Overview: In this stop motion film, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, decides to be Santa Claus, and in doing so rediscovers his passion for Halloween–the holiday that made him who he is. Touchstone Pictures; 1993; Rated PG; 76 Minutes.
Sculptural Significance: In the current age of flawless computer animation, it is refreshing to look back at a film that is a masterpiece of stop motion. The living sculpture hints at the hours of work behind it in a way a contemporary computer-animated film does not; the slight movement of the character Sally’s rag dress from one frame to the next, for instance, brings to mind the meticulousness with which those frames are strung together into one action, and those actions into a vivid piece of cinematic art.
[Christmas + Danny Elfman Pun Here]: Those who know and love Danny Elfman for mainstream hits like Batman will be impressed with his ability to write in the style of musical theater. Our introduction to Halloween Town is accompanied by “This Is Halloween,” a rich chorus-sung piece with just the right amount of momentum and sinister tone to pull the viewer into the excitement that the characters feel for their holiday. His moodier solo pieces are perhaps a little heavy on “talking” – that is, the characters say maybe just a bit too much about their feelings – but this is easy to forgive when you consider that Elfman is not only the composer but the performer of these songs (impressive), and that he is composing for a young audience that might appreciate the explanation of each character’s motive.
How Shall I Put This?: This film adds a decidedly weird element to the classic “Christmas is saved just in time!” plot found in countless holiday classics. The character ruining Christmas is not, as is typical, a Christmas hater (like, say, the Grinch), but a converted Christmas lover with a rather selfish way of expressing his love for this newfound holiday. Although Jack is getting Christmas all wrong, the viewer finds himself rooting for him as he usurps the holiday, and pitying him as he gleefully delivers gifts (guided by his red-nosed ghost dog, Zero), oblivious to the mayhem caused by the grotesque toys he leaves to unsuspecting wholesome tots. The story at once defies expectations of your average holiday with its moral ambiguity and fulfills an implied quota for warming hearts established by films like It’s a Wonderful Life.
Solid Holiday Fun: If you enjoy musicals in which characters sing at length about their thoughts, if you’re a fan of the bizarre and the creepy, or if you’re a child in love with the whole holiday season from Halloween through Christmas, then this film won’t disappoint. The art is extraordinary, the music is above average, and, while thin in some places (the romance between Jack and Sally the Frankendoll is a little contrived, and the villain Oogie Boogie seems to exist only to be a villain, having no motivation beyond villainy), the plot is original and engaging.