In the past decade, the 1993 movie The Nightmare Before Christmas has enjoyed a monster resurgence. Not only has the fanbase for the film helped bring sacks full of merch to retailers and theme parks but attraction overlays featuring Nightmare characters are also now staples at the Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Resorts — heck, Oogie Boogie even headlines Disney California Adventure’s fall parties. Of course, while the popularity of The Nightmare Before Christmas has grown, one major question has persisted: is it a Halloween film or a Christmas one?
It turns out that some of our staffers have differing opinions on this matter. We’ll start off with Kyle, arguing that it is indeed a Halloween film, followed by Cole who lays our why it should really be considered a Christmas classic.
The idea of The Nightmare Before Christmas is that it shows what happens when two holidays collide. However, it’s always been pretty clear which of those two holidays has been favored in the film’s marketing and legacy: Halloween. It’s undeniable that the tone and content of the film lend themselves much more to the macabre vibes of October than cheery feel-good December. This is further proven by the fact that the version of Christmas on display is a warped and distorted one. So while the winter holiday may technically have a role, its influence is really limited to the title. At the end of the day, while some Christmas elements might be able to sneak their way into Halloween and make this appropriate seasonal viewing, the reverse is hardly true.
Well, Kyle, I can’t deny that Halloween plays a huge role in the film, especially in its tones. With a filmmaker like Tim Burton, who is known for this type of style working on the film, it’s no surprise that the movie feels this way. But what I think is most important to remember is the reverence that the film has for Christmas. Throughout the entire course of the film, we find Jack Skellington drifting further and further away from the holiday that he has lived in throughout his entire life. In a way, Jack represents the common person who becomes tired of the Halloween season and focuses on something bigger and better, Christmas. It’s the filmmakers’ way of showing that the movie is more than just a Halloween movie but something that really encompasses the most popular holiday in the world.
Sidenote: I always think it’s funny how people refer to this strictly as a Tim Burton film when he didn’t even direct it (not that you implied he did). Anyway, while the filmmakers may have been giving props to the glory of Christmas in their messaging, the marketing is irrefutably on my side. The Nightmare Before Christmas was released on October 13th, 1993. This is way too early for a Christmas film but right on time for a Halloween picture… although I suppose July of that year was also considered viable for Halloween films for whatever reason.
Also, in more recent years, Nightmare’s rerelease has become a staple during the month of — you guessed it — October. So while the people behind the movie may have thought they were toeing the line between the two or even leaning into Christmas territory, the masses would suggest otherwise.
Ah, what a sly Hocus Pocus reference you threw in there. Yes, Disney may market it on the Halloween side, but in what is probably the most visible endorsement for the film, Haunted Mansion Holiday, the focus is primarily on Christmas. It does skew towards a more devious version of Christmas than what we typically see, but it is hard to deny that the main focus of the attraction is how the residents of Halloweentown fully embraced Christmas. Just looking at the facade: there is Santa’s list, wreaths, garland and even Jack dressed as Sandy Claws, just like he is in the attraction itself. Plus, there is a unique, hand-crafted gingerbread house every year which just seems Christmas.
When I was younger I didn’t watch The Nightmare Before Christmas very often, but I did ride the attraction each and every holiday season, and I definitely found myself more drawn to it during Christmastime. As the most visible “marketing” that Disney does for the film, it’s hard to deny how Christmas centric this overlay is.
Haunted Mansion Holiday is a terrific attraction and its Disneyland presence during both Halloween Time and Christmas is pretty darn perfect, to be sure. However, this extended appearance has less to do with its appropriateness for the latter holiday and much more to do with the fact that putting that amount of effort and detail into an overlay that will only last for a month would be a huge financial waste — not to mention force another closure just as crowds are picking up in November. I will give you that the ride has some Christmas charm such as the delightful gingerbread scent, but that’s the attraction and we’re arguing about the movie itself.
Ultimately, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie because it comes from the perspective of Halloweentown residents. If it were the other way around and suddenly Santa was all in on ghouls and goblins, I could still see it being a winter classic. But, for the film it is, it belongs in the fall.
It belongs in the fall you say. Well, riddle me this, the Christmas season actually takes place primarily in the fall, with only December 21-25 actually residing in the winter. So, yes, I agree the fall is the perfect time to watch the film — right in time for Christmas!
In all actuality though, I think the perfect time to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas is today, Halloween itself. It serves as the ideal bridge to end the Halloween season and prepare people for all of the Christmas goodies that are soon to come. But I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on whether The Nightmare Before Christmas belongs with Halloween or Christmas.