Is Nightmare Before Christmas Really That Great?
October 4, 2016
(The Nostalgia-Ween 2016 opening is set to the opening of Gravity Falls with Malcolm as Dipper, Tamara as Mabel, Nostalgia Critic as Grunkle Stan, Aiyanna Wade as Wendy and Bryan Porter as Soos. After the opening, we see NC in his room, wearing his Nostalgia-Ween jacket from the last year)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. And welcome to the first week of Nostalgia-Ween! And you know what that means: you look around in all the stores and what do you see since...
(A poster with an image of a skeleton on it and reading "September 12th - 18th - 7 weeks till Halloween" is shown)
NC (vo): October–
NC: (rolls eyes) September? Halloween! And also a little bit of–
NC (vo): Oh, come on!
NC: Okay, okay, stay focused. (rolls eyes) Unlike retail stores.
(An image of various Halloween decorations in a store is shown. "Calm" by Silent Partner plays in the background throughout)
NC (vo): That means certain things are gonna be out and about: witches, bats, spiders, monsters, and, of course...
(Cut to a shot of a display of decorations based on...)
NC (vo): ...The Nightmare Before Christmas. Hell, they practically have their own section.
NC: Why? Because it's become a staple of the holiday.
(Cut to a shot of someone's bedroom, whose bed is covered with Nightmare paraphernalia)
NC (vo): Everybody immediately goes to this imagery when selling Halloween merchandise.
(Cut to a shot of child-friendly images of classic Halloween characters: Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, a ghost, and a witch silhouetted against a moon, all looking at a jack-o-lantern)
NC (vo): Even more than popular horror films and sometimes even classic horror films.
(Cut to a store shelf full of Nightmare merchandise)
NC (vo): Kids are now growing up, looking at Jack Skellington, Sally, Oogie Boogie and so forth before they even see the movie.
(Cut to a shot of a Dracula Inlaid Picture Puzzle)
NC (vo): It's like seeing Dracula everywhere before you even see the movie Dracula; it's kind of become a phenomenon.
NC: Even Disney theme parks change their...
(Clips of the Haunted Mansion Holiday, a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion for the holidays, is shown)
NC (vo): ...Haunted Mansion ride to the Nightmare Before Christmas ride. And on top of that, they do it around Halloween and Christmas. That's no small feat, that takes a lot of work! It's crazy how popular this film is!
NC: Which is why it's funny when someone who hasn't seen the film finally...
(Cut to footage of the actual movie)
NC (vo): ...checks it out after all that buildup. What's usually their response?
NC: (looks around in confusion) "Uhhhhh... that was..." (long pause)
NC (vo): You all know what I'm talking about. Heck, maybe you're one of these people that experienced it: someone who saw Nightmare Before Christmas, thinking it was gonna be amazing, and discovering something... not awful, but... not what you expected. As its popularity grows more and more, so does the crowd of people with question marks over their heads that just don't understand it at all.
NC: So, like a lot of these people, I have to ask the question, "Is Nightmare Before Christmas really that great?"
NC (vo): So many people, year after year, shrug in confusion about why this film is as popular as it is. Is it something they're missing, or is it another case of nostalgia goggles clouding an idea that wasn't anything that special?
NC: Well, the first thing to keep in mind is, unlike a lot of other popular films that many people claim are overhyped, this one didn't start out as a hit.
NC (vo): That is to say, it wasn't a failure, either; it did... all right at the box office. But the reaction most people had when they first saw it was similar to what many people have today...
NC (vo): Part of the reason for that back then is actually kind of the reason today. (posters for Kubo and the Two Strings, Finding Dory and The Lego Movie are shown) Animated films have come a long, long way.
NC (vo): This was the time when Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mask of the Phantasm, and many other films were upping the ante on how mature animated films could be.
NC (vo): TV was following the same pattern: many of them were trying to entertain adults as well as children. And like I said, you could argue that films and TV are doing that even today.
(Cut back to Nightmare)
NC (vo): Which is why something like Nightmare doesn't seem to fit the mold. It's not an especially grown-up story with grown-up writing or grown-up humor. It's actually super simple. Jack Skellington, the ruler of Halloween Land, wants to take over Christmas so he can do something new. So he learns to appreciate what he has. Well, okay, that sounds fine for a little child, but why is it still being seen on...
(A montage of Nightmare merchandise is shown: a woman's t-shirt, a package of shot glasses, a backpack)
NC (vo): ...clothes, shot glasses, and other adult merchandise?
NC: If it doesn't seem very adult, how come adults are eating it up?
NC (vo): Well, maybe part of it is that the idea is unbelievably creative and invites you into an unbelievably creative world, and on top of that, simplifies what is essentially kind of a hard concept to explain: holidays having their own world and such. Yet it explains it in a way that everybody can understand. That's kind of tricky to do.
NC: (waving dismissively) But big deal, so it executes an idea very well; that doesn't necessarily mean it has deep or engaging characters.
NC (vo): The dialogue from this movie is beyond basic.
Dr. Finkelstein: (to Jack) Curiosity killed the cat, you know.
Jack: I know.
NC: (confused) How long did it take you to write that one?
NC (vo): But in trying to understand why people could possibly enjoy that kind of writing, can you think of other films and shorts that had similar writing?
NC: Immediately what comes to my head are holiday classics like...
(Cut to a shot of the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
NC (vo): ...The Grinch...
(Cut to a shot of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown)
NC (vo): ...Charlie Brown...
(Cut to a shot of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)
NC (vo): ...the Rankin/Bass stuff, and so forth...
(Cut to a shot of A Charlie Brown Christmas)
NC (vo): ...all specials that have that kind of cheap quality to them, but also a strange kind of honesty.
(Cut to another shot of The Grinch)
NC (vo): There's a sense that they tried to keep it simple because they don't want to lose the special feeling of the holiday.
(Cut to a shot of a DVD cover of the various Rankin/Bass Christmas specials: Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman)
NC (vo): In all these specials, the holiday is what's at the forefront, even before the characters and story. That's always the number-one focus, and that's why we always watch them around this time of year.
(Cut back to Nightmare)
NC (vo): This one is very similar, except unlike the others, it does it with two holidays. And on top of that, they're two holidays that are so polar opposite, you'd think never to combine them together. But they did, and they mesh surprisingly well, in that... they're not supposed to mesh well.
(Cut to another shot of a store with Halloween decorations lining one aisle and Christmas decorations lining another, across from each other)
NC (vo): Again, a message that should be made very clear.
(Cut back to Nightmare)
NC (vo): But as you can see, it's such a weird, complicated setup that almost has to be kept simple. These kinds of specials hold up because the words and ideas they use are brief and short, but also important. People seem to appreciate both holidays here because it shows what happens if they were to be mixed together, so it teaches you to appreciate everything in its own unique way one at a time. But truthfully, that's not the only lesson; it's also about not taking something for granted and appreciating the simple joys of what you have. Again, simple joys, many great stories about simple joys are told in simple ways, and this one is no exception. It doesn't constantly explain the meaning of the holiday, it just lets you experience it. Even Jack obsesses over what the meaning of Christmas is, and then he realizes, it can't be explained, it just has to be felt.
Jack: (singing) Just because I cannot see it, doesn't mean I can't believe it!
NC (vo): And everything, from the breathtaking visuals to the catchy-as-hell songs to the very-easy-to-grasp characters, reflect that.
NC: A good example of something similar is Batman.
(A montage of images of Batman comics are shown)
NC (vo): This character has been around for years and has been represented as both complex and simple, but it comes from a place everyone can understand: Bruce Wayne lost his parents and he wants revenge. It's such a simple idea you get right away...
NC (vo): ...yet there's been so many variations of it, some childishly light, some disturbingly dark.
NC: Nightmare Before Christmas is one of those ideas that could and, in some respects, is being retold.
(Cut to a montage of live versions of the film: stage plays, concerts, etc.)
NC (vo): It's one of a kind, but there can also be variations. There are plays, concerts and musicals that all give their unique spin on the source material.
(Cut to a shot of the movie poster)
NC (vo): Heck, maybe years from now, we'll get variations even more different than the ones we're used to.
(Cut to a piece of fan art showing Jack and Oogie Boogie together in Christmas attire)
NC (vo): Maybe there will be ones with more adult jokes, more complex ideas, and more twists and turns.
NC: It can do this, because it comes from a very simple yet identifiable source.
NC (vo): I think that's what people relate to in the story, not just the creativity of it, but the simplicity of it. This is a movie that is very basic, but so is Rudolph and Christmas Carol and Great Pumpkin. These are stories that anyone of any language can understand and enjoy. So while it's very easy to see why someone wouldn't get into something so seemingly simple, it's also very easy to see how someone would.
NC (vo): Not only has this given birth to a new movement of creepy stop-motion movies for kids that are still being made years later, but they're allowed to tell stories that can be timeless and not have to throw in catch phrases to get a crowd.
NC: This, is where a lot of that started.
NC (vo): And even though it clearly took influence from several other holiday specials, it's still its own unique vision. You take any still from this movie and nobody will mistake it for Grinch or Frosty or anything like that. They immediately know it's Nightmare Before Christmas. That's how strong an impact it has; any frame is immediately recognizable. So, even though it's not super-funny or super-dramatic or super-surprising, that was never really its purpose. The purpose was to create something simple but amazing, small but impressive, weird but easy to follow. It stimulates the imagination in a way everyone can understand and in some way relate to.
NC: So, while it will never be a masterpiece to everyone, it'll still be a beacon of imagination for many of us.
NC (vo): It's a symbol of Halloween that gets people excited...
(Cut to some shots of a store, with Nightmare merchandise on the shelves)
NC (vo): ...because when Jack, Sally, Zero, or any other creepy resident of Halloween Land are seen, it's a clear sign that the coolest holiday is right around the corner.
(Cut back to Nightmare itself)
NC (vo): And you can bet that every person who enjoys the holiday will be singing, "This Is Halloween".
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic, and Nostalgia-Ween has just begun!
(He cackles maniacally while shaking his hands and rocking back and forth in his chair, as lightning flashes and the sound of thunder is heard; he then pauses awkwardly before getting out his chair and leaving)