The Nightmare Before Christmas: Where Halloween Meets Christmas

“Twas a long time ago, longer now than it seems, in a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams; For the story that you are about to be told took place in the holiday worlds of old.

Now you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun.”

The question “Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or Christmas film?” is probably old hat by now, but as that time of year draws near, I can’t help but continue to wonder when the most appropriate time is to indulge in this annual right of passage.  Even if we asked Burton himself, I doubt we’d come to any kind of unanimous understanding.  It is, I believe, entirely subjective.  If you’ve never seen the film before (shame on you), this piece of narrative will be as useful to you as a pumpkin on Christmas day. It is the quintessential example of “love it or hate it”.  In fact, I will go as far as to forbid you to watch this timeless tale and feel nothing. 

The_Nightmare_Before_Christmas_25184

Twenty one years on and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has lost none of it inherent charm.   One of the few popularised stop-motion pictures of our time, the animation automatically gains “classic” film status.  This aspect of the film, while truly captivating, is purely superficial.  What makes the movie a masterpiece is undoubtedly the singular story at the heart of it.  It is here where you’d imagine we might be able to ascertain the true categorisation of the film:

Enter Jack Skellington, the protagonist and King of Halloween Town.  Adored by his loyal subjects, he struggles to understand why he is unfulfilled.  It seems there’s a hollowness that transcends even beyond his physical pumpkin form. This might best be illustrated by his annual attempt to reinvent himself, which provides the memorable opening to the film.  Unhappy with his latest transformation, we follow Jack to the outskirts of Halloween Town.  As he casually laments in the company of his sidekick Zero (some kind of Ghost dog with a coincidentally bright red nose), he inadvertently stumbles into another seasonal dimension: Christmas Town.  Inspired by curiosity and his own personal crisis, he endeavors to make Christmas his own and bring it to Halloween Town.  With every best intention, the diabolical plan is doomed from the start.  The sleigh is a coffin led by a crew of skeleton reindeer; the presents are wrapped in what only can be assumed to be Beetlejuice’s wallpaper; and the stockings are filled with surprises designed to either scare or ensnare the children of Christmas Town. 

While the story largely takes place in Halloween Town, a grim setting consumed by distinct images of darkness and horror, and the majority of characters in our acquaintance are ghosts and ghouls, the underlying message is warm and fuzzy as opposed to being in any way chilling or bleak, thus laying the foundation of an interesting paradox.

In the end, both Christmas and Halloween triumph.  Santa Claus makes amends for Jack’s disastrous efforts and secures a Merry Christmas for his people, while the message of Halloween prevails as Jack finally comes to terms with his true calling as Pumpkin King.  The final scene depicts this perfectly as we watch the snow fall for the first time on Halloween town and a medley of  “This is Halloween” and “What’s This?”, the two most polarising songs of the film, plays.  It is perhaps in this ambiguity that the real splendour lies.  The film has the ability to cross boundaries and appeal to everyone – or at least almost everyone.  Halloween holiday makers and christmas fans alike can indulge in their seasonal preferences and equally fantasize about concepts of Christmas everyday and a perpetual Halloween.

After having just watched it, I feel suitably excited for both occasions and it seems this wasn’t too far off Burton’s intention.  The 1982 poem on which the film was based was reportedly inspired by the director having witnessed a store replace their Halloween display with a Christmas one, signifying that once Halloween is complete, we’re already in pursuit of the next “thrill”.  His Nightmare Before Christmas grants us rare permission to appreciate and anticipate both events simultaneously and with equal excitement.  Burton becomes both our Bogeyman and Santa Claus all wrapped in one.

So, if you’re feeling particularly Halloweenie, I suggest you turn out the lights and treat yourself to the horrors of Halloween Town and it’s inhabitants.  The eerie scenery and macabre characters truly put the “eek” in freak.   Alternatively, if you’re on the home straight to Christmas, curl up by the fire and indulge in the festive undertones of this delightful feature.  The scene in Christmas Town alone will warm the cockles of even the hardest of hearts (just wait until you hear that snow crunch). Or if like Jack, you need an excuse to occasionally escape to another land, do what I do and watch it all year round.

Advertisements

Cats: The Real Underdogs

0ed1fc212ad095803a986e302b79cc28

I don’t appreciate the question “Are you a dog or cat person?” I love them both and why society demands we choose between the two is beyond me.  There never seems to be any alternative propositions:  No one cares if you prefer goldfish to cats or hamsters to dogs.  Cats and Dogs have been pitted against each other and I believe this has been to the distinct disadvantage of our feline friends.

Cats. They started off on a good foot but something appears to have went wrong for them somewhere along the way (I am of course referring to domestic cats.  With the likes of Simba and Mufasa on their side, “big cats” are, on the whole, considered pretty likable).  The good foot I allude to dates back to Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians adored, revered…even worshiped the traditional house cat.  In fact, it is the Egyptians who are responsible for the domestication of the species.  Not only admired for their grace and poise, their ability to keep vermin at bay made the cat a popular figure in Egyptian culture, evidence of which can still be found today.

Since then, cats have remained an ideal choice of pet and yet, paradoxically, there exists an overall negative opinion of them.  This can range from their supposed indifference and snootiness to being downright evil.  The latter seems to have evolved from the Middle Ages when cats became associated with witches, illustrating just what hanging out with the wrong crowd can do for your reputation.  Was it their fault witches took a shining to them?  If anything, i’m thinking that if witches, callous and cruel by stereotype,  even liked them, then there must be something profoundly endearing about the creatures. Unfortunately, those Medieval folk didn’t share my rationale and the result of the affiliation was CATastrophic.  Cats were murdered en masse, the effect of which ironically extended beyond the species to the perpetrators:  It is thought that had this intolerance not existed, local rodent populations could have been kept down, lessening the spread of the plague epidemic.

Ridiculous superstitions have emerged throughout the centuries, seemingly as a result of this unfortunate association, further entrenching the negative perception of cats.  Let’s take a moment to review a few of these:

  • If a black cat crosses your path, evil and bad luck will fall upon you.
  • Cats suck the life out of newborn babies.
  • Coming across a cat at midnight is seeing Satan himself.
  • If you wake up in the morning and see cats playing, the whole day will be wasted.
  • If a cat leaves its house while a person in the same house is sick and cannot be coaxed   back inside, that person will die.
  • A cat sleeping with all four paws tucked under them means bad weather is coming.

While any (reasonable) individual would deem these beliefs absurd, the sentiment behind them – that cats are in someway evil or malicious – still lingers.  If you consider cats in pop culture, you’ll find the majority of them are, quite frankly, obnoxious, while their common counterparts (domestic dogs) are conveyed as trustworthy, loyal companions.  Take Disney’s  Lady and the Tramp and Cinderella.  The only cats to make an appearance in the former are Si and Am, two troublesome siamese cats whose only purpose in the film is to sabotage Lady, the lovable cocker spaniel.  The latter – Cinderella – firmly establishes the existing juxtaposition between cats and dogs: Bruno the dog represents Cinderella’s doting ally while Lucifer provides the sidekick to the villainous Lady Tremaine.  *Note that the cat is actually named after Satan.

Other popular examples might include Tom and Sylvester (the antagonists to Jerry and Tweety respectively), whose characteristics are ostensibly the same.  The two are depicted as ruthless miscreants, ceaselessly in pursuit of their prey.  They, importantly, never win and are always outwitted by their supposed inferiors, painting a picture of cats as, not only cruel, but unintelligent. 

Even when their characters aren’t in some way “bad”, many possess negative traits.  Sassy from Homeward Bound is shallow and conceited, while her partners in crime, Shadow and Chance (both dogs), are playful and loving; Top Cat, although the protagonist, is a no good gangster; and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland is just an overall pain in the ass. There are of course exceptions, but I would argue that the image one conjures up as a result of these cultural depictions, is that of a villainous, mischievous cat either being stroked by an evil genius or at least wreaking havoc in a small town house.

Indirectly related to the issue of cat stereotyping, is that of the stereotypes surrounding people who like or own cats – namely women.  For some reason, we’re either crazy, single, or in some way slightly unhinged. I realise, that in writing this I will automatically be conceived as a “crazy cat lady”.  I do myself own two cats.  Having grown up with cats my entire life, I am obviously biased, but this bias is based on actual experience as opposed to myths and superstition.  I can in no way identify with the notion that cats are sly, crafty or vicious.  They might not be as jolly as their tail-wagging rivals, but they possess other attributes which are equally favourable such as intelligence, dignity and resilience.  And to those who would say they are indifferent and unaffectionate, I refute that profusely.  My cats cry when left alone, crawl beside me when there’s an opening, and, on occasion, follow me around just for company.  They are no less loving or loyal than dogs and their hearts always seem to be in the right place: for example in the past month, my cat Polka has brought to my doorstep four shrews and at least five birds; I haven’t the heart to tell her that I have absolutely no use for them.

The objective of this narrative was not to take away from dogs, but rather to “give to” cats.  And yes, while they are slowly becoming internet sensations, I believe there is still a sense of reluctance on the part of a lot people to accept them as caring pets. The following video is not intended to show the dog up – but more to highlight the actions of this one particularly brave cat.