The Nightmare Before Christmas has become one of those films that is almost beyond criticism. So ingrained is it in our consciousness that it is accepted as a classic. Years of anorexic teens buying Jack Skellington action figures will do that. And frankly, it is a great movie.
But it is not beyond examination. And therein lies the problem. Most of the fans of the film really have not analyzed it properly. It is not meant to be some sort of celebration of goth, or even of Halloween. It is a carefully crafted satire against the blandness of traditional holidays, about how their meanings become diluted to the point of nonexistence. It is a true work of art; Hot Topic is actually exacerbating what the film tried to say was a problem.
Why do I say that? Well, for one, the inspiration to the whole thing was about how Burton saw a holiday display at a department store. Christmas decorations were being combined with Halloween decorations – that was the genesis of the whole concept. So routine are our holidays that department stores almost cannot wait to decorate for them.
But the clues are also there in the film itself. Why is the film in stop motion? It is because, for decades now, those clay mation television specials have become almost on par with Thanksgiving dinner in terms of American traditions. Copying that style of animation is showing what the whole point of the film was – acknowledging tradition, but still trying to transcend it.
After all, what seems unusual to the protagonist Jack is what we have all been seeing for years. The glowing lights that so entrance him and the whole spectacle of Santa that he embraces is one that we have all begun to ignore. He has merely grown tired of his own world. The whole story is launched by ennui (was it George Lucas who said that a film should never have a character say they’re bored? This film utterly destroys that concept), and seems to disregard any idea that we have seen these holidays before.
But then what about the ending? You know, where Christmas is still saved by Santa Claus (you expected something else)? It is subverted by the presence of snow in Halloweentown, which shows that traditions can be changed.
So, ultimately, the film is satirizing the fact that each Christmas, everything is the same. Even the holidays become somewhat sick of the traditions. But then, the film does seem to hold them in some high regard. After all, everything goes wrong when certain traditions are destroyed.
But the problem was not the experimentation. The problem is the fact that Jack Skellington does not understand the whole point of Christmas (none of the citizens of Halloweentown do – they are limited in their world view) not that he wants to become involved with it. Indeed, his experience ultimately
Maybe I am just turning into Ebeneezer Scrooge. After all, if people take away things from a film that I am not sure were really there, well, they managed to find them. Who am I to say they are wrong? I do think that The Nightmare Before Christmas is much deeper than even its most ardent fans give it credit for. It is one of the best reflections about the sameness surrounding Christmas I have seen. I just wish that more people would have used the message of experimentation as a jumping point. Instead, they absorbed the film into their holiday traditions. Just once, it would not be bad to try something new.
Remember that this Christmas.