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Happy Halloween Everybody! A Little Musing on The Amazingness of The Nightmare Before Christmas


Ten days ago I posted about some of my favorite animated Halloween-related movies, and at the end I explained why Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas wasn’t on there – because the movie is so awesome, it deserves its very own post. Seriously. I am a HUGE fan. Here is some pictorial proof:

haunted mansion scarecrow.jpg
jack coffin dessert.jpg

From a December 2011 trip to Disney Land in L.A.

haunted mansion.jpg

Me in NBC stuff.jpg

Me in some of my NBC glory. Yes, two different pairs of NBC earrings and a scarf. My students said, "You must really like that movie." Why yes, astute young ones, I must. (please excuse the douchiness of the selfie. It was to prove that my obsession goes past stuff that stays on the shelf)

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Just a few NBC items that are in my office

You’d think with loving the movie so much (these pictures only scratch the surface – I’m not willing to divulge any more of my obsession here), I would have been immediately writing about it. As in maybe I would already have a huge store of crazy NBC fan fiction and maybe tribute poems to Tim Burton or to Oogie Boogie. Or maybe that I would have written that other post about the movies, then just written this one, and sat on it until Halloween. But sadly, no. I’m actually finding it much harder than I thought to write something that is more than “I fucking LOVE this movie!” I think this is in part because, when I love something, I don’t necessarily want to dissect that love. It reveals things about myself I’m not always eager to discover. But I’m going to try, because that’s what I’m all about: creating a weird situation for myself, then seeing the best way I can handle it. (of course of all the weird situations I’ve created for myself, accidentally or on purpose, this one is way down on the list. Here I just basically publically said I’d do something, and so I feel publically compelled to do it). So here goes . . .

I have vague recollections of the first time my sister and I watched the movie. It was on DVD and it was in the living room of the house my mom currently lives in, one we didn’t move into until my sophomore year of high school, so my love couldn’t have begun any earlier than age 15. I remember lying on the floor, but that is all. I must have loved it right off the bat (Halloween pun INTENDED), because what I do remember is watching it five thousand more times, including special movie nights with mi hermana, us both wearing NBC clothing and loudly singing along. In regards to the brilliance of this movie, there are dozens of things I could focus my adoration on: the amazing, industry-influencing stop motion animation, the incredible musical score, the beautiful visuals (I seriously long to live inside many of Tim Burton’s movies, particularly Halloween Town and the set in Sleepy Hollow), but what I’ll focus on for now is the character Jack Skellington.

Depending on the time of day, the song, “Jack’s Lament,” will bring me to tears.

Partly this is due to Danny Elfman’s lovely singing voice (so much better than whatever nonsense he was doing in Oingo Boingo). There are depths of feeling in the lyrics that sometimes still surprise me, even though I’ve listened to it so many times I’ve lost count. What I think resonates most strongly for me with this character is Jack’s longing. Of course, I’m no Pumpkin King, and no one in Kentucky calls me Mr. Unlucky, but in my own small ways I have had many successes (a handful of bigger ones that have come about in the past two years), and while I am happy when they happen, each success eventually feels empty and I find myself dissatisfied once again. More publications, more recognition, more respect, I don’t know exactly what it is that I want; the feeling is too ethereal to put my bony finger on. And like Jack, I’m grateful when I do well the thing I’m pretty sure I’m good at, but somewhere deep inside of these bones, I find a longing that seems to run through the marrow, something trapped there, inaccessible and unfulfilled.

Jack stumbles upon Christmas Town and thinks that this new holiday, so different from his own, will be what he needs to rejuvenate his sense of purpose. And I do believe the briefest synopsis of the film could be: Jack loses his sense of purpose in Halloween Town and thinks that there is something better, more meaningful, more special that he could be part of. If you’ve seen the movie (if not, spoiler alert), you know that though Jack has a sleigh and a Sandy Claws suit and hat, even little Zero at the head of the flying dead reindeers, he doesn’t succeed at taking over Christmas. Though I would prefer the toys he drops off (I so badly want a real Vampire Teddy, not just the stuffed one I have, but one that flies), the little girls and boys are expecting nice presents like puppies and a truck. What Jack has to offer is not really Christmas material. Ultimately, the moral Jack learns is that he – as he was – is already enough. His role as Pumpkin King and his place in Halloween Town is meaningful, not only to the residents of Halloween Town who give their all for the holiday each year, but also to keep the balance of existing holidays. There can’t be the specific joy of Christmas without the ghoulish pleasure of Halloween.

This leads me to the next thing I love so much about TNBC, the mixture of darkness and humanity. The role of Halloween Town’s residents is to scare people, but there is no malice in what they do. It is just who they are. They have a purpose and their purpose is important. At its most basic message, the movie tells us that we need both Halloween and Christmas. This isn’t an either/or binary, these are symbiotic holidays that keep our world in balance. Our darkness is necessary and serves a function. But sometimes, like Jack, I wonder if my darkness is not particularly helpful or fulfilling, for myself or others, and that maybe I could do more if I were bright and cheery. In that desire for more (a “more” I can’t name) I overlook how valuable it is to have a vast array of diversity in the world. For every cheerful person, there should be a dark person. For every “normal” person, there should be someone who is queer.

I also love how far Jack must fail before learning his own worth. He’s willing to do what it takes to give himself a shot at Christmas, and doesn’t learn how out of character it all is for him until he is “blown to smithereens.” His incredulity and hurt when he realizes the humans are shooting at him, rather than celebrating his actions is both a window into his hubris and naiveté. Is it that he was so sure of his success or that he just wanted it so badly? Either way, he is determined and that determination is commendable (even if he goes a little far in kidnapping Santa Claus). And even though Jack fails taking over Christmas, the movie does not discourage trying. In fact, it shows how important it was for Jack to strike out from what he knew, come to appreciate something outside his own world, and realize that we can appreciate something and believe in its significance, without having to be the center of it. There are many facets of the world and it’s wonderful to visit, participate, and recognize what else is out there, but we are all different, have different talents, and don’t need to own everything we engage in.

Truly, this is just one aspect of my interest in the movie that I can articulate at the moment. I do have more to say about how much I love all the adorably gruesome characters in Halloween Town, how much more creepy and disturbing I find the characters in Christmas Town, the juxtaposition of light and dark, of dead and living, etc. etc., but I think I’ll save those for another time. Say, maybe a post around Christmas . . .

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“Swearing was invented as a compromise between running away and fighting.” 

― Peter Finley Dunne



“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.” 
― Charles Bukowski

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