The gothic style of this excellent film has that trademark Tim Burton feel to it, his story is brought to life by animation fan Henry Selick who directs this gloriously dark tale of the pumpkin king who becomes disillusioned by the yearly monotony of Halloween and decides to have a go at running Christmas instead.
I'm a massive fan of stop-motion and this is a beautifully crafted film rich in talent and textures. The movements are fluid but with that staggered quality which gives stop-motion that otherworldly feel. A dark colour palette and a common aesthetic theme throughout ensure a visual quality which resembles a dark fairytale. There's plenty of bleak imagery here and it's gloriously gruesome at times, for example; a child unwrapping a dismembered head on Christmas morning. The film is steeped in comedy too, not slapstick or obvious one-liners, instead we get subtle visual gags (a two-faced mayor, an enthusiastically decorated yet clearly dead Christmas tree) - little things which don't always register the first time but pay off during repeat viewings.
The models, particularly Jack, are very expressive. Facial expressions and body language are utilised to make the characters feel real, with Danny Elfman's excellent score and songs injecting even more personality. Elfman himself provides the singing voice of Jack and his vocal abilities are genuinely impressive, I never fail to share Jack's childlike wonder when he sings the films most rousing number "What's this?". The songs are incredibly catchy and after watching the film it's pretty much impossible to stop humming them, there's a great range of styles too ranging from melancholy musings on the banality of life, upbeat numbers designed to inspire the folk of Halloween town, and also a great bit of Oogie Boogie!
The overall story is heart-warming without being schmaltzy, there's a blossoming romance here too and again, it's handled well and never feels cheesy. I know some consider this to be too scary a film for young children, my own children were introduced to it at a young age and they were scared but captivated at the same time. Personally I think it's healthy for children to watch something which takes them outside their comfort zone (Doctor Who for example) rather than watching the usual saccharine Disney fare - and this Disney musical contains infinitely more talent and sheer creative energy than their more modern sing-song High School Musical titles. I know which I'd prefer to watch along with my children, and this magical film has become staple family viewing on rainy days over the last few years.
This Blu-Ray transfer is a noticeable improvement over the DVD. If this had been a CGI effort then high-def would simply have highlighted the lack of small detail (for an early nineties lowish-budget film ), but as the film is produced using hand manipulated models, the landscapes and props enjoy much deeper textures. Sometimes the handmade aspect of the film is clear to see and that is not a bad thing, the whole feature looks and feels like a labour of love rather than a formulaic sing-a-long flick. Jack's head reflects the light and is usually a bit hazy, that's nothing to do with the high-def transfer however, it's simply a result of photographing a well-lit, bright white object in the middle of an otherwise muted set. On Blu-Ray the darker scenes show much more detail than on the previously released DVDs, and the Christmas Town "What's This?" routine looks absolutely superb with lights and bright colours seemingly even more vivid in comparison to the greys and browns of Halloween Town. There are plenty of great bonus features here too - the original Tim Burton poem which was the inspiration for the film is read by Christopher Lee and accompanied by visuals which show how dark the initial vision was. It's a great 'origins' piece and it's great to watch it before the 'making of' features which show the ideas behind the film sets used. My personal favourites of the goodies available are 'Vincent' and 'Frankenweenie' two Tim Burton short films which are definitely worth watching and show how Burton's trademark style was very much in force before he broke through. The optional brief 'introduction to the film by Tim Burton' seems a bit unnecessary though and simply adds another level of menu before you get to play the film!
In a nutshell: I was thirteen when I first saw this and I absolutely loved it, I'm in my thirties now and still adore The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's charm has also won over my kids and I'm sure it will become a firm favourite for their children too. A magical animated tale which has become a modern cult classic, don't wait until Halloween or Christmas, treat yourself to this whimsical fantasy any time of the year.