If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I’ll summarize: in TNBC, Jack Skellington—Pumpkin King and patron saint of making us mortals shit ourselves—has an existential crisis and goes roaming for something fulfilling to wrap his bones in (a premise several bits of Oscar fodder would call a whole movie and cut to credits). It turns out that the something in question is Christmas Town and, discovering Christmas Town, his gut impulse is to take it, make it his own and chuck deuces to anyone who calls him out on his festooned steamroller of narcissism. And just like _____ (insert name of headdressed/dreadlocked/kanji-inked white person of choice) going viral, it blows up in the Pumpkin King’s face. He and his host of skeletal coursers get shot out of the sky. And that’s what it takes for him to understand how severely unentitled he is when it comes to the culture and customs of Christmas Town. Fortunately, being undead and all, he’s able to piece himself back together and save his friends from the gogmagogical mouth his appropriation inadvertently served them up to. Jack learns a lesson about staying in his lane, and Christmas ultimately comes to Halloween Town anyway. Not by hijack or impersonation, but by Santa himself bringing it to them, inviting them into it as appreciants instead of pillagers.
Now, you could say I’m shoehorning a whole jack-o-lantern of ideas into a story that didn’t intend them. And to that I’d say...welcome to fandom, can I get you some more tea? But yeah, that is pretty much what’s going on here (the IRONY). Was The Nightmare Before Christmas conceived as an anti-cultural-appropriation PSA? I think that’s an easy no. But does it shamble and shriek all the same takeaways as a movie that was? Does the Bone Daddy Christmassacre feel any different from Nicki Minaj’s fetishistic “Chun Li” performance on SNL or Justin Bieber wilin’ with his platinum, dingleberry-looking shits? If Halloween Town had social media, you can bet Sally’d be dragging Jack up and down Twitter the minute she warns him he’s slipping and he puts her on suit duty instead of listening.
And that’s the suckerpunch buried inside this movie. The thing’s a sleeper agent of social commentary. Cultural appropriation, while not a new problem, is certainly a more spotlit one today. And I don’t know if there’s another movie out there that dances over its fence posts as elegantly (and accidentally) as The Nightmare Before Christmas does.
Rodney Wilder is a biracial nerd who bellows death-metal verse in Throne of Awful Splendor and writes poetry, with previous work appearing in places like FIYAH and FreezeRay, Poets Reading the News and Words Dance, as well as his newest, nerd-themed collection, Stiltzkin’s Quill. He likes nachos, analogizing things to Pokémon, and getting lost in Oregonian forests with his co-meanderer, Brittany—the Sapphire to his Ruby. Find him on Instagram @thebardofhousewilder.