Hey, Geeks. Welcome to Your Favorite Thing Sucks, where I get to talk about all the worst parts of your favorite things. The Nightmare Before Christmas has steadily moved its way out of Halloween/Christmas “cult classic” status and into an annual Halloween/Christmas tradition for millions of people. But when you really look at the film you have to wonder why people have obsessed over this so long. Is it the highly-marketable characters and art style? It must be. Romantic Goths need something to decorate their room with, after all.
But honestly, that’s not enough. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Let’s talk about why The Nightmare Before Christmas really isn’t as good as everyone thinks it is.
Jack Skellington is a Terrible Person
Jack is obviously the protagonist of The Nightmare Before Christmas. And I do not get it. He is seriously the WORST type of person. At the beginning of the film he is already universally loved. He has Halloweentown laying everything he could ever want at his feet, worshipping his pinstripe coattails. He can have anything he wants, whenever he wants, few-to-no questions asked (a fact that he gleefully exploits throughout the film). But, it’s not enough, is it? No. This entitled, loved, worshipped skeleton that hasn’t done anything to earn his praise other than claim some dubious title and do a flip into water at one point still isn’t happy. In FACT, he’s so mopey even despite everything that he has to sneak away from his adoring fans so he can sing a pity party song alone in the graveyard right off the bat.
I get it. Sometimes you need to change things up. Need to rediscover yourself. Fine. So Jack does that. In the worst, I-am-an-entitled-rich-person way possible: He goes to another land, sees the most basic aspects of their culture, then takes just the pieces that he likes and plasters those marketable bits all over his home without actually understanding the symbols he’s claimed as his new identity.
I could possibly forgive Jack for this douchebaggery if he just decorated his home and left the rest of the town alone. But nooo. Those guys worship him, remember? So of course Jack’s going to make the citizens of Halloweentown drop whatever they’re doing and help him butcher the parts of this culture he thinks he saw. It doesn’t matter that no one seems interested at first (despite him forcing EVERYONE to a town meeting just to hear about where he went on vacation). But Jack isn’t the type to just let people like their own things. Instead, they must agree with him. So what does he do to make people interested in Christmas? He butchers it further by lying about the main part of the holiday. Makes Sandy Claws look like a monster so the mere peasants will finally follow along.
There were so many better ways to go about appropriating Christmastown’s awesomeness. Does Jack revisit Christmastown or ask literally anyone from there to help him understand the culture, traditions, or rituals he finds so fascinating? Hell no. He conducts crazy experiments on candy canes and cuts open a teddy bear with a scalpel. He bastardizes an entire culture in order to twist it into something suitable for him and his ideals. And the town follows along with it, even singing an entire city-wide ballad about how weird he’s being– but never actually telling him to knock it off.
And it doesn’t end, there. Jack is literally too egotistical to hear what anyone around him is saying. He doesn’t hear their uncertainty when they ask about bows or the screaming of children as he drops terror toys down the chimney. He assumes literal canon fire is because the people are “congratulating” him. And when the only person who’s truly in his corner cautions him to stop what he’s doing, he assumes she’s talking about her own shortcomings and tells her to just ‘follow the picture’ he made. Because as long as you go along with his idea, it’ll be fine, right? Anything that goes wrong has to be on someone else, right? Poor Sally.
Actually, wait. No. Not poor Sally.
Sally is Also a Terrible Person
Of everyone in The Nightmare Before Christmas, the audience is supposed to be behind Sally most of all. She’s painted as the abused saint of the tale. But does she deserve that title? While she isn’t nearly as self-absorbed as Jack Skellington, Sally is far from perfect. In fact, Sally is one of the most manipulative stalkers in any children’s movie ever, and definitely should not be the romantic icon she’s become over the decades.
Sally starts the movie with a disproportionate amount of love for a famous person that barely knows she exists. Now, not knowing someone very well IS a large barrier to a relationship. So how does she get Jack’s attention and let him know she cares for him? She follows him, eavesdrops on his various mopey songs, jumps out of a window so she can give him an unsolicited basket of homemade watchits (which are luckily not poisoned, because we know she’s not above poisoning others for her own gain) and then does everything he asks her to as soon as he starts talking to her. She even sleeps in front of his house when he doesn’t come home.
Then, after she finally gets next to him– close enough to be part of his life and trusted enough to possibly be listened to, how does she help him through trouble? Does she stand up for herself or push the issue when she knows something’s wrong with? No. Instead, she crumples and enables her ‘beloved’ to his face, but then immediately turns around and releases fog juice behind his back. That’s some passive aggressive shit right there. If this relationship does work out and Jack eventually talks over her in an argument (which already looks likely) what is she going to do? Poison his coffee? Throw his femur out the window and blame Zero? Sally is by far the most two-faced person in this town. And that’s saying something.
Actually. They’re all Terrible People.
Halloweentown or not, The Nightmare Before Christmas really seems to lack in basic morality. But, since all of the holidays that are normally used to teach morality have been switched out for nondenominational fluff days that might or might not get you out of school– I guess that’s not too surprising.
Still. You’d think a basic society would only function if it polices its own. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. Doctor Finklestein is an unstable egomaniac that creates things because he can and then apparently just locks them in his home when they’re not perfect. He doesn’t even really seem to create things for the betterment of the town—they could definitely have more than torches and gas lanterns by now if he wanted them to. Instead, he appears to just create things to prove he’s capable of doing so but then belittles them if they’re not up to the impossible standards he’s apparently determined a creation of his superior intellect should be capable of. At the end of the film he even makes a nurse that has half of his own brain—just so he can have someone around who is deemed worthy enough to hold conversations with him.
But fine. A cooky doctor that keeps to himself. I guess I see Halloweentown letting that one slide. But What about Oogey Boogey? How is he allowed to stick around?
Look. I get it. Movies need a bad guy. But this is so far off the deep end it’s not even funny. Most bad guys have SOME sort of motive. Right? Not in this case. Oogey Boogey is just… a sadist. A serial killer? Can people die in Halloweentown? There are an awful lot of bones down there that haven’t stitched themselves back together into skeletons. And OB definitely seems experienced with the entire torture thing when he starts in on Sandy Claws.
Halloweentown or not, something should have been done about this psycho a long time ago. But nothing did. What stopped them? He could have been taken down by a nail someone failed to hammer down all the way.
There Are a Lot of Missing Holidays. And Even the Ones That Aren’t Missing Are… Still Missing.
I know. I know. You’re already telling me that there would be WAY too many holidays to put into that forest scene. No way we could have more trees with more doors. Because that’s what forests are known for. A lack of trees.
Maybe we wouldn’t have had to focus on any of them. Maybe they could have been outside the circle of American/Christian traditions we glimpsed in that forest. It wouldn’t have been difficult to at least make vague references to other religions and cultures since the entire movie is about experiencing things outside your normal bubble of influence (or something. I don’t know. We’ll get to that later).
But there’s not. And the holidays that ARE represented are only shown as their most basic and marketable values. You don’t see angels or mangers or Krampus or any of the non-overly-commercialized aspects of Christmas in Christmastown. No Samhain or traditions for the respected dead in Halloweentown. I doubt you see anything except for chocolate bunnies and eggs in Eastertown. For being a movie about not one but TWO holidays, The Nightmare Before Christmas really doesn’t focus on those actual holidays. Just the bastardized and marketable aspects of them. Which explains why it doesn’t try to decide which holiday it even goes with. It gets twice the revenue by convincing people to watch it twice each year. And really, isn’t that what these holidays are all about?
There is No Moral to the Story
Even though I think that Jack is an entitled jerk that is never happy with what he’s got, I was willing to go with him on his journey to reinvent himself. Find his true passion. Find joy. And we kind of watched it happen. Until he messed it up and got chewed out by Santa and then… just went back to who he was originally. You know. Miserable, Mopey Jack. Nothing changed from beginning to end except for a relationship that really has no business working out.
So what lesson is The Nightmare Before Christmas trying to teach? Don’t reach outside your norm? Know your place and stay there? There are no repercussions for your errors? Did Jack learn anything positive from any of this? Did the viewer? Or did an entire generation of goth kids just learn to romanticize a creepy stalker relationship between an entitled egomaniac and an incredibly naïve doll that will literally do whatever he says for the rest of eternity unless she can passive-aggressively find a way out of it?
Tahani Nelson is a “Geek of All Trades.” She’s dabbled in pretty much everything, but holds a special place in her heart (and schedule) for video and tabletop games. Other interests include attending Renaissance Faires and Cons in full dress, practicing calligraphy, writing fantasy novels, discussing comparative philosophy and morality, and apparently listening with a blank smile on her face anytime someone tries to convince her that Magic: The Gathering is as much fun as D&D.