Tuesday, December 20, 2011



I think few Christmas films, animated films, or even just films in general have had more of an effect on my evolution into my current form than Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), and I don't think I'm alone, but, and its a very selfish, hipsterish response that I would say I liked this film before half of you whipper snappers. Furthermore, my personal attachment to the franchise has developed into a complex one over the years. But before I get into my somewhat selfish but hopefully somewhat sensible discussion of the film, I would like to give a little bit of history on this Christmas classic.

Sometime in the wishy washy designation of the 1980's, a young artist and story teller by the name of Tim Burton wrote a three-page long poem titled The Nightmare Before Christmas. After making some successes with his other stop motion projects and working his way up the ladder (it helped that he had directed the gothc-quirk films Beetlejuice and Batman)), he finally got the project off the ground. But he didn't want to direct! He was already working on another Christmas-themed film, Batman Returns, so he handed the project off to the apt direction of Henry Sellick and the scoring of Burton's most invaluable collaborator, Danny Elfman (who would also play the singing voice of the story's main protagonist).

The Nightmare Before Christmas is the story of Jack Skellington AKA The Pumpkin King (Chris Sarandon), a lovesick moppet Sally(Catharine O'Hara), and the characters of Halloweentown. Halloweentown is the realm of Halloween, where the familiar monsters and villains live to prepare for Halloween every year. Jack feels like his life has fallen into a rut and wants change. He finds it upon discovering Christmasland. Desiring what is different and wonderful, Jack tries to convince the townspeople that they should take over the holiday, and make it the best one they can.

Its actually a rather simple story with some rather original ideas backing it up. Furthermore, the film's stop animation is both an homage and a mirror of the saccharine Christmas specials of our youth. It twists it into something gothic, grim, but still sweet. Not only is the animation superbly detailed, every character and set piece is given this very dark Dr. Seuss-like quality, with the film's curls and bright-on-dark color style that it is wholly gorgeous and has inspired its own style of illustration that can be seen in the likes of Nickelodeon's Invader Zim and Tokyopop's I Luv Halloween. The soundtrack is so gorgeous and near perfect it has inspired several new versions from artists such as Marylin Manson. The film is a technical masterpiece taking three years to produce and is, in my opinion, the unrivaled pinnacle of the genre of stop animation.

The film is rather curious for a children's film because its characters are not cookie-cutter and the message is one of appreciating that the grass is not always so much greener on the other side- yet, that it is a wonderful experience to try something new. The film has quite a fan following and, to be quite honest, I feel selfish by trying to make an article like this but, this film is not only one of my favorites, it also haunts me.

What do I mean? The film represents a lot for me. I have early memories of seeing the VHS when it came out, watching it at Christmas, and falling in love with it. I think plenty of people did, but I think there is something people need to understand about the main character. Jack is not a gothic hero. No really, he isn't. He is a little melancholy here and there, but its far too theatrical. Jack spends far too much of the film jubilant and enthused to be a true gothic hero. He is a nerd. A big goofy nerd. A big goofy nerd who loves Christmas. And because he is an overly dramatic and jubilant nerd, I related to Jack more than just about any other Disney character.

Jack is the biggest dreamer in all of Disney-dom. He has the vague fantasy of wanting something more- like every Disney heroine. Yet, unlike those Disney princesses, Jack finds a goal and attaches himself to it. He wants Christmas. He wants to be the new "Sandy Claws". In the end, he realizes he doesn't need to be someone that he isn't. That being the Pumpkin King is enough and hell, it was fun to try something new, but his vocation was already great. Jack's story is the story of realizing and accepting your identity.

And to be honest, I have had to accept my identity as well. Sure, I dream about being a Super Saiyan or a Wizard or something else fantastic, BUT it doesn't change who I am right now and who I am going to be. I'll try and fail, but like Jack I will always rise from the ashes stronger than ever.



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