As the movie begins, the camera moves over a grey and gloomy graveyard, complete with skulls on headstones. Ghosts fly through the night, extending their ghoulish arms as monsters begin to emerge, their eyes red and teeth sharp as knives. Vampires and witches have a crooked smile while a shadow transforms the usual comfort of the moon into a frightening being. “This is Halloween” sing the town folk.
The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton is a classic animated movie. A year doesn’t go by where I do not see it on television during October and Christmas season. However, while movie channels may show this movie twice a year, this is not a Christmas movie.
Set in Halloween Town, the movie opens on the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, growing bored with the same old Halloween traditions every year. In short, he is having a midlife crisis. Desperate to find something that excites him again, he comes across Christmas Town and becomes so taken with the lights and snow that he decides to become Santa Claus.
At a glance, this premise would lead to a movie where Jack learns to enjoy bringing little children joy and making all of their dreams come true. But when he kidnaps Santa to do exactly that, he brings the kids shrunken heads, dolls attempting to eat people and poisonous snakes instead. People scream and run in terror, desperately calling for help. Instead of being horrified at the damage he caused, Jack is content, admitting he enjoyed scaring the children. By the end of the movie, he learned how to find joy in the true meaning of Halloween - terrifying people.
Additionally, murder is a big item on the agenda for this movie, with the character Oogie attempting to rid of Jack for good. This horrendous action suits a spooky theme, but since when do we expect bloodshed and crime on the magical holiday some call Christmas? This is clearly a Halloween movie.
Your typical Christmas movie generally revolves around someone realizing how sour and awful they have been and proceeding to use Christmas as a time meant for self-betterment. One prime example is A Christmas Carol, where Ebeenzer Scrooge meets with the ghosts of his life in order to realize he needs to be a better man and fall in love with Christmas once more. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack does the exact opposite and decides he much prefers frightening people and making them cry, an act that would surely land him on Santa’s Naughty List.
Some say it's a Christmas movie, citing the fact that it includes scenes where Jack becomes enamored with the magic of the holiday. However, by the end of the movie he returns to Halloween Town and forgoes all the lights and magic. I will acknowledge he does say “Merry Christmas” to Santa towards the end, but that is more out of politeness than anything else.
Besides, the director, Henry Selick, said so himself.
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Photo in thumbnail licensed under Creative Commons 2.0. Courtesy of Helgi Halldórsson.