Tag Archives: Henry Selick

CftC: A Nightmare Before Christmas

 

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a definite fan-favorite in the Tim Burton crowd, as it is arguably what put him on the map in the first place. In this film, there is a special town devoted to each major holiday, and Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, starts to feel bored and existential after one of his celebrations. Doing the same thing year after year no longer fulfills him, and he longs for some new ideas to reinvigorate his holiday spirit.

On a fluke, he comes across the various doorways to the different holiday towns and ends up in Christmas Town. From then on, Jack tries explaining Christmas to his monstrous minions, fails, does some soul-searching, and ultimately decides that he can do Christmas way better than Santa, so he will. He understands the holiday very little in practice or principle, but he enjoys how it makes him feel, so that’s enough for him.

 

It’s basically Cultural Appropriation: The Movie, at least in the overtly negative connotation that term has taken on in recent years. Jack and his people take something of someone else’s, try to make it their own, and don’t even care when the people they affect are clearly upset and unhappy with the situation. As the monsters gather around the town fountain to watch Jack’s journey, they howl with laughter as a news reporter says Jack is “mocking and mangling this joyous holiday.” It also takes Jack forever to figure out that the obviously untrustworthy cohorts of the Boogie Man might be threatening Santa, and only really because he himself screwed things up so fantastically that the only person who could fix his mess is the guy who’s been pulling it off seamlessly for years.

You could also read The Nightmare Before Christmas as nice little jab at certain types of people; either those cotton-headed ninny-muggins who jump on the Christmas bandwagon with no idea what it’s really about, or those humbugs who demand that everyone should celebrate their way. How the denizens of Halloween Town choose to celebrate is fine in the end; after all, to each their own. But forcing it onto other people was a problem, especially given how clueless they were about it.

There is no Jesus or mention of Jesus, and the film focuses more on the giving of presents than the aspect of family togetherness that I personally think Christmas is all about, but hey, it’s a movie made for kids. Nothing is perfect.

 

The score is great and the songs are catchy; even awful ones like “Kidnap the Sandy Claws.” The puppets are creepy but unique and engaging at the same time. The settings are well put together and the use of light and color, particularly during Oogie Boogie’s song, is great. Halloween Town’s grim and grey daytime look lends well to the idea that Jack Skellington feels bored and limited by his surroundings.

 

I only really have three problems with the story. One, why does Jack trust Lock, Shock, and Barrel with such an important task when he hates their boss and clearly knows that they’re bad news? Is he optimistic, or just a well-meaning idiot?

Two: Where do Sally’s premonition powers come from? The visual of a Christmas tree going up in flames is cool and all, but it’s so brief and never gets explained or used ever again. Sally is a perfectly calm, articulate ragdoll-meets-Frankenstein’s-monster creation; couldn’t she have just “gotten a bad feeling about this” like a normal person?

 

And Three: I can buy Sally being obsessed with Jack, given how she constantly stalks him throughout the movie, but I don’t really believe Jack’s interest in her, and I don’t agree that it’s love on other side. Sure, she was the one person who argued with him, and thus could tell him “I told you so,” but otherwise, Jack barely notices Sally. And when he does, he brushes her off until he has to save her. That doesn’t strike me as love, but the end of the film certainly wants you to think so.

 

I don’t know enough about Sally as a character to conclude one way or the other, but at the beginning, her creator says “You’re not ready for so much excitement,” which leads me to believe that she’s a fairly new addition to Halloween Town. Have she and Jack even known each other that long, if this is her first Halloween?

It also smells like some Hallmark marketing exercise. “Do you like Halloween? Do you like Christmas? Well, why not have both at the same time?” It’s guaranteed to be viewed twice a year, if not more, thanks to the incorporation of two major holidays. Plus, it’ll keep Hot Topic in business for an extra decade.

Please don’t mistake me. I don’t have a serious beef with this film. From a romance and plot standpoint, I just personally like Corpse Bride a little bit better. I also think of it more as a Christmas movie than a Halloween movie, as the focus of the whole thing is taking over and preparing for Christmas.

It’s still a fun one to watch every year. Twice, if you feel so inclined. 

 

*6/10

*None of the clips, images, or video in this post belong to me.

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Mother’s Day Special: Coraline

Happy Mother’s Day 2014, everyone!

Being a parent has got to be one of the most thankless jobs out there. For mothers especially. They carry a whole new life inside of them, bring it into the world through no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears, then set about preparing that child for the life ahead of them.

They don’t get paid in money. They get paid in tantrums, dirty diapers, teenage rebellion, and, later, abandonment.

Well, okay…not abandonment. Every kid has to leave at some point. If your kid is living in your basement at forty, it may be time to talk out some new arrangement.

But even after all the insanity mothers go through, they get a wonderful, yet bittersweet gift: the sight of a job well done (hopefully), and the realization that everything has changed. Their babies aren’t their babies anymore. They won’t need them like they used to.

Oh well. Kids are gone! Cruise time, baby! 🙂

That isn’t to say that being a mother was all pain, but it’s no cakewalk, and we kids can be pretty forgetful sometimes. Not ungrateful, but spoiled. We see a very limited, one-sided view of things for a while. We butt heads; moms vs. daughters, sons vs. fathers. Switch it up from time to time, and there you go. That’s a family.

So for today, I’d like to talk about another movie I love. A movie for kids, with a kid protagonist, who learns to appreciate everything, and everyone, that she has. Especially her mother.

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*Note: No, I haven’t read the book yet, so this isn’t a comparison. Maybe someday.

The titular character, Coraline, is a kid from Michigan, whose parents, Charlie and Mel Jones, “write about plants, and (they) hate dirt.” Often busy with their deadlines, they don’t have a lot of time for her, especially as they deal with moving into an old apartment building in Oregon. There’s a lot to get done, and only so much time to do it.

Unimpressed with the rundown apartment and the eccentric neighbors, Coraline grumbles to her parents repeatedly, who, in turn, tell her to go play elsewhere. A bit neglectful, maybe, but they’re doing the best that they can. Kids watching the film will probably miss that, at first, just like Coraline does.

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Mel is the sterner of the two, a woman with a very dry sense of humor, who keeps the family on track with what needs to be done. Charlie is the goofy, inept, but lovable dad, when his face isn’t glued to the computer screen. For the minute or so of screen time that these two get per scene, they offset one another’s personalities very well.

But Mel is clearly the one playing the disciplinarian most often, as we see particularly in one early scene, where Coraline goes behind her back to try and get permission from Charlie so she can garden in the rain and mud.

“What’d the boss say?”

“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, CORALINE JONES!”

“Well then, you won’t need the tools.”

Kids these days, am I right?

Coraline is given a strange doll that bears her likeness, then discovers a small, locked door against the wall of the room.

door

Coraline movie image

What looks to be a passage between the houses, sealed up with bricks by day, is actually a doorway to a parallel world. A place where everything is more fantastical, colorful, and fun, with everything centered on keeping Coraline happy. She meets her “other” parents and neighbors, all with buttons for eyes, and despite being initially uneasy in their presence, thinking she’s in a dream, Coraline warms up to them quickly and realizes that the place is real. As she starts to seek the world out herself, rather than just be summoned to it, she complains more and more that this “other” life is better than her real one.

“But it’s all a trap.”

The world was constructed by a being known as the beldam, or the “other mother,” a witch with the power to transform herself and her world as she likes, ensnaring children so that she can feed and steal their souls. This she does by sewing buttons into the children’s eyes.

Are you having fun yet, kids?
Are you having fun yet, kids?

She’s kind and accommodating at first, telling Coraline that she could stay in this world forever, but only if she accepts the buttons. Coraline denies this and manages to escape, with the help of the spirits of previous trapped children,

More delightful nightmare fuel!
More delightful nightmare fuel!

but discovers that her real parents are gone, stolen away by the other mother. To save them, she returns to the world and challenges the other mother to a game that will save everyone. The ghost children, Mel and Charlie, and Coraline herself.

It’s a kids’ film, so I’m sure you can guess that it ends well, but it’s a very chilling tale nonetheless. I could do a whole other review of it when Halloween rolls around. It’s one of my personal favorites ever.  🙂

But back to mothers.

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Coraline is repeatedly frustrated with her real mother, who in turn feels frustrated with her. Neither person is perfectly happy, and the other is barely helping them with that.

The other person, that is. Not the other mother.

The other mother uses the situation to her advantage, spying through doll eyes to find out what Coraline dislikes and what she can do to improve it. She gets Coraline to forget what she has, and in the end, Coraline realizes how lucky she is to just be alive and safe with her family.

Anything taken for granted will make you regretful when it’s gone.

Coraline is unhappy, viewing everything selfishly like the kid that she is. She’s forced to move away from friends, to a whole new place where everything is broken down and weird, and her parents are snappish and ignorant of her. She doesn’t see that things will get better, that she will adjust to new friends, a new school, and a new life.

At one point, she wants her real mother to buy her a pair of gloves that she takes a liking to, but her mother says no. Coraline was thinking that the gloves would help her stand out in an otherwise boring school uniform, showing off just a little bit of her personality. She wants the gloves, thinking they’ll help ease her transition into a new school, and was sure her mother would buy them for her. It’s gloves after all, not video games or a flat screen t.v.

Now, Mel probably decided to stick to her guns when Coraline was rude and didn’t take no for an answer, but we kids have all had those moments. You know, where parents say no for what seems like no real reason at all. It makes no sense and is so frustrating!

This doesn’t make her a bad person, just shortsighted and young. She doesn’t know all the things that her parents are going through, nor is much of it shown to us, the audience; all of the stress they’re facing, and how much harder she makes things by not cooperating. It doesn’t help that the other mother is spoiling her so she can eventually eat Coraline’s eye-soul.

One of the hardest lessons for a parent to learn is that sometimes, disciplining your children is more important than making them happy. Even if you love them and want to be their friend, you’re a parent first and foremost.

But none of the real members of the Jones family are completely at fault. They’re just victims of the circumstances.

Among the other things that I love about this movie, I love the real feeling of the relationships, the initial (kind of) tragedy of Coraline’s one-sided point of view, and the growth of Coraline as a character, as she rises to the seemingly impossible challenges before her.

Coping with her loss, before she realizes where her parents are.
Coraline coping with her loss, before she finds out where her parents are.

She realizes why she loves and needs her parents (by facing a short time when they aren’t neglectful, but completely gone), feels genuine regret that she wanted to abandon them for a superficial unreality, and even ventures back into her nightmares in order to save them.

And in the end, her efforts are rewarded, but unacknowledged. Her parents don’t remember anything.

*cough cough* Spoliers….not really *cough cough*

Coraline is an inventive, stop-motion puppet horror flick, a cautionary modern fairytale that doubles as a great coming of age adventure. Even if some kids watching the movie don’t see the real-life parallels with their parents, I certainly did. Maybe they are just to busy peeing their pants.

*Note, again: If you are a parent reading this and are trying to decide whether or not to let your kids watch this movie, make sure they are mature enough to handle it. Not old enough, because age can very depending on the kid, but definitely mature enough. It can be plenty nightmarish for crybabies, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t ever be viewed.

If, somehow, I had traipsed off to some fantasy world where everything was sunshine, rainbows, and…buttons, I wouldn’t have grown up at all. And, you know, died.

Kids and adults alike can enjoy this movie, and take away their own unique messages if they pay close attention. There’s a very real danger in shutting yourself out of the real world, staying a child inside for the rest of your life. Fantasies are fine, but not when they rule you.

As a wise wizard from another magical movie once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

So, yeah. Life isn’t always great, and situations aren’t always ideal. People you love will sometimes let you down. We’re all human beings; making mistakes is what we do. I’ll probably make a million with my kids one day.

But Coraline reminded me that bad times don’t last forever, that it’s good to be skeptical (“if it seems too good to be true, it probably is”), and that a life of balance is a happy, healthy one. Be a kid when you’re a kid, and an adult in the proper time.

And maaaaaaaybe my mom may have helped me see that a little bit, too. Maybe even that goofy dad of mine. 🙂 Who knows?

All pictures come from the movie, which is owned by Laika, Pandemonium, and distributed by Focus Features and Universal Pictures.