What’s This? Celebrating 25 Years of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas #4: Sandy Claws

For a movie called “The Nightmare Before Christmas” the story spends very little time developing Christmas town and the jolly old elf in the red suit. Santa first appears as merely a shadow when he opened the door of his workshop in Christmastown after Jack discovers this wonderland. From then on, he is shrouded in mystery, appropriate for a Halloween themed Christmas movie, or depending on to whom one is discussing the film, a Christmas themed Halloween movie. The audience doesn’t even get to see him until over half way through the film.

The first mention of him is during Jack’s town meeting where he shares Christmastown with his friends. Realizing quickly that his audience isn’t paying any attention to what he’s saying, the skeleton admits that he may as well just give them what they want and spins his own tale of Santa. As he tells them,

“And the best I must confess, I have saved for the last, for the ruler of this Christmas land is a fearsome kind with a deep mighty voice least that’s what I’ve come to understand. And I’ve also heard it told, that’s he’s something to behold, like a lobster, huge and red, and sets out to slay with his rain gear on, carting bulging sacks with his big great arms that is, so I’ve heard it said. And on a dark, cold night under full moonlight, he flies into a fog, like a vulture in the sky…and they call him Sandy Claws.”

Sandy Claws

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I Still Believe That a Man Can Fly: A 40th Anniversary Retrospect of Superman: The Movie

It has been said that we are living in the Golden Age of comic book films. What was once seen as a geeks domain has proven to become a box office juggernaut as icons like Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Wolverine are proven hits, while elevating lesser known characters like Iron Man,  Captain America, Thor,  Ant-Man, Black Panther, Groot,and Doctor Strange into household names. Even Deadpool has become part of the cultural conversation with some ( myself included) want him to host the Oscars.

None of this however, would have been possible without one important film: Superman: The Movie. He has been called the first superhero, and thus it is perhaps fortuitous that he be the one to kick of the superhero film genre. At the time, not only was the character turning 40, but the groundbreaking work done on Star Wars had shown that a good

Superman: The Movie

Superman movie could be made.  To this day, the likes of Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, Christopher Nolan, Jon Favreau, and Patty Jenkins site it as an influence in bringing  X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman Begins, Iron Man, and Wonder Woman to the big screen by staying true to the strip of the book, while grounding the characters in real and believable relationships, while the DC TV shows The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl will frequently pay homage to this film and Tim Burton’s Batman universe.     Continue reading

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What’s This?: Celebrating 25 Years of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas #3: Sally

Like  everything else in the Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton and Selick’s take on the classic Frankenstein myth has its own twist. The creature is not a big lumbering hulk, but rather a lithe female, leading her not to look like a monster, but a well loved rag-doll that has been put back together a few times.  Like the monster on whom she is based, she longs for something much more, a trait she shares with Jack Skellington as she sits among the tombstones listening to his lament and dreams of a life with him.

In fact, she owes much of her existence to Burton’s work on Batman Returns and the design for Catwoman in the film. In his sequel to Batman, Burton’s take on Selina Kyle begins not unlike her: a shy, demure woman, disregarded by everyone. That changes for Ms. Kyle when nearly murdered by her boss, Max Shrek, when he pushes her out of the window of his office building. When cats imbue her with new life, she stitches a new look for herself, making the Catwoman costume.

Tim Burton noted in Burton on Burton,

“I remember drawing Jack and really getting into these black holes for eyes and

Sally

thinking that to be expressive, but not having any eyes, would be really incredible. Sally was a relatively new character; I was into stitching from the Catwoman thing. I was into the whole psychological thing of being pieced together. Again, these are all symbols for the way you feel. The feeling of not being together and being loosely stitched together and constantly trying to pull yourself together, so to speak, is just a strong feeling for me.”

Known to fans as Sally the Rag Doll, it might sound strange now considering how much of the Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise she appears on, but like the villainous Oogie-Boogie, Sally was actually not a major character in Tim Burton’s original  poem. In fact, she only appeared in one single page amongst the crowd of monsters during Jack’s town hall meeting. Without her, the story would have been lacking something crucial as  she serves as a perfect mirror for Jack’s inner struggle. Jack feels like he’s not all together and missing pieces, Sally can literally detach herself. He’s a skeleton, she still has flesh to cover herself. Further, just as much as skeletons are an enduring symbol of Halloween, so is Sally. Continue reading

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200th Blog Post! Jonathon D. Svendsen Behind the Blog

Well, here we are! My milestone 200th blog post! Short of doing a clip show via getting hit on the head by say , a coconut, I wanted to do something big and fun for this occasion. Thus, I figured I’d take you all behind the scenes and answer some questions from readers.
Before I begin, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I would like to say a big thank you to you, all my readers. When I started this little blog back in 2010,I had no idea what to do, or if it would be able to pull in any readers. Well, 8 years, 200 posts, 10 essay anthologies analyzing some of my favorite characters in fiction, over 289 subscribed readers ( spread out via social media, and regular e-mail subscribers), and 45,930 views… here we are.

Thanks for sticking by me, and I hope that the best is yet to come. And to my mom and dad who helped nurture my imagination and supported all my endeavors, to my closest friends who have always been great sounding board and believed in my dream, and to my mentor, Professor Thomas Becknell who continues to find ways to help me learn, thank you. I owe all of you a debt that can never be fully repaid.

And now, the questions!

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In Memoriam: Stan Lee 1922-2018

It may be the nostalgia talking but for my money the time period between the late 1980s and early 2000s was the true golden age of children’s television. One of the leaders in this programming was the Fox Kids Network. They boasted everything from kids comedies like Animaniacs and Tiny Toons to high quality superhero adventures of Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man and X-Men. Among the offerings of the later was the short lived Marvel Action Hour that introduced audiences to the Fantastic Four and Iron Man a full decade before the launch of their respective film franchises.

One thing that was different about the Marvel Action Hour from the other superhero shows

Stan Lee

was it’s introduction. Even before the opening titled a voice would boom, “Get ready for the Marvel Action Hour, hosted by Stan Lee. And now…Stan Lee.” Then, this guy who seemed like a crazy uncle would come on and greet the audience.  even at noon, his audacious greeting “Face Front, True Believers”. It was enough to awaken any kid from their sugar blasted breakfast stupor.

This was my first encounter with one of the industry titans who created many of my favorite superheroes. Long before movie audiences would await his cameos in the Marvel movies he was providing his signature style to host a Saturday morning cartoon show . Little did I know back then just how pivotal he was to the industry and the genre as a whole.

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What’s This? Celebrating 25 Years of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas #2: Halloweentown

Part of the reason  it seems strange to see the seasonal displays for Christmas and Halloween at Target is the simple, and obvious fact that they seem have very little in common. The most enduring symbol of Christmas is a Child, something connected with life, hope and the future, while for Halloween it’s skeletons and ghosts, images connected with death and decay. Christmas is about light, and joy, Halloween darkness and scares. At Christmas we see figures of angels, saints, and elves, but at Halloween devils, witches, and goblins. We even see this played out on film as for every Freddy Krueger that comes to kill teenagers, there’s an Angel Clarence coming to give hope to a despairing George Bailey. It’s like the eternal struggle between good and evil played out in three months of the calendar year.

There are some exceptions to the rule of course. In the Alpine regions of Europe they have the Krampus that fallows after Saint Nicholas who abducts the bad kids and takes them to his lair, while Dickens immortal classic A Christmas Carol features ghosts. In contrast for Halloween there is Sabrina the Teenage Witch who’s more like Glinda the Good from Wizard of Oz, and the wildly successful Harry Potter series that features a boy Wizard attending a special school for kids with magical abilities.

With all these contrasts it’s only natural that producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick would want to have a land of Halloween collide with a land of Christmas. It could only make for what the narrator tells us in the extended prologue found only on soundtrack for Nightmare Before Christmas,

“Now, you’ve probably wondered where holidays come from. If you haven’t, I’d say it’s time you begun. For holidays are the result of much fuss and hard work for the worlds that create them for us. Well, you see now, quite simply that’s all that they do–making one unique holiday, especially for you. But once, a calamity ever so great occurred when two holidays met by mistake.”

Halloweentown

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What’s This? Celebrating 25 Years of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas #1: Jack Skellington

You see this odd little fellow pop up around this time of year. He has the tendency to linger well until January, as though his spidery long legs find a way to straddle across the calendar. Moreover, in the 25 years since he first debuted, he’s gone on to become part of the holiday tradition and debate has raged since his debut as to whether  he fits in more with Halloween or Christmas. Further, despite the Walt Disney Companies initial reluctance to embrace this odd fellow who looks like he’d be more at home fighting Jason and the Argonauts in Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion classic, the skeletal hero has gone on to become as much of a merchandising sensation for the Walt Disney Company as Mickey Mouse, Iron Man, Captain Jack Sparrow, Lightning McQueen, Yoda, Kermit the Frog, and just about every single member of the Disney Princess canon*. Further, he subverts some of the themes of a traditional “Disney hero” in his journey of self-discovery and surprisingly fits in well with a traditional European Victorian Christmas Ghost Story.

Perhaps it’s easy to see why Disney would not want to embrace this character. At first glance Jack Skellington does not seem like the most kid friendly character on the market. As far back as the Middle Ages , skeletons have been a common image associated with death. Thus there is something even more unsettling about a walking, talking, singing skeleton. We see this creature smile and his lack of eyes is unsettling.

Owen Gleibmerman even noted in his review of the movie for Entertainment Weekly,

Jack Skellington

“The Latest of Burton’s sad-sack, eternal adolescent outcasts, Jack lives in Halloweentown, a fabulously gnarled, horror movie under world that suggests a Dr Seuss dreamscape as redesigned by Hieronymous Bosch…Is Jack, the all-talking, all singing goth boy , too grotesque a hero for children? Not really kids have always loved macabre fantasy and gross-out humor. The real question is whether he’s a charming enough apparition for kids or adults. As we stare at Jack’s empty eyes…there’s nothing to hook into–no personality, no spark. He’s a technical achievement in search of a soul.

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