Tim Burton's superb stop-motion fantasy takes each holiday and gives them separate worlds that had previously never met, but the story tells of how Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween stumbles across Christmas and decides to take over, with mixed results. Of course, the animation is superb, but in the same way that the Toy Story films were not only superbly realised, but blessed with a marvelous script The Nightmare Before Christmas is imbued with intelligence above the average Disney effort. The darker Burton edge helps immensely in drawing the film away from typical Disney fayre. Danny Elfman's music is crucial in not only furthering the characters, setting the scenes and moving along the story, but in setting the atmosphere and stands out as one of his best scores.
Perhaps even more successfully that Alan Menken's scores for the traditionally animated Disney efforts, Elfman's score weaves all the song melodies throughout the score. So effective is his writing that listening to the album tells the story quite adequately without the film. Of course, this is helped by the above average number of songs all of which are memorable, although several stick in the mind over and above the others. This is Halloween provides a darkly comedic twist on the ensemble opening number with Elfman's twisty lyrics some of the most brilliant outside the best of Howard Ashman or Randy Newman. The arrangements are also superbly realised, the orchestration complimenting the alternately comedic and creepy vocal arrangements.
The solo efforts are no less impressive. As well as penning the music and lyrics, Elfman lends his voice to Jack Skellington and performs with great relish, in a way that is sometimes tender and sometimes hugely theatrical. His experiences with Oingo Boingo evidently prepared his vocal as well as his writing talents. The seemingly obligatory yearning song is turned into a fairly sorrowful lament; I'm extremely pleased to have something a little more sour in a Disney film; the orchestral arrangements in this and the other quieter numbers are really quite beautiful. The most out sized, upbeat song is What's This, the melody for which is introduced in the Overture. It's almost certainly the theme and song that will stick in the mind after the event, but repeated listenings are recommended to become more acquainted with the lower impact numbers as they are all equally good.
The songs do dominated slightly at the expense of instrumental sections, but the album almost plays straight through, the underscore effortlessly leading into the songs. With such a wealth of memorable melodies, Elfman does well not to make the underscore too disjointed and overloaded with tunes. A mention must go to the above average quality of the orchestration which occasionally makes use of instruments in amusing manners and taking them to the extreme of their ranges to great effect. The Nightmare Before Christmas would probably go down as a peak of Elfman's career; I hope that he is given the opportunity to write another musical again since he not only has the musical gift, but the lyrical one as well. Absolutely superb in every respect.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
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