The year is 1993: The first-ever Beanie Babies went on the market. The Backstreet Boys were formed. And probably my favorite memory from that year: One of the best holiday movies of all time, The Nightmare Before Christmas, came out that October.
As a millennial, I remember watching the offbeat Disney film in my childhood — not only around Halloween and Christmas but pretty much year-round. Even as a teen (and someone too scared to watch ’90s horror movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer), the film continued to be my go-to. Since it’s officially been 30 years since the movie was released, I decided to rewatch it as an adult and see how it stacks up years later.
Some of the scenes were creepier than I realized as a kid.
The best example of this is the song “Kidnap The Sandy Claws.” When Jack Skellington asks Lock, Shock, and Barrel (the mischievous trick-or-treaters who serve as villain Oogie Boogie’s henchmen) to kidnap “Sandy Claws” (aka Santa), they start singing about how they will accomplish this task.
While I was very familiar with the tune of this song, I hadn’t listened to the lyrics carefully enough to realize it gives excruciating details about how the trick-or-treaters will torture “Sandy Claws.” Some of the most graphic lines: “Let’s pop him in a boiling pot, and when he’s done, we’ll butter him up.” “Throw him in a box. Bury him for 90 years, then see if he talks.” “Beat him with a stick.” “Chop him into bits.” It’s like something straight out of a true-crime documentary.
Also, while we’re on the topic, can we talk about the scene where Jack breaks into people’s homes pretending to be Santa and leaves them toys that are attacking them? I didn’t fully grasp the creepiness of the situation as a kid, but I find it pretty terrifying as an adult.
I have so much more respect and appreciation for Sally’s character.
After rewatching the movie recently, I consider Sally to be the strongest character in the movie by far. Even though she is constantly berated by Dr. Finkelstein, the scientist who created her, she doesn’t let these comments bring her down.
For example, Finkelstein calls her a “foolish oaf” and tells her, “You’re mine.” Yet Sally proves she is smart, clever, and resilient. She successfully escapes from Finkelstein by tricking him into drinking poisoned soup. She attempts to save Santa from Oogie Boogie’s lair as she distracts the villain with her disassembled leg while untying Santa. (She unfortunately gets captured too, but the ploy was still genius.) And after she jumps out of Finkelstein’s tower and her limbs fall off, she quickly sews them back together and gets right back up.
She also stands up for her beliefs, even when it’s an unpopular opinion. After she sees a vision of a Christmas tree burning, she tries everything she can to stop Jack from taking over Christmas, even though everyone else in Halloween Town is following him mindlessly.
Jack is a bit of a narcissist.
I couldn’t help but notice that Jack is self-focused, entitled, arrogant, and wants to be admired. In one of Jack’s songs, he boasts, “I excel without ever even trying with the slightest little effort of my ghost-like charms.” Yet he’s bored, so he decides to take over someone else’s holiday. He thinks he knows best and doesn’t listen when Sally tries to warn him that it will be a disaster.
He critiques the others in Halloween Town that they are doing Christmas wrong, even though he doesn’t understand it himself. He is convinced that Christmas should belong to him and that he will improve it — and then ends up creating a huge mess of the holiday.
It’s not until the end of the movie, after he’s shot down from the sky after ruining Christmas, that he realizes he needs to apologize to Santa and set things right.
Some references completely went over my head as a kid.
As a kid, I didn’t understand the satire of the Mayor of Halloween Town. He is literally a “two-faced” politician (with a happy face on one side of his head and a worried face on the other). He relies on Jack to make all of the decisions, and at one point, he even says, “I’m only an elected official here. I can’t make decisions by myself.”
I also didn’t pick up on Oogie Boogie calling himself a “gambling boogie man” and that his lair is casino-themed. He has a roulette wheel, dice (with snakes crawling out of them when he rolls “snake eyes”), and playing cards with swords — all of which he uses to gamble on lives.
There’s a reason this classic is still loved 30 years later.
It’s no surprise The Nightmare Before Christmas was nominated for an Oscar and has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a Disney and a holiday movie unlike any other, with a dark twist on Halloween and Christmas. It’s a masterpiece in stop-motion animation. The characters are intriguing, and the music is catchy and well done. And it really is for people of all ages — although I must admit, I appreciated the nuances even more as an adult.