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,
“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.