Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is not technically Tim Burton's. He produced the film and conceived it, but it was, in fact, written by Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands) and directed by Henry Selick (who later helmed the bizarre but unjustly hated Monkeybone). Still, you feel Burton in every single frame. As audiences eagerly await Burton's Sweeney Todd, I thought this would be an ideal time to look back at his previous stab at the musical genre.
The story of Nightmare is a simple one. Jack Skellington (voiced by Prince Humperdinck himself -- Chris Sarandon, with composer Danny Elfman handling singing duties) is the "Pumpkin King" of Halloweentown, but he has become bored in the role. He literally stumbles into a place called Christmas Town, loves what he sees, and decides to hijack the holiday. Skellington even (in the film's funniest segment) takes over the gift delivery duties for Santa Claus ("Sandy Claws"). And of course, there's a not entirely necessary love interest -- Sally, voiced by an unrecognizable Catherine O'Hara.
Speaking of Elfman, the scores he has written for Tim Burton's films are some of the most memorable in modern film. Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman/Batman Returns, and Edward Scissorhands wouldn't have been nearly as wonderful without Elfman's glorious music. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, the music of Elfman is front and center, and his songs -- whose staccato rhythms and mixture of singing and speaking certainly owe a debt to Sweeney Todd composer Stephen Sondheim -- suit the film perfectly. The catchiest of Elfman's tunes is "What's This?" It's the kind of song you'll find yourself singing days later, during the most mundane of activities. Just this morning, I walked into the bathroom singing "What's this, what's this? My toothbrush on the sink! What's this, what's this? I'll brush my teeth I think!" Thank God I live alone.