Well, it is time to get my countdown underway. Let me remind you that I am working my way through the IMDb Top 250 list as it appeared on November 15, 2010. I had to do this because of the flexible nature of this online user generated list. In fact, even after only one week, The Nightmare Before Christmas has moved up to #249, and if you look at it today, the list (particularly here at the bottom) may look much different. So, I will do my best to add other films that jump on and off the list while I am on this journey and we can watch them together once my journey is through.
This movie was released when I was ten years-old, and I remember wanting to see it not so much because of the animation technique or the big names attached to it, but because I thought the Burger King watches that my friends had were cool. I was not allowed to watch it at that time, because my parents thought that it was too dark and frightening for kids to watch (the same reason Disney pushed its release off to Touchstone Pictures). It wasn’t until I was well into high-school and my goth phase that this movie once again caught my eye.
Burton’s Batman was one of my favorite movies in Middle School. I remember coming home from school popping Batman in the VCR and being thrilled by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. When I later found out that the same mastermind who directed Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands, was the man who dreamed up this film, I had to see it. I remember getting wrapped up in the gorgeously dark scenery so skillfully and painstakingly created through the use of stop-motion animation. I remember tapping my toes to the addictive music of Danny Elfman. I simply enjoyed it, filed it away as a pleasant holiday movie, and went on with my life.
As I watched this magical film again today, I was struck by a few observations.
First, it was NOT directed by Tim Burton. Everyone ties The Nightmare Before Christmas to Tim Burton. While he wrote it and produced it, it was directed by a man whose name isn’t even in most movie fan’s vocabulary. Henry Selick. Do a quick IMDb search, and you will see that Henry Selick had just as much to do with the look and feel of Nightmare as Tim Burton did. He adapted Roald Dahl’s James and The Giant Peach long before Burton tried his hand at Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And he skillfullly directed the wonderfully rich and dark Coraline. Clearly this film is great because of its collaboration. Tim Burton’s concept and characters, the lyrics and music of Danny Elfman, and the hard work and dedication of hundreds of artists are held together and made better by the creative glue of Henry Selick’s direction.
Also, watching this film again, I had all sorts of thoughts about the nature of Halloween vs. Christmas, the commercialization of Christmas, and the feelings of longing for something more fulfilling than the amusement of fright. But the biggest thing that caught my attention was the wordplay in the title. It is a cute and clever twist on the first line of the well known 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” But it got me thinking if there was something deeper in the title. What is the nightmare before Christmas? Is it referring to Halloween? Jack? Perhaps the nightmare is that sense of longing that Jack and Sally feel. But because I have Movies on the Brain, my mind cross-referenced to a scene in the 1997 Steven Spielberg movie Amistad where one of the slaves is looking through a Bible illustrated with drawings of biblical events. One slave says to the other that he is beginning to understand this book. As he shows the other slave a picture of Christians being attacked by lions in the Roman Coliseum, He says, “Their lives were full of suffering. Then he was born (pointing to a picture of baby Jesus in the manger), and everything changed.”
Do you see the connection? Jack Skellington (The Pumpkin King) is revered in his native Halloweentown, but he has grown tired of the same old routine. While wandering through the forest, he stumbles across and opens a portal to Christmastown. He is intrigued and impressed by what he feels in this magical place. Although devoid of any reference to the Christian origins of Christmas, besides a quote from the kidnapped “Sandy Claws” who shouts, “Haven’t you ever heard of peace on earth, good will towards men?” Jack’s feelings aren’t totally dissimilar to the emotions that accompany the new birth. Much like Jack Skellington, our lives are empty and we continually search for something more until we stumble across the meaning of Christmas. Sadly, the true meaning of Christmas is never unearthed but it still raises all sorts of ideas about the comparison of the death symbolized in Halloween to the life that is found in Christmas. Our lives before Jesus are the real nightmare before Christmas. Our lives were filled with suffering then Jesus was born and everything really did change.
Not all of my posts will be this religious in their thrust. That is just what came to my mind. Join me next time for #249 the Korean Romantic Comedy, My Sassy Girl. I’ll probably watch the American adaptation of the same title as well to compare them. See you then and remember, there is no cure for movies on the brain.