The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) thoughts

Rated: 4 / 5

“Kidnap the Sandy Claws, see what we will see. Lock him in a cage and then, throw away the key.”

I never appreciated this film as much as I wanted to back in the day. I knew it was visually unique with the creature designs and animation. I knew half the songs were catchy. But the story felt lacking to me, as in there was some form of depth to it that just wasn’t there. That this was more looks than substance. But the short runtime ensured in didn’t overstay its welcome in spite of that, so it still worked.

But that’s just because I didn’t “get it.” Now I’ve seen more of what there is to get from this film.

Initially I got the love story aspect. I got that Jack was growing bored with the same old shtick every year and wanted a change. But I didn’t fully grasp the significance of what this change entailed. Back in the day, and you have to understand this is a pre-teenage mind you’re dealing with here, I didn’t get why Jack would want to do Christmas the way he was doing it. Why would he want to put Halloween stuff in where Christmas gifts should be? Of course he was never going to succeed as Santa Clause. Why didn’t he get that? It just seems so dumb.

“And why should they have all the fun? It should belong to anyone. Not anyone in fact, but me. Why, I can make a Christmas tree. And there’s no reason I can find, I couldn’t handle Christmas-time. I bet I could improve it too! And that’s exactly what I’ll do!”

In this day and age, it’s impossible not to see the significance of the message. This film is about a guy who lives within, and belongs to, one culture/environment, trying to appropriate another culture and do it his way. Because he sees his way as the better way. He wants to take something that he only has a marginal understanding of, morph it into something only someone from his background can enjoy, and spread it among the normal “real world” population. You know, to subvert their expectations. Like how those who aren’t George Lucas, or follow his Star Wars works religiously, subvert Star Wars with their products they deliver to the masses. Or how the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing system is being co-opted. Among other plentiful examples that are out there (to say nothing of nations themselves and the many things that make up their cultures).

The scene where Jack is trying to explain Christmas Town as he understands it to the occupants of Holloween Town in a manner that they will understand it is a significant one to push the message even further. They continually apply a Halloween lens to what they see of Christmas. It’s too different for them to see that it’s not meant to terrify for fun, but to bring joy through selfless gifts. Even Jack doesn’t fully comprehend the meaning of it. But he’s attracted to the concept because it brings joy to others in a manner different than what he does. Because Jack brings joy through fear (the inhabitants of Halloween Town don’t intend harm when they frighten others), while Santa brings joy through gifts (that aren’t tricks). Because Jack wants to experience something different, he wants to use Christmas as an alternative way to deliver joy through scares, when it’s something never meant to be that way.

“Life’s no fun without a good scare.”

Forcing something to fit your worldview, that shouldn’t, gets the response in this film that should be along the same lines of a response it should get in reality. The populace complaining loudly enough that the military organizes and blows away the impostor masquerading as the icon they would normally welcome happily year-round. A perfectly reasonable response for any environment that wishes to maintain the integrity of their culture. Because if they don’t do that, if they don’t gatekeep, if they don’t protect tradition, then it will change and they will eventually come around to changing with it. In this film’s case, there wouldn’t be much point in separating Halloween Town from Christmas Town.

But Jack’s curiosity isn’t a bad thing. Of course one culture would be interested in experiences that of another. “What’s this?” It’s something different, something unique, something special, something worth exploring. Alternative cultures can be shared to a reasonable extent. At the end of the film, Christmas Town gives a Christmas gift to Halloween Town: snow. A little something from their world that the Halloween world is able to appreciate. I can imagine a few things that Halloween can give to Christmas that it will appreciate: candy/treats.

What makes me appreciate this film more today than I did back then is the knowledge that it’s an anti-culture-appropriation movie. Plus it avoids some of the pitfalls I tend to be wary of in films like this. How various characters are inverted with their traits, personality, physic, beauty, etc. The actual ugly/disgusting individual is the villain. The protagonist is a leader who is also a fighter (and he knows how capable he is at doing both), and not some shy beta wimp who eventually becomes awesome at doing whatever. Curiosity is shown to be a double-edged sword. It’s relatively straightforward to the point where you could say this isn’t an inversive film, other than the idea that the creatures/monsters of Halloween aren’t all that bad (most have good intentions in spite of everything). So straightforward, in fact, that it even pushes in a literal two-faced politician.

Film also gets kudos for this low-hanging-fruit cheap shot, which is always a chuckle.

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