The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News



Got an idea? A concern? A problem? Let The Huntington News know:

Retro Review: ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ can be for whatever holiday you want

Emma Liu

This article is part of the “Retro Review” series. Each month, four films — united by a singular theme — are assessed. The theme for November 2023 is “stop-motion.”

The candles in the pumpkins have been blown out and the decorative cobwebs, tombstones and haunted houses have been brought down — all for others to come out of storage in a few short weeks. Halloween is over, and with Christmas creeping around the corner, it’s the perfect time to review “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

“Is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie?”

Nope, not happening. There will be no comment on this lovely debate. Just like so many relationships (or situationships), this film will be given no label.

It’s simply a movie! Everyone can agree on that, right?

With that in mind, it’s time for a trip back 30 years to director Henry Selick’s and producer Tim Burton’s staple insertion into the stop-motion genre — one that can easily be described as otherworldly and stunning in its creativity. 

Stop-motion is a mind-blowing form of art, with endless amounts of beauty in its movement, visuals and execution when done right. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a fantastic example of this — despite its age, the animation is astounding. A special shoutout has to go to the movement of the film’s protagonist, Jack Skellington (singing by Danny Elfman and voice acting courtesy of Chris Sarandon). 

If this film was just Jack doing cartwheels and flips, his insanely long frame dancing about the movie’s eerie setting, for the whole runtime, there would be no complaints. It’s absolutely mesmerizing! Whether he’s popping out of a coffin or walking through the forest, viewers can’t take their eyes off of his fantastic fluidity.

Another terrific part of Jack’s animation is his smile. That face-spanning smirk should be creepy, but it’s, strangely, cool; if Jack’s happy, everyone’s happy.

Jack, known as the Pumpkin King in Halloween Town, is tasked with bringing the spookiest holiday to the real world. However, he doesn’t seem satisfied with advocating for the same holiday repeatedly. When he wanders gloomily into a forest and finds a collection of holiday-themed trees, he discovers that there are many more celebratory days, including Christmas. Jack, upon learning of the wintery festivities, goes on a journey to kidnap Santa and bring the joyful holiday to Halloween Town himself, which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t go to plan.

Let’s get the downsides of the film out of the way. For one, it really slows down in the middle. Some instances dragged, such as the preparations for Christmas, which is disappointing considering the movie’s paltry runtime of 76 minutes; disinterest and boredom are not what one wants to feel when watching any film, let alone one that’s already this short.

Another negative, which isn’t a major problem, concerns co-antagonists Lock (Paul Reubens), Shock (Catherine O’Hara) and Barrel (Elfman) — they are a little much. It might have been intentional to make them unbelievably annoying, but it’s hard to bear in some scenes. This is not to say that these three little gremlins aren’t essential to the story, but everything about them, even their voices, is, at times, impossibly grating.

Speaking of Lock, Shock and Barrel, when these three demon children go on their quest to kidnap Santa (Edward Ivory), why doesn’t Father Christmas even put up a fight? These three minuscule beings completely overpower the famous gift giver, which is beyond upsetting; one would expect Saint Nicholas to have at least a little grit in there somewhere.

When Oogie Boogie (the antagonist with the greatest character name of all time, voiced by Ken Page) is defeated and reduced to endless amounts of little bugs, Santa raises his foot and absolutely demolishes each and every one of those critters. Maybe there is a more ruthless side to him, after all, but he can’t be a one-hit wonder. More examples are needed. Be better, Santa!

The standout, legacy-defining part of this film, though, is the musical aspects. Banger after banger, this soundtrack is one of the greatest of all time, and that cannot be disputed.

It’s legendary.

Elfman, who also wrote the movie’s songs and score, knocks it out of the park on all 10 tracks, featuring classics like “What’s This?” and “This is Halloween.”

The only downside to including so many stellar songs is that the scenes without them felt a bit empty. Those involving singing were so enveloping that one didn’t want them to ever cease.

Other great moments in this film include:

When Oogie Boogie has Santa tied up in his pit of doom, Sally (O’Hara) — a rag doll that escaped her creator, Dr. Finkelstein (William Hickey) — lures him away by unsewing her leg. A mesmerized Oogie Boogie walks over to Sally’s leg and goes straight for her… toes. How is this movie rated PG? No further comment.

When Jack attempts to transform into Santa, hoping to bring Christmas to Halloween Town on his own, he unleashes absolute terror in the process, cursing and haunting all the town’s toys that, later, are delivered to the children of Earth. One of the toys, a long snake, absolutely wolfs down a kid’s Christmas tree while the little boy looks on in horror. Put that frame in the Louvre. 

It’s a solid movie full of beautiful animation and legendary songs that, again, fall a bit short in those non-singing moments. But, regardless of whether you watch it during the scariest month of the year or the most wholesome, it’s a fun time and a beautiful representation of what stop-motion animation has to offer.

About the Contributor
Emma Liu
Emma Liu, Deputy Design Editor
Emma Liu is a second-year behavioral neuroscience and design major. She is currently working as the deputy design editor for The News. Originally from Philadelphia, Emma loves to collect sonny angels, volunteer at local orgs and find good food in her free time.
More to Discover