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This past weekend, the urge struck me to spend part of my snowy Sunday indoors trying to beat rid myself of anxiety by rewatching the Tim Burton stop-motion classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I was surprised that, even twenty years, later it still holds up as a genuinely awesome film. But I also realized the reason so many years have passed between viewings is that there is no “right” time to watch it. It’s not quite a Halloween or Christmas movie, but definitely not a Thanksgiving movie, so it tends to fall by the wayside.
Well, no more. I have endeavored to lay out both sides of the argument as to which holiday TNBC best fits, and give you my personal opinion as to when you should be committing time to watching this movie: October or December.
Point: The main characters are all Halloween-related.
Jack Skellington, our main character, is literally titled “the Pumpkin King,” a clear reference to the fact that this movie is meant for Halloween-time. Additionally, the love interest, Sally, is a haunted rag doll, and the main antagonist is the Boogie Man. So there are literally no integral characters to the plot that are related to Christmas.
I mean, yes, we do have a starring role by Santa Claus in this movie, and Santa is a much bigger/more famous character, but he exists largely as a pawn. He’s captured and then brought to Oogie Boogie. He only takes an active role to restore the Christmas spirit once Oogie is defeated and he’s freed by Jack. Basically, all the action in the movie is dictated by the Halloween characters.
Counterpoint: All the action revolves around Christmas.
While all the main characters are Halloween-centric, their main conflicts have nothing to do with Halloween. Jack and Sally disagree because Jack wants to make Christmas more Halloween-like, while Sally believes this will end in disaster (spoiler: it does). The climax of the movie is Jack fighting Oogie to free Santa in order to save Christmas. In fact, for the majority of the movie, the Halloween characters are getting into the Christmas spirit as per Jack’s new-found infatuation with the Christmas season. So even though these are all spooky characters, nothing that they do is about Halloween. Every event that is central to the plot of the movie is Christmas-themed.
Point: This action all takes place in Halloween Town.
Where are we spending all of this plot? It’s not in Christmas Town, getting into the spirit of the season. It’s in Halloween Town, watching ghouls, goblins, and ghosts making the winter wonderland into a field of frights. Sure, the central plot is about making Christmas more Halloween-ey, but we’re not watching Santa and the elves decide this year they want to add a little extra spookiness to the Yule Tidings. It’s a little disconcerting to gather the family around with steaming mugs of hot cocoa to watch a rotting corpse put a severed hand into a jack-in-the-box for a child’s gift.
Counterpoint: This action all takes place on Christmas.
Remember, very early in the movie, the Halloween festivities are over and Jack begins to grow weary of his routine of scaring people. That’s why he endeavors to change things, and bring Halloween Town a bit of Christmas cheer instead of more gloom and fright. Sure the townspeople and even Jack himself aren’t able to embrace the spirit of the season, but it’s not from a lack of trying. They’re not trying to corrupt Christmas, and just make it the second version of Halloween. They genuinely want to experience the wondrous joy of Christmas, but they do it in their own way.
If you’re going to call this movie a Halloween movie, why is there more focus on presents, snowmen, and reindeer than trick-or-treaters, pumpkins, or actually trying to scare people? These characters might be all about Halloween, but in this movie, they are totally embracing the spirit of Christmas.
Point: The movie’s theme song is literally called “This is Halloween.”
I mean…do I have to explain this further? Would you consider this to be a Christmas song or a Halloween song? The most Christmasy songs in the movie are either “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” or “What’s This,” songs about kidnapping Chris Kringle and Jack not understanding what a snowman is. Are you really going to play these songs right after “Jingle Bell Rock” at the holiday party?
Counterpoint: The movie is about saving Christmas.
Let’s look at some classic Christmas movies. How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Elf, a Charlie Brown Christmas, Christmas Vacation, the Santa Clause, Home Alone. What do they all have in common? They’re all about someone saving the Christmas season because it’s either being threatened by outside forces or they need to bring the true spirit of Christmas to themselves or their loved ones.
What is The Nightmare Before Christmas about? Saving Christmas from threat by an outside force — Oogie keeping Santa Claus prisoner and Jack giving horrible, frightening gifts to children — and finding the true spirit of Christmas — Jack brings the spirit of Christmas to Halloween Town because he feels depressed by his routine and wants everyone to have Christmas cheer. This movie is literally following the same plot as every great Christmas film.
So, with the key arguments laid out, what is the correct decision? Well after much deliberation I am happy to make my determination.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie.
This decision was not only made from the arugments above, but also because this movie is not scary enough to be a Halloween movie. This is clearly a movie aimed at children and therefore the whole family. Also, by making it a Christmas movie we are able to bring a bit of Halloween magic into November and December, rather than water down the best holiday of the year and allow Christmas to creep even earlier into the calendar year than it already is. So gather up the kids, bring a plate of cookies and some milk, and throw on this spooky Christmas classic. .
Image via Youtube