“Attacked by Christmas toys? That’s strange, that’s the second toy complaint we’ve had.” – Police Officer
This seemed like a good movie to start my christmas movies with. I sort of count it a christmas movie, but at the same time, it would be ok to watch this movie anytime between halloween and christmas, in my opinion.
The movie that is now considered by some to be a classic, if you had asked me when it came out in ’93, I wouldn’t have believed you that it would ever reach that status. Not because it wasn’t popular. It was. I almost just figured that it was a strange little movie that was so odd it wouldn’t find an audience. It was my first movie I ever watched that was remotely tied to Tim Burton (although this is NOT a Burton movie – Henry Selick directed it, Burton simply wrote the poem this was based on). I was not yet aware of the strange weirdness that came from the minds of people like this. It was morbid but curious to me at the same time. I saw it, but I don’t know that I was a fan. To be honest, I don’t even know what possessed me to buy it on DVD. I guess it’s because it is sort of a classic holiday movie now. I felt like I had to own it.
In this movie we’re introduced to the idea that each holiday has its own world, hidden inside a tree. The majority of our story takes place in Halloweentown, where halloween has just ended, and the pumpkin king, Jack Skellington (a skeleton) rules over. He’s upset with his life and is sick of the ho-hum of scaring people year after year. Things just aren’t exciting enough for him anymore. He goes wandering and finds a door with a tree on it and follows it to Christmas town.
This place is unlike anything he’s ever seen, and he returns to share the joy with the ghosts, witches, vampires, and other ghouls that live in Halloween town. But they don’t understand. Jack decides to make them understand, deciding that this year, they will do christmas instead of Santa and the elves. He sends the trick-or-treaters to kidnap him while he and the rest of halloween town get ready for christmas. The only one who knows this won’t work is the patchwork doll Sally, who attempts to talk to Jack but he won’t listen. So Jack’s Christmas night begins, with Jack dressed as santa and delivering all sort of ridiculously scary gifts to boys and girls. Only when he’s shot out of the sky that he sees his flaws, returns, rescues santa and sets things right.
There are a lot of really good things about this movie, but all of it hinges on one of my biggest criticisms of the movie. This movie was marketed to kids. I saw it as a kid. And yeah, ok, I got most of it. A skeleton wants to be santa. It’s funny. The monsters make all the gifts for the kids but they’re all scary gift. Hilarious. Seeing this movie as a kid, it’s funny. But… after seeing this as an adult, the things that made this movie funny aren’t funny anymore. Because this isn’t a kids movie at its heart. It’s a tragedy. It’s the story of a man who is having a crisis, bored with his life, depressed, and tries to do something to fix it only to find that he’s not cut out for it. it’s about realizing that sometimes you life isn’t as amazing as you thought. Obviously it is also a story about realizing that what you thought was boring and familiar doesn’t have to be; it can be exciting if you see it as such.
I think once you realize these things about this movie, stop seeing it as a kid movie, it becomes a bit more brilliant. It becomes not only a movie, but seriously a piece of art. This movie plays more like a musical or a Shakespearian tragedy. It’s the study into the psyche of this character that isn’t always pretty, but it’s believable.
Let’s talk about Jack for a second. First of all, his character design is awesome. He’s a skeleton clad in black, so tall and skinny that he towers over everyone in Halloween town. He’s obviously a skeleton, but he’s also not all that scary looking, and that’s important for this movie, because I feel that if they had had made him too scary looking, it would have detracted. Anyway. The emotions that Jack feels the entire movie are so well realized. He’s sick of his life because it’s always the same thing. It’s boring to him now and he’s just going through the motions. He wants something more exciting. When he does find something, he latches on. This is such a real situation that it’s scary. How many of us are sick of our hum drum lives and wish we could find something more interesting?
The thing about Jack, though, is that his brilliant plan doesn’t work the way he wants it to. No one understands the thing that brings him joy quite like he does, and he can’t get away enough from who he really is to make a huge change the way he wants to. Instead, he learns his lesson that he should stick with what he knows, and instead learn to rely on those around him that actually care about him to get him through his tough times. Also that you can’t change who you really are deep down; it’s reassuring but at the same time a bit depressing.
Other than Jack, the only other character I’m really going to talk about is Sally, because, as a kidnapped santa says in the movie, she’s the only one in the entire place who’s not insane. Sally is a patchwork doll made by a crazy frankenstein-like scientist. She’s smart and has this connection with Jack – she likes him. She spends most of the movie trying to get out of the scientists grip, and trying to talk Jack out of his whole idea to attempt to take over for Santa. She knows it’s only bound to end in disaster. Sally offers a bit of fresh air and normalcy in an otherwise crazy movie, and it’s nice. She’s like the conscience, whether or not Jack actually listens to her or not (which he doesn’t until its too late).
there’s a whole plethora of other characters, from the crazy two faced mayor to the trick or treaters with the walking bathtub and Oogie Boogie man. This movie is memorable because the designs of the characters are so unique, but to be honest they aren’t really that memorable for any other reason. You remember what they look like, but not much else. Other than Jack, there’s no character development, no real showing of huge personalities. They’re just… there.
I’m going to switch topics and talk about the music for a second. When I was a kid, some of the songs I really liked, while others would put me to sleep. Now… not gonna lie, some of them still do. But that has nothing to do with the words. I LOVE musicals, and understand the need for slow, thought provoking songs. But good lord, the ones in this one are like pulling teeth. There are a lot of them. We go from happy song to song that drags on and on. The lyrics are great, but good God, they could have made it a little shorter. It sounds a bit like Phantom of the Opera, which isn’t a bad thing. But then the upbeat songs are super peppy, and, i dunno, i feel like they don’t mesh well together. That being said, I LOVE “This is Halloween and “What’s this?” Those songs, in my opinion, are total classics. great songs. The others, honestly, I could take or leave. I know they’re conveying emotion, and they ARE doing it well, but again, it all comes back down to the fact I really think this movie was wrongly marketed. To expect kids to sit and watch and listen through all the slow songs and get anything out of them is ridiculous.
I didn’t think I was going to come down so hard on this movie. It is one I’m happy I own, but if I go a holiday season without seeing it, i’m not too upset. What I like about it, I really like, and what I don’t, I really don’t. I’m sure you can all tell that by honestly how half-heartedly I’m writing this review.
Watch it if you’ve never seen it. If you’re a fan, good for you. I know it has its fans, and that’s not a mistake. I don’t think, despite what I thought as a kid, this is a kid’s movie. You get much more out of it when you’re an adult, and you get what I believe is what Henry Selick and Tim Burton wanted you to get out of it. As a kid, all you care about is the fact it’s funny that halloween characters are trying to do christmas.
I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this movie. I mean, it’s at an 8/10 on imdb, and a 94% on rotten tomatoes. I’m not disagreeing that it’s original: it is, so much so. It’s just… not my cup of tea. As a piece of movie art, it’s beautiful. As what it is and what it was marketed for and what its become, it’s not great.
I give The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) a 2.8 out of 5.
Up Next: Care Bears Nutcracker Suite (1988)