Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a holiday movie or a Halloween movie? Any film fan out there has more than likely come across this age-old debate. Since its release in 1993, the Tim Burton classic, directed by Henry Selick, has been the constant subject of seasonal speculation, with film fans unable to agree as to whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is one for a cosy, festive night in or a fun-filled spook-fest on the 31st.
While taking place in a Halloween inspired setting, at first glance, the themes of this movie seems to be overtly Christmassy, with only the first 11 minutes of the movie taking place on October 31st, while the remaining 58 minutes focus entirely on the lead up to December 25th.
That said, though, this Christmas run-up set in the dreary yet quirky scape of Halloween Town is laden with macabre and suitably Halloween-esque themes and visuals. So much so that Disney decided to release the movie through Touchstone pictures due to fears that some of the more graphic imagery, alongside the charmingly creepy stop-motion aesthetic, would be too dark and scary for Disney to release under their family-friendly branding. A little odd as we know that Disney aren’t above releasing some vividly sinister imagery of their own (particularly in the early days), but there it is.
Danny Elfman’s iconic Nightmare score also plays into a similar format. While at first glance, it strikes us as being overtly festive, most of it is plot-driven and is rife with haunting minor keys and melodic dissonance to suit the scary setting of Halloween town and its inhabitants. The only song that focuses solely on the warmth of Christmas is the sixth number in the soundtrack, What’s This?. Even the upbeat tune, Making Christmas, is, when you listen, actually a song about thievery set to the haunting tone of a mischievous tune, accompanied with dark lyrical descriptions and eerie imagery.
Even the title in itself references the Christmas-themed poem The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. However, with the simple shift of Night to Nightmare, this nod to the fluffy, sugar-plum fairy feeling one gets from Moore’s classic Christmas poem gives a sudden sinister twist.
On a personal note, I have always seen this film as a Christmas film told through a different lens, in a world where the former celebration dominates the latter as opposed to vice versa; essentially a Christmas movie for people who love Halloween.
However, director, Henry Selick, and composer, Danny Elfman, would more than likely contest this view, both of whom claim that it is, without a doubt, a Halloween movie.
But there are still many things that could call any sort of definitive answer into question; the origins of the story, for example.
Based on a poem written by Tim Burton in 1982, Burton claims that inspiration for the story hit him when seeing a Halloween display in a shop window being taken down in place of a Christmas, the sight of which he states got his creative juices flowing.
So given the story’s origins, one could even go so far that it’s neither; that could be a transitional movie, a fun pick-me-up for the dark and cold stretch between Christmas and Halloween.
What’s your take on this nearly three-decade-old argument? When do you like to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!