christmas time; it has this strangely charming and quirky style that makes it wholly unique.

A World Full of Colourful Personalities

Although many of the citizens of Halloween Town, most notably the story’s protagonist named Jack the Pumpkin King, wear clothes that are glum and dreary in colour, the same cannot be said for their wonderful personalities. Jack has a rather simple and naive mind, but the reason why he is such a loveable character is because he is highly motivated and so open to fresh ideas. His dilemma is that he is tired of the same Halloween tradition every year and desires a new project to focus his attention on. When he stumbles across Christmas Town, amazed by all of the dazzling decorations and joyful citizens, Jack is inspired to bring Christmas to Christmas Town in his own way.

This is what makes Jack such an endearing central character; his newfound passion for this particular holiday initially blinds him to the fact that he is going to ruin Christmas for a lot of people, but the characters he is closest to can see he has good intentions, most notably Sally. Due to this, they’re very reluctant to confront Jack about how problematic his actions are going to be. The side characters really are enjoyable to watch, as they are bustling with energy and have distinct personalities.

When Jack realises his mistake, he does not mope around for too long like many animated characters do in a more generic family film. Jack decides that, if he can’t deliver the Christmas that the citizens of Christmas Town expect, he needs to recover Santa Claus, as he accepts that he is the only man who is capable of doing the job. Also, by the end of the film, Jack realises that no one could be a better Pumpkin King than him; it is this self-acceptance that makes him so wonderful.


source: Buena Vista Pictures

The characters within the two towns are not very complex or thought-provoking, but they do not need to be. The Nightmare Before Christmas has straightforward characters, but they are far from boring to watch because they are determined to succeed and always feel incredibly sincere.

The Power of Danny Elfman

A famous composer and a frequent collaborator of Tim Burton, Danny Elfman has composed some chillingly brilliant musical scores, including the one he worked on for The Nightmare Before Christmas. The lyrics are easy to follow but are also intelligent, and the instrumentals match the bouncy and vigorous atmosphere of the animated world. Simply put, the songs clearly demonstrate what the characters are going through, especially when it comes to Jack.

Elfman himself provided Jack’s singing voice (Chris Sarandon provided the speaking voice), and his enthusiastic musicality adds a lot to the personality of the central character. Jack has the typical “I want” song that a lot of Disney princesses in the early 90s became known for, entitled “Jack’s Lament”, but it has this whimsical twinge that makes the clever lyrics even more enchanting. Even a song as irresistibly catchy as “What’s This?” never becomes annoying; all of the musical sequences serve the purpose of moving the plot forward.


source: Buena Vista Pictures

“What’s This?” isn’t just a random song that ties into nothing; it highlights Jack’s feelings of joyousness when he discovers something that had previously been completely alien to him. It’s like when a filmgoer watches something that completely takes them by surprise and deeply moves them. The clichéd “This is why I love cinema” statement gets thrown around a lot, but the sheer bliss a person feels when reacting to a film they love should not be undermined, and neither should Jack’s love for Christmas.

Even those who criticise the film’s somewhat thin plot would find it difficult to deny that the marriage of the visuals and the music was perfect for the tone the filmmakers wanted to set.

The Nightmare Before Christmas 

The Nightmare Before Christmas has endured as a holiday classic for many families because of its appeal to both children and adults; younger viewers will appreciate the focused narrative and fun songs, while adults will marvel at the film’s imaginative artistry. Is it one of the most emotionally heavy animated films ever made? Probably not. But by keeping the story so simple and making the characters so innocent, while also avoiding inclusions of pop culture references, the film will only get better with age.

What is your favourite thing about The Nightmare Before Christmas? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

I am an 18-year-old film enthusiast from North West England, who loves writing about anything related to cinema. I particularly love psychological thrillers, comedies, dramas, science fiction movies and musicals, but I will happily watch films from any genre. Furthermore, I adore classic Hollywood cinema and would love to write about films from that era. I am always looking to improve my writing, and I hope that you enjoy reading my work!

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