The Nightmare Before Christmas: Chilling or Cheery?

 Imagine: Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1993. The crisp but refreshing autumn breeze rustles the newly red and orange leaves as the sun begins to descend. Halloween is right around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with the release of Tim Burton’s newest masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas? This beloved animated musical stars Jack Skellington, the “Pumpkin King” of Halloweentown, who attempts to overtake Christmas. It was released in the middle of the spooky season to commemorate the beloved October holiday of Halloween, but many consider it to be a Christmas movie. Although the film includes both Christmas and Halloween, it is most certainly a Halloween movie.

The opening scene of the movie introduces Halloweentown, a place within the Holiday World that is solely Halloween themed. Here reside ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, and other spooky creatures who believe “life’s no fun without a good scare.” The scene takes place just after the most “horrible” (a positive adjective in Halloweentown) Halloween yet, and the citizens of the town are congratulating Jack Skellington for his big success. Jack should be celebrating alongside them, but he sulks away. He is extremely bored of Halloween and feels empty inside. 

To remedy his despair, Jack wanders into the forest outside Halloweentown where he comes across something mysterious: several different holiday portals. There are portals for Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, and Christmas, which especially catches his eye. He accidentally falls down the portal and finds himself in Christmastown, which is snowy and colorfully decorated. Jack instantly falls in love with the jolliness of Christmas, and when he returns to Halloweentown the next day, he insists that they take over the holiday. Sophomore Ana Juarez joked, “The dead make Christmas their own holiday, which is why it is a Halloween movie.”

Although the remainder of the film consists of Jack and the other Halloweentown citizens preparing for Christmas, it is very much the opposite of jolly. They have no idea how to prepare for such a lighthearted holiday and create a scary and “horrible” version of it. They create screaming toys, biting garlands, and even a sleigh with a coffin as its seat. Jack even orders the mischievous trick-or-treaters to kidnap “Sandy Claws” (Jack’s misinterpretation of Santa Claus) until Christmas is over.

Aside from Sandy Claws, all the characters in the film are from Halloweentown. This includes the two-faced mayor, mad scientist Dr. Finkelstein; his creation, ragdoll Sally; and the “boogie man” (Oogie Boogie), who ties up and taunts Sandy Claws in his lair. Many of these characters question Jack’s behavior and decisions throughout the story, and Sally even warns Jack that taking over Christmas is a mistake. It appears that everyone realizes Halloween and Christmas are not meant to mix, but Jack is blinded by his emptiness.

When Christmas finally arrives, Jack delivers the spooky gifts the citizens of Halloweentown created to frighten the children and parents. Soon Jack is being hunted as an imposter of Santa and because he had ruined Christmas. Once he realizes what he has done, Jack feels extremely guilty for all the damage he has caused and is happy to reassume his role as Pumpkin King while Santa fixes the Christmas mess. In the end, Jack and Sally confess their love for each other and Halloweentown returns to normal.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is undoubtedly a Halloween movie. It begins and ends with Halloween celebrations, and the majority of it takes place in Halloweentown. “The movie’s atmosphere seems spookier than a celebration of Christmas,” says sophomore Emma Mancuso. Sophomores Jorielle Phillips and Gulnas Moshkovich also agree that “the entire movie seems Halloween-themed, even the love story twist at the end.” The story has an eerie mood to it, even with the Christmas aspects; the bloody toys and coffin-sleigh lean more spooky than merry. Jack Skellington feels that he needs a break from Halloween, but once he tries and fails to celebrate Christmas, he realizes that he was made for the role of “Pumpkin King” all along. This classic has much to offer for Halloween ghouls and Christmas fiends alike, but the abundance of spooky elements in the story make The Nightmare Before Christmas an indisputable Halloween flick.