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the nightmare before christmas

Tim Burton made an impression on me before I even knew who he was. One of my all time favourite childhood movies is The Nightmare Before Christmas – a dark yet friendly adventure that is to this day a cult masterpiece. I still own it on video, though I’m also proud to own a special edition of the DVD with the foam face of Jack cover. I love watching it on video though because you can still tell its stop motion, there’s no digital smoothing of the transitions and you can see the amazing amount of effort that went into producing it. I know the words to all the songs, in fact most of the words in the entire movie because I’ve watched it so many times. Burton’s creation here is nothing short of great.

One of the most enchanting elements of both The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, and the reason these two movies had such an impression upon me in my youth, is that the scores for both were composed by a Burton favourite, Danny Elfman. Burton and Elfman clearly understand each other – their styles of creation meld so well together. Elfman captures through strings and choral voices the haunting life of the happy monsters that Burton creates. Though their worlds are full of dark, grim buildings and creeping background figures, the characters lives become coloured with the joy of experiencing the new, the unexplained and the ever exhilarating risk.

All hail The Pumpkin King!”

The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of king of the scream in Halloween land, Jack Skellington. He has become bored with being the scariest monster at Halloween and longs for something that he hasn’t found yet. Unbeknown to him, Sally the patchwork Frankenstein yearns for his love, seeking him out whenever she manages to escape from her creator – the creepy and slimy Dr Finklestein.

Jack accidentally happens upon Christmas Town and what follows is his attempt to come to terms with what Christmas means to people who have only ever understood being scary and gruesome. He’s bamboozled by the shows of affection, the lights, ‘the warmth that coming from inside‘.

There are many characters who both help and hinder Jack in fulfilling his Christmas/Halloween wish, including the desperate to please Mayor of Halloween Town, the delightfully mischievous treat-or-treat children Lock, Shock and Barrel and their boss Oogie Boogie, who’s the villain of the story and the self proclaimed “shadow on the moon at night, filling your dreams to the brim with fright”.

Considering the content, this movie can be watched continuously and, if you love it as much as me, can be watched from the Halloween season right through to Christmas. It has great songs, though not too frequently for those who fear the musical, fantastic visuals from backdrops to characters and most importantly a great story. It’s come a long way from the poem Burton first conceived and it’s lost none of its charm.

The resounding success of The Nightmare Before Christmas allowed Burton another stop-motion outing in the form of The Corpse Bride. This time around Burton was much more established in the mainstream world of film and the all-star voice cast features Johnny Depp in the lead role of Victor and Helen Bonham-Carter as his unexpected bride, Emily. Jane Horrocks, Richard E. Grant and Joanna Lumley are just some of the other actors who lend their voices to this tale of love, loss and life after death.

With this ring, I ask you to be mine.

The Corpse Bride is set in a Victorian era European village, at least at the start when Victor is engaged to Victoria. It’s an arranged marriage of convenience, his family status will move up and the financial woes of her family will allow them to continue in the life to which they’re accustomed.

As the wedding draws nearer, Victor’s nerves get the better of him and he finds himself unable to remember his wedding vows. He wanders into a forest and unwittingly marries the corpse of Emily by placing the wedding ring on her finger, which he believes to be a tree branch. What follows is an explosion of colour as we are transported from the grey tones of ‘reality’ as it were, to the exciting and vibrant world of the dead. Though Victor had not been looking forward to an arranged marriage, both he and Victoria seemed to be falling for one another as they became better acquainted.  Emily is overjoyed that someone or anyone has married her. Her mistake is believing that this means that Victor loves her. Her tragic past has made her desperate and lonely.

Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride isn’t too full on the musical side, though if you like good songs there are plenty on the soundtrack to hum along too. It follows Burton’s quirky style with a solid story. It’s not a ground breaking socio-political satire, but it is all round entertainment for people of all ages, minus the fart gags thankfully.

If you like one of these films you’ll certainly enjoy the other, but don’t be fooled into assuming that they’ll be the same. They’re certainly individual works and they’re gloriously twisted fun. I can whole heatedly recommend both of these for a Halloween night in or at any other time of the year.

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