Saturday Cinema

Minnesota Orchestra has a 'Nightmare Before Christmas'

The Nightmare Before ChristmasDisney

October 31, 2015

The first time I saw The Nightmare Before Christmas, it was an appropriately chilly night in October 1993—the month the film opened in theaters. I was a freshman at Boston University; my friends and I relished in the film's creepy wit and, at the same time, its comforting reminders of holidays at home.

22 years later, the film has become a bona fide classic, and its presentation on the big screen at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis last night was a reminder of why: not only is Tim Burton's story (adapted into a screenplay by Caroline Thompson) wildly inventive and viciously funny, the masterful stop-motion animation overseen by director Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, Coraline) is stuffed with fun details that reward repeat viewings.

Of course, the reason the film was being screened at Orchestra Hall was Danny Elfman's music: several songs and an instrumental score, rambunctious and blazingly colorful. The Minnesota Orchestra, under the baton of Sarah Hicks, performed the score live to accompany the film. Other orchestras around the country have been offering similar performances, and tonight Elfman himself—who also voices the lead character, Jack Skellington—will reprise his role live at the Hollywood Bowl.

Elfman, 62, has enjoyed remarkable success in the years since Nightmare Before Christmas was released; the Oingo Boingo frontman is now one of Hollywood's most sought-after composers, a four-time Oscar nominee (Good Will Hunting, Men In Black, Big Fish, Milk). Still, he remains best-known for his collaborations with Burton on films like Beetlejuice, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands.

As is typical in Elfman scores, Nightmare Before Christmas gives the brass a workout, and the Minnesota Orchestra's horn section performed with gusto as Hicks helped keep everyone on track—no mean feat for a score that has to accompany not just on-screen action, but also prerecorded singing. It was great fun to watch the players navigate the many moods and styles Elfman created to accompany the film's diverse settings—from the merry Christmas Town to the spooky Halloween Town.

Orchestra Hall became a bit of a Halloween Town itself for the night, with many audience members in costumes—including several Jack Skellingtons and a few instances of his rag-doll friend Sally, but also at least one Velma and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Several members of the orchestra also got into the act (the insane-clown violist took the cake)—as did Hicks, who took the podium wearing a bridal dress and blue wig, her face a-pallor with makeup.

The looks are apt to be even more motley tonight, when the orchestra reprises the performance. To set the mood for whatever ghoulish doings you're getting up to, click on YourClassical's Movie stream, where we're presenting excerpts from the scores of some of the most seasonally scary movies ever—including, of course, The Nightmare Before Christmas.