Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why is The Nightmare Before Christmas so popular?

The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993, at this point it is 21 years old.  If that makes you feel really old, you are not alone.

Yet for how old it is, it also is surprisingly immersed in modern culture.  Admittedly it was back when I was a teenager, 6-10 years ago, that I think Jack Skellington really became so popular.  The store Hot Topic essentially was a shrine to him and the movie for a while.  At this point Hot Topic has moved on, there aren't really very many items related to him anymore.  However hop on over to the Disney Store and you get a different story.   With over 50 products and an entire in park store dedicated to him it becomes clear that Jack Skellington still hasn't moved beyond his heyday.

Therefore we get to the question of why?  Why has The Nightmare Before Christmas become so all encompassing?  When similar movies such as The Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie have all but faded from our collective memories despite being so much more recent.

Well there does seem to be a strong correlation in how involved Tim Burton is with each of these projects and how successful it is.  When it comes to The Nightmare Before Christmas despite it being called "Tim Burton's" in all the advertisements it becomes clear upon doing any research that he wasn't that involved in the process.  Henry Selick was the director of the movie, Tim Burton was actually busy directing Batman Returns and Ed Wood at the time.  Tim Burton originally wrote a three page poem that the script was eventually based on and helped Danny Elfman write most of the lyrics.  After that he just put the players in place and left.  Tim Burton absolutely deserves credit for putting the team together and the original idea, but after that he's described as occasionally visiting the project and never for very long.

He sure does like to be seen as though he was involved doesn't he...

Corpse Bride and Frankeweenie however are both directed by Tim Burton, Corpse Bride was also co-directed by Mike Johnson.  Directing stop motion animation is time consuming in a way I think only archaeologists can really understand.  It takes a special brain to successfully direct a movie that is coming together in tiniest of pieces at the slowest of paces.  I conjecture that Tim Burton, talented though I think he is, does not have that special brain on board.

Then there is the simple matter of the story.  Jack Skellington's story is relatable in a way that is almost clandestine.  He's bored, he thinks he might want to do something else with his life, but he's afraid to let people down, while at the same he question when is he allowed to do something that's just for him.  Jack Skellington commits a selfish act in a way most people are guilty of committing at some point in their life.  Essentially he had a life crisis, typically associated with mid life, but in reality that crisis happens to everyone at almost any age.  I think teenagers are pretty much in that crisis all the time, hence why Jack Skellington is so popular in that age group.  It's also common for people in college, how many people switched majors at least once?  Lastly grown ups have this crisis as well, if you're in a career you will at some point question if it is really what you want to do.

However, the jewel of the story is this, Jack does the selfish act and tries something else and the end no real consequences are had, in fact Jack's life becomes much improved due to the celebration of Christmas coming to Halloweentown.  He also rediscovers his love for his life's work, scaring people.  This is the ideal ending for a life crisis and I think what everyone secretly hopes will happen when they go through such a life crisis.

Corpse Bride and Frankeweenie however do not have relatable stories on board.  Sure they're good fun, but the pacing is rushed and story just comes off as silly and unlikely.  As opposed to The Nightmare Before Christmas which is the same length as the other two and yet the story seems epic and phantasmagorical.

It's possibly that Jack Skellington and his story was nothing more than a fluke, a mix of the right people with the right script that just happened by chance.  Whether it was due more to chance than anything else or if it was due to hard work and talent it's still an amazing movie which I highly recommend everyone checking out.

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