Making the Grades
In the land of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington (voice of Chris Sarandon) is king. Returning from the frivolities of All Hallows' Eve, he is hailed by his fellows because of his abilities to solicit screams and scare up frights. However, the hero's welcome feels hollow for the fleshless character.
Sympathizing with his plight is a rag doll named Sally (voice of Catherine O'Hara). The hand-sewn creation of the abusive Dr. Finkelstein (voice of William Hickey), she too senses an emptiness in her oppressed life. Yet while Sally tries to fill the void with romantic notions about Mr. Skellington, Jack looks for his answers elsewhere.
Wandering aimlessly one night, the long-legged bone rack accidentally stumbles into Christmas Town. Although he doesn't understand the culture, he feels something special in the winter wonderland. Returning to his own realm with trappings in tow, he dissects the trinkets hoping to find the secret. When that fails, he decides to imitate the holiday assuming the spirit of the season will follow suit. He also hatches a plan to ensure Santa (voice of Edward Ivory) won't get in his way.
Enlisting the cooperation of his neighbors, he soon has the whole community making presents, building reindeer and constructing a sleigh. While the locals do their best, they can't help putting a Halloween spin on their handiwork, hence the gifts are ghoulish, the animals mere skeletons and the sled a revamped coffin. Ignoring these shortcomings, Jack dresses like the jolly old elf, and sets out on his midnight ride.
Critically acclaimed, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is the epitome of trick-or-treat with its mix of amazing stop-frame animation and macabre images. His creative world is populated by grotesque creatures, trimmed with a hocus pocus collection of vampires, bats and spiders, littered with bare-boned figures and dismembered body parts, threatened by an evil Oogie Boogie Man, (voice of Ken Page), and decorated with depictions of female victimization, torture and poisoning.
Despite all its craftsmanship, many viewers (especially young children) will likely only see the frightening depictions and the unforgivably cruel treatment of Santa Claus. Families who hold Christmas as a sacred religious occasion may also be horrified by the devilish intrusion on their revered holiday.
Just as Jack Skellington's masquerade fails to provide the warmth and joy he is so jealously seeking, the movie never manages to capture or unmask the magic of the season either. Without this illusive ingredient, the film's mere accomplishment is to put a chilly, nightmare touch on yuletide celebrations.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Nightmare Before Christmas.
What do you think is the magic ingredient that gives Christmas it’s warmth and joy?
In what ways does the character of the town mayor allow the moviemakers to poke fun at political figures? Why do you think they created him with two faces—one on the front and back of his head? What other satirical points do they make?