The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton

Topics: Halloween

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is not only a great commercial success, but also the first stop-motion classic pops up from the theater screen. The movie becomes classic because of its charming character design, a timeless quality of stop-motion animation, enchanting music scores and an unforgettable story. The film is in a three-act dramatic structure, it divides the plot into three parts and moves the story with causality and dramatic logic.

The story is also in a circular structure, where the protagonist will return to his place after experiencing a series of event that makes him change or becomes a different man.

In the first act, it set up the 3-act structure, the film starts with the song, “This is Halloween” and uses it to introduce the uncanny Halloween Town.

The song begins with a shot of a Jack-o’-lantern scarecrow hanging in darkness, which is also the first human-form-like character we saw. The camera then moves along different places with the song, providing the viewers a brief look of the town.

We saw different Halloween monsters were hailing and welcoming the return of the Pumpkin King.

In the last part of the song, the camera moves back the Jack-o’-lantern scarecrow. The scarecrow ignites himself in flame and jumps into the fountain. Every resident silence, only two kids are still singing, a tall skeleton, who is in a black pinstripe suit raises up. Everyone cheers again, and the story has its protagonist, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon and Danny Elfman).

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In this scene, we were also introduced to Sally (Catherine O’Hara), the protagonist of B-story of this film, who was worrying about and in love with Jack. Back to Jack, he is surrounded by a bunch of residents passionately, glorying his talent of terrifying boys and girls. Everyone appearances so excited for the next Halloween, although they have just finished one, including Jack.

However, in the next scene, we saw Jack sneaks away from the crowd and replies James, the saxophone player’s praise with, “I guess so. Just like last year, and the year before, and the year before.” Following Jack’s step to the Graveyard, Jack sings his lament, brings out the catalyst, which moves the story with causality. Jack starts with mentioning his talent of squeezing screams out, then tells that he is tired of doing that year after year. Also, as he is the king of the town, he cannot confess his tediousness of Halloween to any others. Because of that, Jack begins feeling empty, no matter how much fame he has gained, and he wants some changes in his repeating life. After hearing Jack’s singing, with Sally, we learn the true Jack and understand Jack’s pain as Sally does.

Then, Jack enters and walks through the Hinterlands with Zero unconsciously, he reaches the doors to other Holiday Worlds, which he has never been to before. Jack is attracted by those doors, especially for the one that is Christmas tree shaped and decorated with colorful ornaments. He opens the door and gets pulled inside. Jack fells on a snow mountain of the Christmas Town, giving him a long view of the town, and here is the first plot point. Jack travels around the town and amused by the difference between what he sees and where he lives. He feels a warm coming from inside and this place is filling up his emptiness. He is curious and ambitious about the joy of Christmas and he wants to own one himself.

After Jack returns to the Halloween Town, he calls out a town meeting. He shares and explains his finding on Christmas. Although every resident is excited after Jack’s speech, none of them understand the idea of Christmas, instead, they mix it up with Halloween, neither does Jack. The second act develops the A-story to introduce the conflict between Jack’s Christmas and a true Christmas. It builds suspense through showing what is happening wrong on Jack’s Christmas, to keep the viewers questioning on their seats. Will Jack’s Christmas bring joys or fear? Will he succeed? Or get into trouble at last?

Will Jack’s desire be fulfilled after Christmas? Act Two begins with Jack puzzling on the idea of Christmas. He reads the Christmas stories and rhymes for many times, but he still has not found out the reason for the joys of Christmas. Then, Jack starts thinking of trying out with the scientific method. He experiments Christmas ornaments and candies. They give out an interesting reaction; however, it does not help on Jack’s questions.

At the same time, Sally runs away from her creator and sends Jack late-night snacks. They gaze to each other for one second, then Sally turns away, sit behind the gate. She picks up a Forget-Me-Not flower, plucks the petals off. The flower suddenly transforms into a Christmas tree and burns to ash. It visioned that Jack’s Christmas is going to fail.After frustrating for a whole night obsessively, Jack finally draws his conclusion. He believes that Christmas is not as tricky as he thought and Christmas should belong to anyone. Jack surrounds an electric chair with Christmas lights and calls that a “Christmas tree”. Jack declares that he is not only able to handle Christmas but also can make it better.

He opens the window, announces that the upcoming Christmas will be theirs. At this point, Jack has reached the mid-point of the story, where there is no return for his decision. And with the burning Christmas tree and Jack’s attitude, we know that Jack will be in trouble.The next scene is Jack assigning different jobs to the residents. He summons the Boogie’s Boys and appoints them to kidnap the “Sandy Claws”.

He also emphasizes that Oogie Boogie (Ken Page) must not involve in it. The Boogie’s Boys answer with crossed fingers, which means they are lying. The Boys leave the town hall, go back to their treehouse, prepare for their mission and inform Oogie that there will be a “Sandy Claws” for him. Oogie cackles in the shadow, and the film now has him as a potential antagonist.Camera throws back to town hall, Jack is demonstrating the melody of “Jingle Bells” to the town band, the town band performs one in off-key, but Jack appreciates as fantastic. Then it comes to Sally’s assignment, Jack asks for her help on making his Santa outfit. Sally tries to reject and stop Jack through telling Jack the vision she had on Christmas, but Jack denies and tells Sally, “Just follow the pattern.” and “Don’t be modest.” Sally knows Christmas is a mistake, but she cannot refuse Jack’s order, as she loves him and his charisma.

Outside the town hall, the monsters are preparing for Christmas in their own style. Little boys pack a broken toy car and beheaded doll as gifts. The vampires paint a creepy toy duck that can move and wraps up presents with spider legs. Wolfman and devil are making a scary teddy with a chain and saw. Feeding a python with skulls represents filling socks with candies. Jack uses a coffin as his Santa’s sleigh and draws it with skeletal reindeers. These shots are compared with the preparation in Christmas Town. Though looking at how the elves are working on their business, it shows the differences in Jack’s Christmas and foresees that will be a disaster.

In the morning of Christmas Eve, Sally tries to convince Jack to give up again while she is making his outfit, but Jack is still insisting on his belief. At the same time, the Boogie’s Boys come back with Santa Claus, here it shows the misunderstanding of Jack on Christmas, through finding out “Sandy Claws” have no claws. Jack takes away Santa’s hat and asks the Boys to make him comfortable. Instead, the Boogie’s Boys did not follow the order, they take Santa back to the tree house and send him to Oogie Boogie. Oogie enjoys risking others’ lives and he is going to danger Santa’s life, which makes him evil and becomes the antagonist.Next, when the sleigh is prepared to take off, Sally pours a complete pot of Fog Juice into the fountain, which is her last chance to stop Jack.

A heavy fog is surrounding everywhere of the Halloween Town, blocking the reindeers’ vision. When Jack’s dream is about to vanish, Zero barks around Jack with his nose glowing. He finds that Zero could have lightened their way, he assigns Zero to go to the head of the reindeers and leads their way. With Zero’s help, Jack successfully takes off, leaving Sally herself looking at his back and worrying about him.Jack flies over the sky in his sleigh to the human world, starts doing his Santa job. He gives presents that will attack and freak out the kids and their parents.

He takes the sound of scream comes out after his visit is an appearance of joyful like Halloween does, and he replies them, “Merry Christmas!” Many reports on attacked by Christmas toys are reported, the police department decides to take down Jack with military forces. Although the whole Halloween Town is watching and listening to a live stream of Jack in the human world, they are too excited to hear the screams, only Sally notices that Jack is in trouble. Therefore, she goes to Oogie’s lair alone and tries to rescue Santa Claus. Unfortunately, her plan does not work out, she gets discovered by Oogie and captured herself.Then, the story moves to the point of All-Is-Lost, which is the lowest point of the protagonist. Jack is aimed and blew up by the military with Christmas together.

He falls down on a cemetery, lies on the hands of an angel statue. He looks around the wreckage of his sleigh, feeling guilty for the chaos he has made. After Jack reflecting himself, he feels the old him is back, he rips off his Santa outfit and calls himself the Pumpkin King, a name he bored with in the beginning. Jack then travels back to Halloween Town, hoping that there still time to correct his fault in the last act.Act Three, it begins with Oogie Boogie rolling the dice to determine the death of Sally and Santa.

This is the second plot point that speeds up the story and creates suspense to the climax. We follow Jack’s paces, running from the Hinterlands until Jack hears Sally’s cry in Oogie’s lair. Jack sneaks in and surprises Oogie. Oogie tries to plot against Jack with his torture devices, but he fails. Jack ingeniously dodges all of his tricks and heads to him.

Oogie plans to escape but he, unfortunately, leaves a thread of him on the device. Jack pulls the thread, tears Oogie’s sack apart from his bugs. The bugs fall and get burnt in the lava pit, ending Oogie’s life with the climax. In the falling action, Jack returns Santa his hat and apologize for what he has done. Santa remains Jack there is someone make sense and worth listen around him before he goes to fix Christmas. Jack asks Sally why is she here, and realizes her heart. While Jack is trying to say something, a spotlight spots on and interrupts them.

The film ends with the resolution, where Jack goes back to town safely and gloried by the residents. During the celebration of Jack’s return, Santa brings snow to the Halloween Town, provides them a real Christmas and makes Jack’s dream comes true. Jack realizes that someone who understands him is what missing from his life. He follows Sally to the Graveyard, confesses his feeling on her. Jack holds Sally in his arms and kisses in the end. The theme of this film is “Stay as yourself and be patient.” The plot contributed to the theme with its circular structure. The protagonist, Jack at first thought he felt empty because of his repeating life.

Therefore, when he first visited Christmas Town, a place which is completely different from where he used to, he found infinite of ambitious and curiosity grew inside him. He found obsessed with owning a Christmas himself, even though he does not understand it. However, after he tried and failed, he realized what he needs is not Christmas. It is Sally, someone who was always by his side and cares about him, which he had never thought of before. At last, although he went back to his old life, he got his empty heart filled because he had found the one and the only one of his life.

The film also used Jack’s Christmas as an object lesson of the theme. In Jack’s Christmas, we saw that doing something we are not used to or understand could have brought into a chaos. And no matter how hard you are trying to change, it will still be worse than the present. Just like Santa Jack ended up in flame and dust. Therefore, we should stay still and wait for the only one of our life.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton. (2021, Dec 31). Retrieved from

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