The Nightmare Before Christmas

Original Soundtrack

Walt Disney Records, 1993

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


I'm a big fan of the classic Disney films of the '90s. There were some tremendous songs recorded for films such as The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. However, the darker side of my nature sometimes balks at the sentimentality and sappiness of the normal Disney musical.

Thank God for Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. Burton's films have always displayed a twisted view of reality and Elfman has set the music to the images. Enter the cult favorite, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Out of all the Burton/Elfman collaborations, this is probably the lest well-known, which is a shame. Not only is the film excellent but the music matches it every step of the way.

A basic understanding of the plot is needed. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King and most honored citizen of Halloween Town, is bored with the same old same old. Quite upon accident, he stumbles into Christmas Town and decides to claim the holiday for his own this year. I highly recommend the film, and with Halloween approaching, what better time to rent it? Now, to the music.

Grand, sweeping movements define the Elfman sound. He loves to fill the room with sound as well as define the mood through those sounds. For the tracks involving Halloween Town, one can pick out distorted violins or chimes of bells that don't sound quite right. Organs bellow left and right off-key -- in short, Elfman presents a warped view of what the norm is for this kind of film.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

He certainly does not hold back in terms of imagery for Nightmare. Reading the lyrics is a treat, with lines such as "I am the one hiding under your bed / Teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red," or "Kidnap the Santy Claws, beat him with a stick / Lock him for ninety years, see what makes him tick." For a kids film, this is dark stuff. It also demonstrated the lack of pretension that dominates Burton and Elfman's work. They don't care if it's slightly disturbing; it gets the job done.

Elfman did the vocals for Jack and performs admirably. His voice isn't as smooth as a professional, but it comes with a certain character. A good comparison might be to a Trans Siberian Orchestra with their different cast of vocalists. What Elfman does best is emote; one can't help but smile at the utter glee Jack experiences in "What's This" or the sense of dejection featured in "Poor Jack."

There are other highlights to be found; "Oogie Boogie," is one of my all time favorite songs in a film. The honky tonk and jazzy feel is somewhat out of place when compared to the rest of the numbers, but regardless it is one of the best tracks. The "End Title/Untitled" finale features all of the major themes Elfman used, running through them in rapid order. The lush, full "Christmas Eve Montage" is strictly an instrumental; however, the subtle touches Elfman uses to combine his Christmas and Halloween themes meld together brilliantly.

If there are weak spots to be found, it would be in the Catherine O' Hara tracks. While her voice certainly is not terrible, it lacks power, and at times her vocals come across as wimpy. Her situation is helped during "Finale/ Reprise" when she duets with Elfman. Despite the macabre nature of the music and film, it's a touching moment.

For years the songs have been implanted in my mind, the sign of a great piece of music, as far as I'm concerned. Soundtracks these days on the whole are generic and lacking inspiration. The Nightmare Before Christmas is quite the opposite.