Nightmare Before Christmas Is The Ultimate Christmas Movie
Not to tell you how the sausage is made dear reader, but I feel before I can get into the meat of this feature I have to explain how it came about.
The other day, while perusing UNILAD‘s intricate feature distribution system, which I promise isn’t just a dirty whiteboard in the corner of the office, I came across something which shook me to my core.
A colleague, who I have the greatest of respect for, had pitched a feature idea which claimed The Nightmare Before Christmas is the ‘ultimate’ Halloween movie.
I must confess I was shocked, and dare I say appalled at this notion, because anyone, with even the slightest bit about themselves, knows two things.
Would you believe though, when I attempted to rationally explain this to my colleague, they were far too interested in actually working rather than debating the themes of a decades-old kids film?
Unfortunately for them, what they couldn’t do (even though they’re technically my boss), is stop me from writing this scathing counter-argument to their feature (in my spare time, I don’t want to step on the boss’ toes).
I want to start by tackling the massive elephant in the room, The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t a scary film and therefore is immediately disqualified from being an appropriate Halloween film.
While you might argue Halloween film’s don’t have to be scary, to that I say ‘of course they do’, otherwise, what’s the bloody point of them?
The reason Halloween exists in its modern form is, in my mind at least, to unsettle people and to scare them. This why the holiday’s primary tradition, ‘trick or treating’, involves the thing a lot of people fear most, unaccompanied youths, begging at your door.
The Nightmare Before Christmas may be covered in gloomy wrapping paper but underneath it’s a bright, cheerful and unthreatening kind, like Jim Broadbent in goth makeup.
And while I’m sure you’re keen to point out ‘it’s a children’s film so it doesn’t have to be scary’ – it’s a ridiculous argument. There are plenty of scary kids films for the little ones to enjoy on the spookiest day of the year.
Just off the top of my head, there’s Coraline, Hocus Pocus, and the recently released The House with w Clock in Its Walls, all of which are appropriate for children while remaining suitably spooky.
Nightmare however never even tries to be scary. Oh sure, the residents of Halloween Town are slightly grotesque but for the most part, they’re friendly enough and certainly never frightening.
Even the evil Oogie Boogie pales in comparison to villains like the Other Mother or the Sanderson sisters. So now I’ve demonstrated why Nightmare isn’t a Halloween film allow me to explain why it’s a Christmas film.
Because ‘Christmas’ is in the title and the whole thing’s a play on the classic Christmas poem The Night Before Christmas.
I joke, of course, there’s more to it than that but come on, it’s right there in the title -it’s The Nightmare Before Christmas not The Nightmare Before Halloween after all.
In all seriousness, this film is dripping in the baubles of Christmas, and while Halloween Town and its residents may look scary, if you cut them they’ll bleed tinsel and festive cheers.
Let’s take a look at the film’s main character, Jack Skellington, who I believe best exemplifies why this is a Christmas film.
Jack, the King of Halloween Town, is a successful but weary character who, in his own lament, admits he’s ‘grown so weary of the sound of screams’ and become disinterested in the holiday he represents, namely Halloween.
After accidentally wandering into a holiday grove, he finds himself whisked away to Christmas Land and becomes infatuated with the trappings of the Festive Season.
He then spends the rest of the film preparing for Christmas like a frantic step-parent desperate to make a good impression.
Revitalised by his fevered work, but innately unable to understand how the holiday works, Jack and his Halloween minions kidnap Santa and attempt to make Christmas their own.
It goes about as well as you’d expect, but this is where the holiday themes come in.
Jack, like so many classic Christmas movie characters, has essentially been disenfranchised by his own life, and tries to find satisfaction by throwing himself into a new project.
It’s only when Jack sees the fallout of his actions, in this case being shot out of the air and nearly ruining Christmas, that he realises he’s only going to be happy if he accepts who he truly is, specifically The Pumpkin King.
It’s a classic character arc for so many icons of the Christmas season, the realisation true happiness comes from knowing who you are and that you’re valued.
It’s basically a three-act narrative. The first act has the character desire something, the second is when an event, usually out of their control, forces the character to examine their behaviour, and finally, the third act where they fix their mistakes.
I call it The Christmas Classic Calculation.
Take It’s A Wonderful Life, for example, a film which is undeniably a Christmas film. This classic obeys the Christmas Classic Calculation almost perfectly.
In the film George Bailey is completely disenfranchised by his own generosity, so much so, he believes the world would be a better place without him.
It’s only when an external force shows him the effect his actions would have on the world, George realises he’s made a huge mistake and embraces his old life with vim and vigour.
Nightmare follows the same basic formula. Jack is lost and bored with his life, and while he may not try to literally kill himself, he basically attempts to do the metaphysical equivalent by denying his true nature.
Eventually, forces outside of Jacks control – a heat-seeking missile – causes him to look at his actions and fix what he did wrong in stealing Christmas.
You can apply this same basic formula to almost any of the classic Christmas movies.
We’ll do Die Hard quickly. John and Holly McClane are heading for divorce but John wants to get back together.
He’s then accidentally invited to a Christmas party, but would you believe, it terrorists invade, causing them both to examine where things went wrong and eventually get back together once they’ve beaten the terrorists.
Still, don’t believe me? How about Home Alone? Kevin hates his family and wants to be an only child. His wish is granted when he’s left home alone but the house gets broken into. This forces Kevin to realise his mistake before being reunited with his mother.
If that alone doesn’t prove Nightmare is a traditional Christmas film, there’s one more argument I can make.
Nightmare is the anti-Grinch, instead of hating Christmas he loves it, then both characters basically try and do the same thing in co-opting the holiday for themselves, by stealing it.
After stealing Christmas both characters realise they’ve got the holiday wrong and set things right by either gifting the people of Whoville their sh*t back, or by freeing Santa from an evil hessian sack.
And if freeing Santa from an evil sack isn’t the definition of Christmas I don’t know what is?
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