REVIEWS: “Christmas Vacation” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
SHULL: “Christmas Vacation”
This week I was given the task of writing about a “holiday classic” film. It makes sense, considering Thanksgiving begins the crazy season of family, turkeys, shopping, traveling and all of the fun and/or chaos involved. While the term “holiday classic” may first bring to mind “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” or “A Christmas Carol,” I have decided to write about a Shull Family classic. The one film that always seems to find its way onto my family’s TV at least once during the season. This is, of course, “National Lampoon’s, Christmas Vacation.”
Now I really have seen this film enough times to love it and then hate it, only to love it once again. It has somehow become an official and constant staple of the holidays. Even when it’s not actually playing on the screen, there are enough references and quotes of the film to last the entire year and more than enough to thoroughly confuse anyone around who hasn’t seen it 30 times like we have.
The film was directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik and was written by John Hughes. It stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki as the Griswold Family. This is the third film featuring the family and this time the plot centers on Clark Griswold’s (Chevy Chase) insistence on having a large family Christmas. Basically, instead of heading out to a disastrous vacation, this time they are staying home and inviting the calamity to come to them.
In no way do you need to see the other Vacation films to appreciate this one. It is self-contained. Although the others are funny enough and it could be argued that they are even better than “Christmas Vacation,” everyone can relate to the themes running throughout this film.
There is an overzealous patriarch whose heart is in the right place, although his head tends to innocently screw things up. The house is overrun with relatives who chatter like chickens. Cousin Eddie is back and crazy as ever. Who would have known when the movie was released in 1989 that Randy Quaid would someday be just as insane as his character? It makes the whole thing just that much better.
“Christmas Vacation” is the perfect holiday film because it has so many elements that everyone can appreciate. All families are a little crazy. If you think your family is perfect, then you’re probably the one of the group that everyone thinks is the craziest. Go with it. It’s perfectly natural. Just remember, as Ellen Griswold eloquently explains, “It’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”
WIEGENSTEIN: “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
Given that November is still in session (just barely), my choice of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” this week celebrates everything from October 31 to December 25. Luckily, Henry Selick’s now-iconic animation is only superficially about holidays, making it acceptable to sing “This Is Halloween” in the middle of July if one so chooses.
“It’s someplace new!” exclaims Jack Skellington, the hero of “Nightmare,” immediately before tumbling into the winter wonderland that is Christmas Town. While “The Nightmare Before St. Patrick’s Day” probably wouldn’t be as fun, the choice of holiday is rather incidental. What Jack, Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, really yearns for is a break—the love of the townsfolk borders on smothering, and discussion of the next year’s celebration begins promptly on the morning of November 1.
What does imbue director Selick and composer Danny Elfman’s work with an appropriately festive feeling is simply by acknowledging how important, and how inexplicable, the accoutrements of the Christmas season are. It manages to ask typical holiday questions—are presents more about the actual stuff, or the “what’s in the box?” mystery?–without delving into “Gift of the Magi” territory.
The town’s residents are captivated by the trappings of Christmas, but attempting to pick the holiday apart (a montage of Jack experimenting clinically with ornaments and teddy bears is a highlight) only confuses them further. It’s the moment when the Halloween-ians decide to do some hands-on learning—by taking over Christmas for themselves—where things begin to unravel. Sally, a shy admirer of Jack’s, immediately spots a bad idea and attempts to foil the town’s plans for everyone’s own good.
Despite Disney’s original fears that “Nightmare” would be too frightening to release it’s been my experience that kids are typically not as frail as many adults might think. It’s hard to fear such genuine enthusiasm and good spirits—even if they are coming from a quartet of vampires, or Black-Lagoon-style water dweller.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” stands as a classic not only due to its holly-jolly philosophizing, but simply as a triumph of form. The painstaking stop-motion animation is striking—each character moves in a unique fashion, and Sally’s tipsy rag-doll walking is as well-realized as Jack’s spidery charm. The importance of Danny Elfman’s presence cannot be overstated: tunes like “Jack’s Lament” hold up outside of any narrative context, and “What’s This?” is as joyous a carol as anything Burl Ives could contribute to society.
Halloween Town’s version of Christmas unsurprisingly ranges in shades from grey to black. But as “Nightmare” ultimately concludes, holidays are made up of what you bring to them. Jack Skellington’s ultimate rejuvenation provides as much emotional uplift as that of Ebenezer Scrooge, and he gets to have his sleigh led by a ghostly dog. What could be more merry than that?
|Print article||This entry was posted by jmartin on November 29, 2010 at 4:07 pm, and is filed under Uncategorized. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|