The nightmare we love! Ho-ho-ho!
Ah, yes. I remember it clearly. ’twas a cold, cold night, sometime in December, 1997, when pimple-faced, almost-twenty-years-old versions of me and my then-best-friends came out of the cinema with mouths agape. When we managed to re-use them, somewhere near a huge, filthy red(ish) Santa with a frozen smile, ’twas to sing: “…this is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween”.
Tim Burton has always been a black sheep – he doesn’t make his movies “like that” to sell, he’s just like that. They knew, at Disney where he worked for a while, that “he was a bit of an odd one”, especially after he’d shown a clear preference for the (admittedly sexier) Evil Witch. Snow White was so pure, but also so… naïve. So, after he completed a live action short, Frankenweenie, they fired him. Little did they know.
After a stream of hugely successful movies (among them Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands), Disney approached him to develop a cinematic version of a children’s Christmas book in rhyme. Soon the thought-to-be-small project, possibly translated to a five to, at most, thirty minute long short film, had transformed into a full formed epic musical unlike anything seen before.
Although his personal style can be seen in every frame of the movie, Burton actually wrote and produced the movie, but it was Henry Selick that gave us the magical imagery of a snowy Halloween Town, where Jack, the Pumpkin King, tries to bring Christmas – by force.
“For I, Jack, The Pumpkin King, have grown all tired of the same ole’ thing”, as he puts it. Jack is bored, tired of doing the same things year after year (after year). And when his misery makes him venture outside Halloween Town, he finds new meaning in life when he stumbles upon a magical entrance to a different land. To the land of Christmas.
There, everyone is seemingly happy (and plump), colorful buzzing lights and candy decorations are the norm and, from what Jack gathers, their “king” is a good’ ol man, dressed in red, with a long white beard, exactly like you know him from the ads of Coca-Cola playing right now on some TV channel. That’s when Jack, jealous of all of it and bored of “all of his”, decides it’s time for a little snow in Halloween (Town).
The poor inhabitants of Halloween Town strive to grasp “the meaning of Christmas”, trying to find parallels to their own world that would help them understand it all. Soon decapitated heads and huge snakes become “gifts”, Santa Claus gets kidnapped and, to put it mildly, all hell breaks loose.
“That’s our job – but we’re not mean, in our town of Halloween…”
Disney was afraid to distribute the film under its own label, thinking it would be too dark for children – and, up to a point, they were right. Mad scientists, doll girlfriends with killer tendencies and a zombie music band do not a kiddie movie make. That was also one of the reasons many-many parents have passed on it, many kids averted their gaze: it seems like a strange beast, “too kiddie” for adults to enjoy, “too adult” for kids that would probably get scared (and scarred) from Jack and Co. But, strange thing, that’s “on paper”.
The actual Selick’s depiction of Burton’s characters, singing to one of Danny Elfman’s (and cinema’s in general) best musical scores, not only “worked”, but is regarded as a masterpiece. An all time classic, with “monsters” so cute that would never manage to actually frighten a child, a movie for all adults who, while growing up, forgot how the actual holidays felt. A funny little, painstakingly animated gothic musical for us all, young and old, that may seem dark at first and sell itself as a “nightmare”, but is actually a dream among the crapathon of fake cinematic (and televised) feel-happiness “they” usually “sell” us just before each new year.
So… “Boys and girls of every age, wouldn’t you like to see something strange?”