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Nightmare Before Christmas, The (1993)

What do you get when you combine a story written by Tim Burton, music by Danny Elfman, and stop-motion animation? This cult classic dark comedy fantasy musical directed by Henry Selick!

Have you ever wondered where holidays come from? The movie begins in a clearing in the woods, where each tree trunk has a door representing a holiday: a turkey for Thanksgiving, a Christmas tree for Christmas, and a Jack-o-Lantern for Halloween. Through each door lies a town where the holiday comes from.

It is Halloween in Halloween Town, and the inhabitants are celebrating with a song about how they love their holiday and their town. To them, Halloween provides the spice of life; everyone needs a good scare once in a while, and the residents of Halloween love to help with that. At the climax of the festivities, we are introduced to our fiery (by which I mean literally on fire) protagonist, Jack Skellington, THE PUMPKIN KING, the ruler of Halloween Town. Like every other year, the Halloween festivities are incredibly successful, but Jack has a secret.
I, Jack, THE PUMPKIN KING, / Have grown so tired of the same old thing.

That’s right – THE PUMPKIN KING is bored! He never has to put any effort into scaring people, because he is easily the best in the business. He no longer derives any pleasure from it. Because of his position in Halloween Town society, he tries to hide his feelings and pretend that nothing is wrong. But he no longer feels like himself and has lost all interest in things that used to make him happy. These are symptoms of depression.

When Jack stumbles upon the holiday clearing in the woods, he accidentally ends up in Christmas Town, where he is delighted by all the new things he sees. For the first time in a while, he is actually interested in something, and he thinks he has found the cure for his depression. The colors and enthusiasm of Christmas Town pull him in and he becomes increasingly obsessed with figuring out where Christmas’s magic comes from. When he can't figure it out, he decides to make Christmas himself this year, using his power in Halloween town to enlist the help of the other inhabitants - including kidnapping “Santy Claws.” What could go wrong?

Meanwhile, Sally, a creation of Halloween Town's resident mad scientist Dr. Finkelstein, understands Jack's depression. She is also bored and in need of stimulation, especially when Dr. Finkelstein tries to keep her locked up because she "can't take so much excitement." Again and again, she escapes from Dr. Finkelstein's grasp - sometimes by removing her own arm.

Sally's story parallels Jack's story in some ways. She understands why Jack feels depressed, but she worries about his growing obsession. Instead of trying to become someone else, he needs to remember who he really is. Taking over Christmas will not help. But no matter how many times Sally tries to warn him, Jack won't listen to her advice. He continues with his plan until the army shoots his coffin-sleigh out of the sky to protect the children from Halloween Town's terrifying presents.

This is when Jack realizes that he has made a huge mistake. He should not have tried to take over someone else's role and someone else's holiday. But while he admits his mistake, he does not get depressed again. After a brief moment of self-pity, he points out that he tried his best and "At least I left some stories they can tell, I did." In other words, he realizes that his actions weren't completely negative, and at least he gave people a memorable Christmas. Then he returns to Halloween Town to free Santa Claus so that Christmas can happen the way it's supposed to. This sequence of emotions demonstrates the best way to cope with failure, something that both children and adults can learn from.

Most importantly, Jack's adventure makes him excited about the next Halloween. Pretending to be someone else has shown him how great it is to be himself. Plus, he has new ideas that he can use next year: this whole adventure has brought his interest and creativity back.

This movie addresses the important psychological issues of depression, pretending to be someone else, and managing negative emotions such as failure. The brilliant storytelling is highlighted by the creative animation and soundtrack choices. For example, the song "Jack's Lament" and its accompanying animation sequence, in which Jack expresses his depression, is depicted in monotone, almost black and white animation with the only light coming from the full moon. When Jack goes to Christmas Town, suddenly both the animation and the music become more lively and colorful.

What a wonderful film that can address such difficult topics through animation and a story about a skeleton.